“Jeopardy!” Legend Brad Rutter Shares His Favorite Memories of Alex Trebek
Rutter will star with Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer on ABC's "The Chase," which premieres this week
With the final episodes featuring longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek airing this week following his death in November, there is a massive hole in the world of televised quiz shows on the near horizon. At least partially hoping to fill it will be ABC’s The Chase, a new trivia show featuring Jeopardy! Greatest of All-Time tournament stars Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter.
Premiering Thursday, January 7, the show will deploy one of Jennings, Holzhauer or Rutter as the Chaser, a hybrid position that merges the role of host and contestant. As the Chaser, Holzhauer, Jennings and Rutter will take turns answering general-knowledge questions against contestants in a series of rounds with cash on the line. But while one of the all-time Jeopardy! greats is answering questions, the other two won’t exactly be resting on their laurels.
“The two of us that aren’t playing watch from a lounge off-stage and give commentary and quips at the same time,” Rutter tells InsideHook. “It’s perfect for me because I’m there to answer trivia questions and crack wise, which are my two favorite things to do.”
Rutter — the biggest money winner in game-show history with total Jeopardy! winnings of $4,688,436 — thinks The Chase shares more in common with Jeopardy! than most other primetime game shows.
“When you think of primetime network game show, you think of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? with the lights, intense moments and the very slow pace,” Rutter says. “We have a little bit of that, but we also have a lot of fast-paced stuff too in the first and last rounds. It’s really just rapid-fire trivia. If you like Jeopardy!, you probably like a lot of questions. You get 61 a night. We could conceivably get up to 116 in a show.”
Rutter also hopes Jeopardy! fans will be able to see that a little bit of Trebek rubbed off on him, Jennings and Holzhauer by how they carry themselves as the faces of The Chase.
“Over the years, I did get to know Alex a little bit and we always enjoyed joking around with each other,” he says. “He loved to joke and realized he had somebody in me who liked to play along, which I think he always appreciated. We always had fun and he sometimes had little tidbits of fatherly advice for me. I remember I was thinking about buying a new sports car at one point and he was like, ‘No, don’t do that.’ So I didn’t. I stuck with the car and I’m still driving it now. You don’t say ‘No’ to Alex. That’s rule No. 1 on Jeopardy!“
If you were wondering, the car Rutter was (and still is) driving is a 2007 BMW 3 Series. But Trebek advising him to keep it isn’t his favorite story involving the legendary host. That tale revolves around an incident that occurred during the finals of the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, when Rutter, Jennings and Jerome Vered were playing for a $2 million first prize in front of an empty studio.
“The tension was thick,” Rutter says. “So one of us, I don’t remember who, suggested, ‘Let’s cut the tension. We’ll take our pants off. Nobody’s going to see. We’re behind these podiums. It’ll make it fun.’ Little did we know, our mics were on and Alex heard us. So, we’re getting ready to play and everything’s going exactly as it would. And Johnny Gilbert announces, ‘Here is the host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek,’ and Alex came out with no pants on. He was like, ‘Hey, are we doing this or not?’”
Trebek, a boxers guy, went back to his dressing room, put his pants on and continued the game as normal. But Rutter says he’ll never forget that moment, as it showed off two of Trebek’s greatest traits as a host: focus and humor.
“You could definitely see it when you were in the studio,” he says. “You could see his quick wit and focus on the moment. That comes from paying attention all the time and reacting. That’s when you can really get the good jokes in. If you watched Alex at a taping of Jeopardy! or if he was on with David Letterman, that was always one of the things that stood out to me. If you’re just paying attention, you’re going to have an opportunity to say something either witty or maybe even flat-out funny. He always had fun with it. That was a big part of it for him.”
While Rutter isn’t hoping to fill Trebek’s shoes in any way, shape or form, he’s optimistic The Chase will bear an imprint from the legendary host.
“Jeopardy! was his life’s work and you could tell he always wanted to put on a good show and for the contestants to do well,” Rutter says. “He had such a high standard for himself: consistent excellence. Even in the last couple of years when he was doing chemo, when those lights were on, he was fantastic. Obviously, I’d much prefer that he was still around and hosting Jeopardy! I think everybody feels that way. But if we can even pick up a little bit of the torch for the standard he set with The Chase, I think we will really have done something to be proud of.”
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