"For trivia people, Jeopardy! is The Hajj," Louis Virtel says on this week's episode of The Sewers of Paris, a podcast about gay men and the entertainment that changed their lives. "You don't know what The Hajj has in store for you, but you have to make it once in your lifetime."
Louis' infamous snap, captured and deployed in countless GIFs since he appeared on Jeopardy!, happened in the spur of the moment. But in the lead up to his appearance, he was one big bundle of nerves.
"There was a week when I read every Jeopardy! board in existence," he said. Some categories of information, like economics of football trophies, presented a challenge. "But then you look up the movies of Sandy Dennis and do a little backflip."
In the midst of cramming, he had to take a step back just to relax. "Louis," he told himself, "you better enjoy this while it lasts, because you're going to be on Jeopardy! and then it will be over. Eat up this excitement while you have it."
Appearing on the show was more than a lifelong dream -- for Louis, it approached something like a religious vision.
The earliest childhood photographs of Louis feature him rapt with attention before the spinning Wheel of Fortune, and his family were all trivia buffs growing up. "When I think about my childhood and playing games with people, that's when I was happiest," he said. "It was cooperative and social, but you weren't just talking to each other. You were learning about the other people from how they played."
At school, he shunned all computer games not based on game shows. Even as a kid, he was a master of memory and accessing arcane knowledge. "It's so cool to trust yourself in front of other people," he said. "It feels like a superpower when you memorize something that nobody else knows."
His appearance on the show was possibly the most stressful day of his life. During rehearsal, "there was a woman she beat me on the buzzer like three times in a row," he recalled. "As somebody who grew up playing video games, that was pretty grim. Why is this woman who is like my mom's age destroying me on this thing where I feel genetically programmed to operate a button better than she does? It was pretty tough at first."
Then the show taped, the snap happened, and the rest was history. He didn't realize at first that he'd done something that would become meaningful to millions. But as soon as the episode aired, Louis noticed that people began to treat him differently than they had when he was best-known for his YouTube series, Verbal Voguing.
"Because of Verbal Voguing, I'd have people come up to me in a bar, like, 'you're funny.' After the Jeopardy! snap, some guy came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'thank you.'"
When we say "gay pride," we're usually talking about a loud parade. But Louis had demonstrated a form of gay pride that was more fundamental: a personal feeling of self-worth for being gay and accomplished and earning recognition.
So now what? He's certain it won't be the last time he's gay on television. As surely as he knew for years that he'd be on Jeopardy!, he knows that "I will host a gay version of Jeopardy! And I want it to be deep, hard knowledge that you basically have to have a drag queen teach you."
His hope is that he can keep showing the world what successful gay men look like, and how different they can be from one another. After all, the key to trivia success is diverse knowledge. When it comes to quiz shows, "your differences are your assets," he said. "There's a level playing field, and the only thing separating you from victory is a buzzer."