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Brad Rutter on Buzzers, Strategy, and Why He Lost Jeopardy!’s Greatest of All Time Tournament

Brad Rutter. Photo: Stewart Cook/ABC

While Brad Rutter continues to reign as Jeopardy!’s all-time earnings winner, his GOAT-adjacent bragging rights within the show are no more. That’s because quiz dad Ken Jennings was crowned the ultimate victor in the show’s Greatest of All Time tournament on Tuesday evening, where he managed to buzz and doodle away his competitors, James Holzhauer and Rutter, to win the required three matches. Rutter, who had always defeated Jennings in their past meetups, had a surprisingly tough time throughout the tournament. Despite landing on the vast majority of Daily Doubles, he got nearly all of them incorrect, which resulted in a low match average that hovered around 1,000 points. (He also had to deal with some amusing Twitter trash talk from the guys, too.) Or as Rutter might simply say: Ken es el hombre.

Earlier today, Vulture gave Rutter — who’s enjoying a “standard Los Angeles” life filled with auditions, pilot submissions, and hiking — a call to better understand why he wasn’t exuding his usual Jep! swagger.

I really thought you were going to win and that the guys’ Twitter jabs were trying to put viewers off the scent.
Yeah, I wish I did. [Laughs.] You’re not the first person to tell me that, actually.

Was it an easy “yes” from you when the show pitched the tournament?
Once it was official we all agreed immediately. There were some bubblings prior to that. When James lost originally over the summer, Rocky Schmidt, who’s second in command over there, was like, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing something. Keep an eye out and your dates open.” I would’ve said yes right then and there, but there was nothing to say yes to just yet. Once it was official, it was quick yeses from all of us.

How many days did you all film for?
The whole thing was two days over December. We would’ve had to come back the next week if it went longer than four matches — the show only films two days a week.

How were you feeling before the first match commenced? Were you nervous?
I’m sure we were all nervous, but the strange thing is, with me at least, the more I go on the show the less nervous I get. You wouldn’t think it would make a ton of sense, but I’ve been on Jeopardy! for over 20 years now, so it’s kind of like going home. I’m sure there were some nerves but we’re a pretty loose bunch, which I think it came through when you watch it. We were having fun with it.

Looking back at your matches, was there a moment when you realized things weren’t going in your favor? Was it missing all those Daily Doubles?
No, not really. It was just going that way from the beginning and never stopped. [Laughs.] If James had won last night’s game, I’d still be alive but have to win three matches in a row. I’ve done stuff like that, coming from behind, before in a show. I think the reason I’ve been successful at this point is staying focused on what was in front of me. I was just thinking, Okay, if I can get to match five, we’ll see what happens. Since it was going to be a new week, maybe my buzzer skills would magically come back. You never know.

Do you think your buzzer reflexes weren’t as sharp?
Yeah, I do. It’s more timing, really, with the buzzers. We’re probably talking about hundredths of a second here. I’ve played a bunch of times before with Ken and I was always getting just as many responses as he was. Throwing another very quick buzzer into the mix hurt me. It’s impossible to figure out unless you have access to the actual buzzing-in data. In any sort of evenly matched match, the buzzer is going to be the number one thing. Ken and James were able to get the timing right and I wasn’t, and that was probably the biggest factor.

Do you have any regrets with your gameplay?
You know, I think I might’ve been too loose. There’s something to be said about how nerves and adrenaline really focus you, and maybe that would’ve helped with the buzzer, too. I don’t know how I’ll do that if I ever go back on the show, but I’ll keep looking for a way. Although with Jeopardy!, with 99.9999 percent of the people, I’d advise them to be more loose. [Laughs.] It was a very specific situation I was in.

Despite not performing too well, was this a fun experience for you? Will you look back on the tournament fondly?
Absolutely. It’s great for the game. I’m biased, but I think Jeopardy! is the best game around, and getting more eyeballs on it is great in my book. It really was a lot of fun, even though I lost, and this my first time losing. I’ve heard people say that before, and I roll my eyes, but now I know it’s true. It’s a lot of fun to play the game and it was a lot of fun to play with Ken, James, and Alex. Everybody is just fantastic. It was a pleasurable experience, although I’ve had more pleasurable ones in the past. [Laughs.]

I wish you did some more meme trash-talk back to James and Ken.
I’ve never been much of a trash-talker, and it probably goes back to playing driveway basketball when I was 12. It’s never worked out for me. I’ve never flexed that muscle! It’s not my style.

I was afraid James was hurting your feelings.
I know it’s all in good fun. We all know that guy who doesn’t know where the line is. That’s James.

Have you decided how to spend your $250,000?
I’m going to pay rent in Los Angeles! Have you seen those prices?

Brad Rutter on Why He Lost the Jeopardy! GOAT Tournament