‘Jeopardy!’ champ Austin Rogers discusses win and Brazen Head Bar trivia night
Austin Rogers recently proved himself a “Jeopardy!” phenomenon. His 12-game winning streak netted him $411,000, putting him in fifth place for a “Jeopardy!” all-time regular season run. The 38-year-old New York native lives in Hell’s Kitchen and hosts trivia night at Brooklyn’s Brazen Head bar and restaurant at 228 Atlantic Ave.
America fell in love with the quirky bartender, who spoke with the Brooklyn Eagle about his fascinating journey on “Jeopardy!” He opened up about his life since becoming champion, his signature drink as a bartender, his future plans and what Alex Trebek is really like.
Brooklyn Eagle: First of all, congratulations on your incredible run on “Jeopardy!”
What made you decide to audition for the show and how did you go about it?
Austin Rogers: Thank you very much. I applied every year but wasn’t hungry for it like so many other people. It was just like, “Hey, ‘Jeopardy!’ auditions are online again. Let me try it and see what happens.” You take that online test and then you pretty much forget about it. Then the next year you take the test again and get a call to audition and you forget about it. This time I got a call saying, “L.A. in three weeks.” And I said, “Cool, L.A. in three weeks. Let’s do this.”
Eagle: Did you ever think you would do so well and become one of the show’s most beloved contestants?
Rogers: I was confident that I’d win a game and that was pretty much my goal. I just wanted to win one to prove I could do it and I would be happy. And then I won two, then I won four, then I won seven, then I won nine, then I won 11. So I was like, “Wow, this is disturbingly easy for me.”
Eagle: You know you made it fun. You made the whole process entertaining. The audience was as interested in the questions and answers as they were about watching you. You had a lot of charisma.
Rogers: Thank you. I don’t get why no one else made it fun. I mean, is it the reputation of “Jeopardy!” or is it that I’m not the typical “Jeopardy!” contestant?
Eagle: I think most people who watch “Jeopardy!” think that every contestant has to be so serious about it. And there you go proving that you can have fun, enjoy the process and succeed in the game.
Rogers: You know how on “The Price is Right” contestants flip out when they get a new car? Well I flip out knowing about obscure French cathedrals. The typical “Jeopardy!” viewer and the typical “Jeopardy!” contestant may lack that spark. You can be smart and fun too. It doesn’t have to be so staid and buttoned-up.
Eagle: How has life changed for you since your win on “Jeopardy!”?
Rogers: It’s changed in such a multitude of ways (laughs). Every ex-girlfriend has reconnected with me. No, actually you expect the lottery syndrome to kick in where people come out of the woodwork. But everyone has come out of the woodwork in just the most joyous and supportive way. There have been little to no awkward invites to letch off of me for either money or popularity or whatever (laughs). And then bizarrely everyone says, “You deserve this.” And I’m wondering what kind of charity case I was before this happened. I wasn’t dying. I was pretty happy (laughs). I’m like, “Did my dog die?” I don’t even have a dog!
Eagle: What is Alex Trebek really like and was he what you thought he would be like?
Rogers: The interaction you’ve seen between us is the interaction we had. He does not interact with the guests outside of the stage. During commercial breaks he takes Q&As with the audience, while the contestants have other things to do. Makeup touch-ups, new batteries in your microphone for example. And he’s got stuff to do as well like punch in a new line that he misspoke and do a hot edit right there in the studio so the episode will be complete when they’re done with it. So he has things to do, you have things to do, so the interaction is basically only what occurs in front of the camera. Afterwards there’s some brief chit-chat, but the second those lights go off he is backstage changing his suit to come back out again in 10 minutes. It is a rigorous, relentless, grueling schedule run with military precision.
Eagle: Were you born and raised in New York?
Rogers: I’m from Westchester originally. And I’ve lived in Manhattan for 18 years.
Eagle: After such an amazing winning streak, was it frustrating to lose to Tennessee stay-at-home mom Scarlett Sims by such a small margin ($33,201 to $33.150)?
Rogers: I left $50 on the board in case she went all-in. She did not go all-in. I think she had $250 more than me. If I had gotten just one more question right or one less question wrong, I would have won that game. But you can’t Monday morning quarterback, you know. She beat me fair and square.
Eagle: You have said that your demeanor on the show was not an act, that it was really you, correct?
Rogers: Yep, unfortunately that’s me and you are stuck with it.
Eagle: Why do you think people responded so well to you?
Rogers: I had an inkling that what I did would resonate but not to the extent that it did. I mean, the staff and team and crew at “Jeopardy!” would say, “Your life is gonna change, buddy.” I’d just laugh at them, but they were 100 percent right. They knew that there was some sort of lightning in a bottle, or genie in a bottle to quote Christina Aguilera (laughs). I didn’t know I was this likeable!
Eagle: The answer to one question was: “Once its own city, it joined with a neighbor in 1898; today on its own it would be the fourth most populous city in the U.S.” And the answer is?
Rogers: (Laughs) Brooklyn! Hey, I’m talking with Walt Whitman’s newspaper [Whitman was editor of the Brooklyn Eagle from 1846-1848]. Oh, my God that was so easy. How could they even ask me that one? My favorite book is literally “Gotham, A History of New York City to 1898,” when consolidation happened. I’ve read that book four times and I have three copies of it. I just keep giving them away.
Eagle: Is it really all about the buzzer?
Rogers: The way I’ve broken the game down mentally is: One, you have to know everything; two, you have to assume that your opponents knows the same 85-90 percent; three, you have to know that extra 10 or 15 percent so that you can ring in unopposed; four, if everyone knows the same 85 percent then you have to beat them on the buzzer; and five, you got to be unshaken by the intangible, the lights, the cameras, the audience, Alex Trebek, the stage and the microphone.
Eagle: Where do you bartend, and what is your signature drink?
Rogers: I bartend at Gaf West at 48th St. and Ninth Ave. in Manhattan (laughs). And my signature drink is Guinness! I am just a bartender. I am not a Williamsburg hipster. I do not do artisanal chip ice blocks. I do not mix chartreuse with lemon-infused gin. I pour beer and I pour whiskey (laughs). And if you’re asking me for something more complex, go to a different bar!
Eagle: What’s ahead for you? I know that you will be participating in the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions.
Rogers: Yes. I’ve already taped the Tournament of Champions. It begins on Nov. 6 and lasts for 10 consecutive days. There are three rounds and I can’t tell you how well I did, but I can tell you it’s really a lot more fun than the regular-season game because you’re playing with and against other veterans who have amassed multiple wins. So, when you’re on the regular-season game, it’s just a rotating cast of characters that pop in and pop out. And you don’t really get to spend a lot of time with anyone because of all the preparation, getting to know the buzzers, signing paperwork and getting legal briefings. Now, you’ve done all that and get to know people who’ve done it before, so it’s looser, more energetic because everyone’s been through the ringer and now you can let some steam off. It raises the entire caliber of the game.
Eagle: Tell me about the trivia nights you host at the Brazen Head?
Rogers: I’ve been doing trivia nights at the Brazen Head for about a year and half now. Every Monday except the first Monday of each month. I love the Brazen Head because it is a local’s bar. It is a neighborhood bar that doesn’t have any pretense about what it is. You see the same faces all the time. Everyone is super friendly and the staff and the owners are really cool. I mean, it’s my kind of bar!
Eagle: Other than the Brazen Head, what are some of your favorite things about Brooklyn?
Rogers: I got this sibling rivalry with Brooklyn. I do enjoy Brooklyn and there’s so much history and so many cool places. I love going to Coney Island and Brighton Beach and I love going to Cyclones games. I think the Brooklyn Bridge is the most awesome bridge ever made in the history of mankind, both by historical importance and by aesthetics.
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