The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel concluded its five-season run not with a bang but stifled laughter. It’s 2005, and Midge and Susie are best friends undeterred by the oceans between them, comfortable following decades of career successes and enjoying their nightly ritual of watching Jeopardy! on tapes and bantering about this, that, and the other over the phone. (Of course Susie would reincarnate herself as a skunk.) The footage serving as backdrop to this scene is none other than the game show’s Ultimate Tournament of Champions from May 2005, where Brad Rutter, one of Jeopardy!’s greatest players of all time, appears as himself in archival footage. Rutter, who says he’s “always down” to compete on the show again, is thrilled with the cameo, even if he had no idea it was coming. “I’ve been a Maisel fan since the beginning,” he says. “To just randomly show up in the finale was pretty surreal but fun.”
How surprising was it to see yourself in the finale?
First of all, obviously it was like, Holy crap. That’s me. But after it set in a little bit, it was like, “What a crazy, cool life I’ve had where I can go on Jeopardy! every so often for 20 years and occasionally it’ll show up in one of my favorite shows.” Who would believe it if you had told me that when I was a kid?
Maisel could’ve made the effort to film a fictional Jeopardy! game for the finale if so inclined. Why do you think it was more effective to see snippets from a real episode?
Since the last scene was set in 2005, people remember that year. If they were going to be watching Jeopardy!, it lends to the authenticity, to pick an actual Jeopardy! show that was airing then. They’ve done a good job with that throughout the season with the flashes forward and back. There’s always been some nice historical detail in there. Also, they don’t have to pay me or any of the other contestants residuals because that’s the first thing you sign away when you go on Jeopardy!. So maybe it’s a budget thing, too.
If you can’t get residuals, what would you like from this appearance instead?
As long as it shows up on my IMDb page, I’m cool.
What was Jeopardy! conveying about Midge and Susie’s relationship that wouldn’t be possible with another game show? And, in turn, what does it convey about Jeopardy!?
Well, it’s a universal thing. But more specifically, what I thought of was Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner — they got together and watched Jeopardy! every night. I saw it as partially an homage to them. It’s like, “Oh, so Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, they had dinner and watched Jeopardy! every night, so that’s the thing that Midge and Susie would do, too.” That’s just something I thought of.
Oh, that’s a lovely parallel.
My favorite celebrity sighting ever was I got to meet Mel Brooks briefly and he recognized me.
What memories do you associate with the Ultimate Tournament of Champions compared to the others you’ve competed in? You beat Ken Jennings and took home $2 million.
That game you saw was the semifinals, if I’m remembering correctly. The thing I remember most about it was in the third part of the finals against Ken and Jerome Vered — that was the best I’ve ever played on Jeopardy!. You hear about baseball players where the ball looks like a beach ball when they’re on a hot streak, and that’s exactly how I felt in that game. It ended up not being particularly close against two of the greatest to ever do it, Ken and Jerome. I didn’t have to feel like I stole the $2 million. I definitely felt like I earned it.
The ladies debated how good of a look your goatee was. How did you feel about that?
That’s my only complaint about this whole experience. Midge had to point out the goatee, although ultimately it’s my fault. Susie says the goatee looks better with hair. I think I’m probably onboard with her there, although I guess I can be excused for 2005. It’s not my favorite, looking back, but what are you going to do?
When did you evolve out of the goatee?
It wasn’t much long after that. I want to say 2008. I went to the full stubble.
I looked up the data from this game, and you buzzed in and got two clues wrong. We must end this chat with a redemption round.
Okay. I can’t imagine that I got many more wrong in real life. Now I have another beef with Mrs. Maisel other than the goatee: They show me getting stuff wrong.
This is from “Forbes Billionaires”: The youngest billionaire on the 2005 list is 21-year-old Albert von Thurn und Taxis, a prince from this country.
There’s a big board game named Thurn und Taxis. They started the postal service in Europe in the Middle Ages. I want to say Luxembourg.
You said Monaco, but it’s Germany.
There you go. I was unaware of the prince statuses still in Germany, but that makes sense. What’s the other?
This is from “Pre-Daters” and was a Daily Double: The last city to host the Olympics before St. Moritz in 1948.
That was the first one after World War II, if I’m not mistaken. There weren’t any in 1940, so we’re going back to 1936. The question is whether the Winter or Summer Olympics were first. For the irony factor, I’m assuming the Summer Olympics were later, and I’m going to say Berlin in 1936.
Wow, yes. You said London, but it’s Berlin.
I didn’t have that luxury on the Daily Double. I guess I could’ve talked it out like that, but Alex Trebek probably would’ve given me a disapproving look.