Update: Since publication of this story, Austin Rogers has won 12 games in a row with a total prize amount of $411,000—and still counting.
Don’t bother ordering anything with the word “apple” in the title at The Gaf West on 48th street in New York City while Austin Rogers is behind bar. He probably won’t serve you, or he’ll just tell you he’s out.
Call that arrogance, snootiness, or just plain rudeness. Rogers doesn’t care. This is, after all, a man with a Twitter bio claiming to be the “Writer of Black and Yellow. Owner/Executive Chef, Nobu. Architect of Falling Water and Burj Khalifa.”
Now, if you want to drink like a “normal person,” Rogers says—with, say, a Scotch and soda or whiskey on the rocks—he’ll gladly slide the glass over. That’s when you should ask him about aviation or string theory or famous painters from Iowa. He can easily converse about all three.
That’s because—if the country’s most famous trivia show is an accurate measurement—Rogers might very well be America’s smartest bartender. He’s in the midst of a nine-game winning streak on Jeopardy, so far raking in $332,400 (and counting).
But it’s Rogers’ habit of betting the house on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy, his miming antics during cast introduction, and his tendency to piss off Alex Trebek with animated celebrations, that might just be making him one of the country’s most popular barmen, too. In the past week, he’s appeared on Good Morning America, received adulation from national outlets like The Ringer and New York Magazine, and gotten drinks with Jimmy Fallon.
Here, he talks with Men’s Journal about the real secret of being a Jeopardy Genius, Trebek conspiracy theories, and why he really doesn’t care if you hate his celebrations.
First question: What are you going to spend all this money on?
Nothing, I am not spending the winnings on anything until I have set myself up with a strategy to make this money last as long as possible. I am totally unencumbered unlike other Jeopardy contestants who have families, kids, and mortgages. I have none of that. I want to set a firm groundwork and a firm investment strategy with the money so it can work for itself. What’s that old adage? Compound interest is the most amazing invention in mankind’s history.
Really though, you aren’t going to treat yourself to a brand new suit or something?
OK, I might get a nice camera. But I am not going to go out and buy a BMW just yet. Actually, what I really want is a 1962 Series 2 Land Rover. But I really need to wait for the taxman to cometh.
On Good Morning America last week, you mentioned that one of your strategies to prep for the show was to binge watch Jeopardy episodes. How many do you think you watched?
100? 110? Something along those lines. You get three weeks to prepare from the time you get the call to the time they film. So I would watch three or four episodes a day with a thumb calisthenic exerciser to mimic the buzzer.
Wait, really? A thumb exerciser?
Yeah, because I knew that the buzzer has pretty significant resistance. I wanted to get myself acclimatized to that.
You must have a pretty bulging thumb right now.
Yes, it’s huge. If you need some tips for thumb exercises I have you covered.
OK, so your base of knowledge can’t have just come from watching a ton of Jeopardy, right?
No, everyone is trying to construe it that way. They’re completely wrong. I am brilliant, OK. I am incredibly well read. I have read thousands of books. I know a lot of things. I have some pretty high degrees. I have a long career in varied industries. I have lots of interests in diverse things like aviation and physics. I go to museums on a weekly basis. I have a classical music degree. These are not things you accrue just by watching the game. These are things you get with a lifetime of experience.
You filmed the show back in April and have had to stay silent about this incredible streak the whole time. What is it like watching yourself win now?
It tapes at such a frenetic pace that there is no single instance or memory that sticks out to me. So now, while I am watching, I’m constantly wondering, “How did this one turn out?” I’ve been surprised a few times where a question comes up and I will be like, “I don’t know this one.” Then I will watch myself answer it correctly.
You’ve inspired a huge social media fan base and hashtag on twitter (#austinonjeopardy), but still, a lot of the stodgy Jeopardy die-hards hate your style. Are you surprised by the divisiveness?
A lot of people seem to think all my gestures are demeaning the game. Oh, like I have control over that shit. I am literally doing that because that is who I am in real life. Very unfortunately, this is not an act.
Plus, when you win, like, $34,000 on a final jeopardy you know you need to remain stoic. No need to be excited about all that cash in your pocket.
If it is a tough game and I win, I am going to celebrate. If it is a blowout, I am not going to celebrate. It’s like a sport. If you hit that walk-off home run, your teammates are going to be at home plate with shaving cream and Gatorade. But if you hit a solo shot and you are up 14-2, you are just going to trot around the bases and do your paces.
What do you say to those social media haters?
This is literally a “game show.” Game. Games are fun. Wasn’t it Huzinga in Homo Ludens who wrote “Man is designed to play and take celebration in the act of playing. It is what makes us human”? This is not a joint session of congress. It is not a bankruptcy law case. It is a game show. Lighten up, guys.
Trebek has given you a few icy glares during the streak, based on some of your reactions. Did he ever warm up to you off camera?
There is really not much off camera with Alex Trebek. The first time you see him is when he walks out on stage. The last time you see him is the second the lights go down. He may be a hologram, because he may only exist on that stage.
I like that conspiracy. Let’s get that going.
I have never seen him off of that stage. Except, I did see him host Celebrity Jeopardy once at Radio City Music Hall.
I mean, they must have just moved the hologram machine over.
Yeah, exactly. They picked up the machine and moved it.
You have now gone viral for the pantomime moves you do during the intros to the show. Were those pre-planned?
No, that came from the fact that it is extremely awkward to stare at a red light on a camera for 11.5 seconds while they say your name and how much money you’ve won.
Now that you have made all this money, are you going to keep being a bartender?
For the time being. I love the job. It’s hysterical. I get paid to hang out with my friends. It’s a local bar so 90 percent of the time I know 60 percent of the people in there. What better job is there than to get paid to hang out with your friends all night?
You’ve been hosting watch parties of the show at the bar. Have you purchased any rounds for the house since, you know, you’ve made more than 300 grand?
No. I haven’t gotten the check yet. They can buy their own drinks.
So, what’s the secret to being a Jeopardy Genius?
Read a fucking book, you idiot. No, but the real secret is having intellectual curiosity. If you don’t know something, look it up.
Yup, it seems like it’s that easy. Anything else to add?
Well, I lead a very intensely unhealthy lifestyle so I don’t know if your readership base will appreciate getting advice from a drinker, smoker, and non-exerciser. I do ride my bike everywhere for my commute. Other than that, maybe don’t take advice from me. You know what, just go ahead and ignore this entire article.