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Brad Rutter smacks Ken Jennings

We interviewed Brad Rutter the week after his breathtaking victory over Ken Jennings in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions (UToC), one of a half dozen tightly scheduled interviews on a busy afternoon. "I signed my first autograph yesterday," says Rutter.

Although he'd never say so, Rutter has achieved something remarkable. Not only did he outscore Jennings, he outscored him in all three games, and in the last of them, he more than doubled Jennings' score. Moreover, having won his Tournament of Champions and the Million Dollar Masters (M$M), he is the only person to win three tournaments and is now the only remaining undefeated player in Jeopardy history.

Plus, the $2 million prize was cumulative with his winnings in other UToC games, and when added to the $1 million he won in the M$M, he is now ahead of Jennings again in all-time Jeopardy winnings and becomes the biggest winner in quiz show history. His current total is $3,255,102, plus two cars, although the total may rise by a further $15,000, depending on how the show resolves a rules question concerning the byes.

Fighting off Ken

As Rutter recalls, "When Ken passed me, I sent him an e-mail, and he wrote back saying, 'Maybe someday, we'll play each other in a Billion Dollars Masters.' We weren't playing for a billion, but it good to get a chance to play against him."

In the opening moments of the first game between Rutter, Jennings and Jerome Vered, it seemed like Jennings was going to annihilate the other champions, as he roared through the categories. "I thought to myself, 'Maybe he is that much better than me after all.' But I didn't get discouraged. I adjusted my timing and started getting in ahead of him. I can't explain how I did it, but you just got a feeling for the buzzer and go with it."

This ability to stay cool under pressure often makes the difference in Jeopardy. "It's strange, but I play better in the studio then I do watching the game at home. A lot of people seize up when they're on the set with all the lights, but for me, the adrenalin helps me focus."

High school quizzing and his own quiz show

It also helps that, since winning the M$M, Rutter has landed a dream job. The former record store clerk now hosts InQuizitive, a quiz show on WLYH, Sundays at noon in Central Pennsylvania. "It's full-time work, but it's not really full-time pay, so now I can give it the time it needs."

In addition to hosting the show, he also writes many of the questions, which also helped him on the show. "It keeps you sharp. Even when you're researching things that you won't use on the show, you're learning things and they stick with you."

The show is designed for high school students, and reflects Rutter's own experiences with quiz bowl in high school. Unusually, he was both a high school athlete and a quiz bowler, having been drawn to the latter by a teacher named Anne Clouser, at Manheim Township High School. A portion of his UToC winnings will be used to fund a scholarship for Mannheim students in Clouser's name.

�She died just a few months before I went on the show,� says Rutter. �I would have really liked for her to have seen what happened to me on the show, since she was the one who interested me in quizzing in the first place.�

He also remains involved in the National Academic Championships and acts as moderator for many of its events.

Ironically, the week before the game show host beat Ken Jennings, Comedy Central announced that Jennings would become a host as well. And in fact, the buzz around Rutter's victory hasn't quite matched the attention attracted by Jennings' unprecedented march through the Jeopardy record books in 2004, a streak facilitated by a recent change in the rules allowing unlimited play.

The Internet takes sides: Ken v. Brad

Indeed, in the days following Rutter's victory, the Internet was buzzing as diehard Ken fans mustered their dubious stats, insisting that Rutter's decisive win had somehow been a fluke. Rutter's brother came to his defence online, but Rutter himself understands the reaction. "He's just as likable in person as he is on TV, so he's inspired a lot of loyalty. A lot of people became part of the Jeopardy community because they were fans of Ken's, so they had never seen me play, let alone somebody like Jerome, who'd played more than 10 years ago."

To a degree, part of Jennings' mystique was that he had played so many games, without ever facing tournament-style competition. "I'm sure a lot of people he played could have won at least five games, but it's a different sort of game when you face two new people every day. He was playing under different circumstances. He's a great player and I would've been surprised if he hadn't been in the finals, even if he hadn't been given the bye. But I never thought he was 'faraway the greatest player of all time.'"

Of course, he doesn't feel he deserves that title himself. "I think any one of us in the tournament could have ended up in the final round, if things had worked out a bit differently. When you get players like this, almost nobody is going to get a runaway, so it comes down to Final Jeopardy, and if that question squeaks through one of the holes of your knowledge, you'll lose. That's why it's called Jeopardy."

In fact, there was surprising camaraderie backstage, despite the stakes. "You go in expecting a lot of mind games, but it's actually nothing like that. I've been on the show 20 times, and you never get those social misfits, those quiz bowl stereotypes."

As for the champ, Rutter doesn't have many plans for the money, although after the M$M, he bought a Porsche Boxster, which he dubbed "the car that Jeopardy bought." Now he's planning on upgrading to a Porsche 9/11.

Who knows what he'll buy if he ever plays that Billion Dollar Masters.

June 2004