“I think what makes ‘Jeopardy!’ special is that, among all the quiz and game shows out there, ours tends to encourage learning.” -Alex Trebek
In midst of all the craziness going on in the world, I had the privilege of sitting down (virtually) with highest-earning Jeopardy! contestant, Brad Rutter.
Rutter was born in Lancaster, PA and dropped out of Johns Hopkins University before competing on Jeopardy! in 2000, for the first time.
Since then, he’s appeared on gameshows including 1 vs. 100, Grand Slam, Million Dollar Mind Game, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, and he can currently be seen on ABC’s adaptation of The Chase, alongside Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer.
Gabrielle Bisaccia: When did your love for trivia begin?
Brad Rutter: It really goes as far back as I can remember; I’ve always enjoyed knowing stuff. If you want to put a real date on it, it was when Jeopardy! came back with Alex in 1984 when I was a little kid and I would just sit down and watch with my parents. By the time I was in high school I was thinking I could probably do pretty well if I ever got on the show. If you would have told me how well I would end up doing, I would have told you, you were crazy!
GB: What was your favorite game show growing up?
BR: I loved a bunch of game shows growing up, but Jeopardy! was absolutely my favorite. I was always a game show fan, but Jeopardy! was always a few notches above the rest of them.
GB: What was your favorite subject in school?
BR: In elementary school it was gym! In high school it was probably history and that’s still my best subject.
GB: Why did you end up dropping out of Johns Hopkins?
BR: As much as I enjoy learning things, when it’s in that formal scholastic format, I just really don’t! I decided I was going to take some time off and I went back to my hometown and I was working at a CD store in the mall and then I started going on Jeopardy! every so often and then I never had to go back.
GB: How did you come to be a contestant on Jeopardy!?
BR: In 1999 or 2000 you had to send postcards in to get picked at random for an audition and I got my card picked. I was living in Baltimore at the time; this was right when I left school and before I had gone home, and I drove down to DC for the audition. Afterwards I moved back to Pennsylvania and they called me about six weeks later to have me on the show.
GB: How did you prepare for Jeopardy!?
BR: You just go in and whatever they ask you they ask you. The first time I didn’t really prepare because I was just fresh out of school and a lot of the information was still fresh in my mind and that’s all you really need to know. If you went to a good high school and took all the advance classes, you’ll probably learn just about everything you need to know with the academic stuff. So, I just showed up with what I had and ended up doing pretty well! Although, since then when I knew I’d be going back, like on Tournament of Champions about a year after, then I studied up on stuff because I actually knew I would be on the show and competing against people who have won at least four or five games. Really the most important is being a knowledge fiend and absorbing general knowledge everywhere. But there is some stuff you can study, and I think anybody who’s watched the show over the years would be able to tell you this. Their biggest categories are presidents, world capitals, and Shakespeare. So, I just made a bunch of flashcards with the presidents and what number they were and who their vice presidents were and then all the world capitals with the country on one side and the city on the other side and Shakespeare characters and quotes.
GB: Was Jeopardy! the most challenging game show you’ve ever been on?
BR: Yes, I wouldn’t have played Ken and James on any other show, so I’d have to say Jeopardy! was the most challenging. But there was a show I was on called Million Dollar Mind Game where they had teams of friends doing logic puzzles which I thought was very interesting and a lot of fun and it was challenging but it was so different from Jeopardy! I think it’s kind of apples and oranges.
GB: What was it like being back on Jeopardy! for the “Greatest of all Time”?
BR: It had been less than a year since I’d been on Jeopardy! but in the interim, Alex had talked about his cancer diagnosis. As soon as they told me the idea, I thought it was fantastic and I just wanted to hang out with Alex more. It was a thrill; I had watched James over the summer and thought ‘wow this guy is really good’. It had been just Ken and me up to that point and watching him play I thought ‘ok here is a guy who can hang with us’ and he certainly did.
GB: Is it safe to say you had gotten relatively close with Alex Trebek?
BR: Yes and no. It’s funny because since Alex sees all the questions it’s sort of federal law that we aren’t really allowed to hang out. But one of the perks of being on as often as I have is that I’m one of the few people who actually did get to know him a little bit. I also felt a lot closer to him because A. he had been coming into my house on TV since I was a little kid and B. he was there for some of the most important moments in my life. He really did feel like family. He was also a real inspiration for me professionally too; just how he went about the business. He took the game so seriously and he cared about it so much. He held himself to such a high standard and it was just amazing to see the standard of excellence he brought on the set and on TV. He was just always having a great time and loved what he did. The inspiring thing for me was watching Alex over the years and thinking ‘ok, if you care about what you do and you hold yourself to a high standard and you have fun doing it, things are probably going to turn out ok for you’.
GB: The Chase premiered on January 7th, what can you tell us about it?
BR: It’s a fact-based game with a team of three trivia players who are trying to ‘bank’ a lot of money to bring home and it’s our job (Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer) to stop them. The cool thing is only one of us plays at a time, but while one is playing, the other two are in a backstage lounge offering commentary. We really did have a blast shooting and our host Sara Haines is fantastic. The chemistry was there instantly with all three of us so if you have half as much fun watching it as we did shooting it, it’s going to be a big hit!
GB: What’s next for you?
BR: No projects I’m currently working on; with the way the world is now we were really lucky to be able to shoot The Chase before things got really bad. So just keeping our fingers crossed that we get a second season!