A Savage Question About Obama and HQ, Answered

Posted January 18, 2018 5:06 p.m. EST

It was Michelle’s birthday.

So what was former President Barack Obama doing there, smiling out from phone screens as one of the 91 winners of the Wednesday night game of HQ Trivia, the live show that more than 1 million people play twice a day?

Had he really passed up celebrating his wife’s 54th birthday to compete for a chance to win a tiny share of a $2,000 jackpot, after both of them reportedly received an advance of more than $60 million for a pair of books?

Was the $21.98 he ended up winning really worth it to miss celebrating with his partner of 25 years? Was an Instagram tribute to her posted earlier in the day with the knowledge that he would have to excuse himself for about 15 minutes at 9 p.m.?

It was the only thing that the HQties of Twitter wanted to know.

Even Scott Rogowksy, the game’s cult hero host, acknowledged Obama’s image, although he seemed to take the president’s presence in stride.

“We salute you, sir,” he said. “Thank you for your service.”

Of course, the 44th president is famously competitive, whether it be over the tastiness of his chili recipe or the number of pushups he can pump out. For his birthday each year, he competes in a round-robin of athletic competitions with some of his closest friends.

In 2009, his first year in the White House, Michelle gathered a group to play basketball with him at Camp David.

“He has a general philosophy that whatever he does, he’s going to do the very best he can do,” his friend Marty Nesbitt told The Times in 2012.

One would assume that drive would extend to a trivia game that other celebrities have proved capable of winning. With the help of his family, 86-year-old newsman Dan Rather was able to pull off a win at Christmas.

HQ played it coy in a statement: “The Secret Service will be pleased to hear that we don’t share details on the identities of our players.”

The game has grown prodigiously since its introduction in August, attracting tens of thousands of people to its December games and peaking (for now) at 1.3 million players in a game on Sunday.

And Obama certainly seems as if he would have known the steps involved in a wine tasting (swirl before smelling) and been familiar with the songwriting career of Alan Thicke, knowledge that was integral to winning Wednesday’s second game.

But a spokeswoman said that Obama, to the disappointment of all who have known the delight of surviving a savage question, was not the account that had shared the jackpot Wednesday night.

“President Obama is as competitive a trivia player as anybody,” said Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama. “But he was celebrating his wife’s birthday last night with dinner and a play. In other words, not exactly the most conducive environment for gaming on a phone.”