Brad Rutter Interview: The Chase
Brad Rutter is one of the greatest game show contestants of all time. Since his first Jeopardy! appearance back in 2000, he has earned over $5 million in winnings, second only to Ken Jennings, who played after the rules were changed to end the “five game limit” that prevented people like Rutter to keep playing, even while on a winning hot streak.
For his second act, so to speak, Rutter is a featured player in ABC’s revival of the game show, The Chase. The program features Rutter, and two other Jeopardy! “Greatest of All Time” (G.O.A.T.) players, Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, as the “Chasers,” who must take on teams of contestants in a high-stakes trivia game with room for more humor and personable interaction than a typical game show. Hosted by Sara Haines (The View), The Chase is a remake of the original UK series, which debuted in 2009.
While promoting the upcoming debut of The Chase, Brad Rutter spoke to Screen Rant about his work on the series, as well has his odyssey through the world of television and quiz shows. He talks about his part in the ultimate pub trivia night comprised of Jeopardy! champions, and expresses his hopes for the next decade of his career.
The Chase debuts January 7 on ABC.
Let’s just jump right in. Tell me a little about your new show!
The concept is, “Let’s take someone who maybe does well at their local pub trivia night, someone who thinks they’re pretty good, and put them up against the Titans of Trivia!” One of the three Jeopardy GOATs, and see if they can handle it. Hijinks ensue, and a lot of money is at stake.
I love it! I have a question: is there more to being a trivia champion than just not cracking in front of the cameras?
Well, one of the things I like about it is… On Prime Time quiz shows, you’re used to the Millionaire-style deliberate pace with high drama moments. And we have those on The Chase, but what we also have is a lot of fast-paced, rapid-fire trivia. Jeopardy gives out 61 clues every night. I think we easily equal that. It combines the stuff you like about Millionaire with the stuff you like about Jeopardy. How can you go wrong with that?
I know you have two other guys on your show, champions of Jeopardy. I feel like fans and viewers want for there to be some kind of bitter rivalry between you guys. Is that the case, or when you’re not facing off, do you hang, so to speak?
We do hang, actually, and that was one of the fun things about it. The other thing that was really fun is, we’re all on the same team now! At the GOAT tournament, we always got along, but it was a little intense. We’re all out there, trying to win. Now, there’s certainly some friendly competition about who’s going to be the quote-unquote “Best Chaser,” but yeah. We’re just hanging out, having fun, and trying to take any frustration we may have out on the contestants!
Tell me about the difference with a show like this, where you get to have some more presence and have to be less laser-focused on the trivia 100% of the time. You get to have some fun on this one, right? And take it easy, relatively speaking?
Yeah. That was really fun, too. I think one of the things people really enjoyed about the GOAT tournament was, the three of us are so used to the high-stakes competition, so we were maybe a little more relaxed than most people would be, so we could joke around and stuff like that. Now, there’s no pressure on us at all! All the pressure is on the contestants. We get to hang out and have fun and answer questions, let our personalities show a little bit, and crack jokes, so it’s a lot of fun. And we might even throw a little good-natured barbs at each other and at Sarah, at times, as well as the contestants, and I think people will enjoy that.
Let’s go back a little bit. What was your life trajectory before you became famous, before you became this particularly kind of television star?
We’re going back, here… Just how far back will be obvious in a moment. I was working at a CD store when I first got on Jeopardy, literally 20 years ago. Really, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was thinking about maybe going back to school, going to law school or something. I had no direction. Then, being on Jeopardy three times in a two year span gave me a direction. I ended up having my own show in Pennsylvania, and then I moved to L.A. to do it, or try to do it, on a bigger level. The money was obviously life changing, but the experience was, as well.
Okay, so back then, the rules were different on Jeopardy. You won, you were on a streak, but they sent you home because the rules were “five wins” and that’s it. Maybe it’s impossible to know, and you’ve obviously had a fantastic run since then, winning more than five million bucks…
I have no real complaints! (Laughs)
But do you think you would have gone the distance and done more than 74 games, like Ken Jennings did? Are you ever, like, “I could have done 75 wins!” It’s gotta cross your mind, no?
You know what? I’d like to go back on now and try it. If you know anyone at Jeopardy… I’ve suggested that many times, but they haven’t taken me up on it. (Laughs) I’ve been pretty philosophical about it. The way things worked out, there was a million dollar tournament before Ken was on, and I would have missed out on it if I had waited longer to be on the show. So I think that makes up for any FOMO on me missing the “play until you lose” era. Also, as much as I’d like to think I could do 74 games, and I’ll tell anyone, “Yeah, I think I probably could have!” Just the math says that’s highly unlikely. Even if you’re as good as Ken or I were, I think somebody ran the statistics once, and the over/under is something like 35, which is right around where James ended up, so that sounds like a pretty good over/under to me. It would be highly unlikely I would have gone that far, even though I will always insist I could have! (Laughs)
I’ve never been on the show, and I insist I could do it. Okay, I’m sure you’ve been asked about this a lot, but we lost Alex earlier this year, someone we all felt like we knew, personally. He was in our house every day, just before prime time. I think lots of people didn’t realize how special he was until he wasn’t there anymore.
Sadly, that’s kind of how it is with people who are institutions like he was. They’ve always been there and you just don’t know any different. Then, all of a sudden, one day, they’re not. At least for me, I don’t even know how to react, other than with obvious sadness that he’s gone. A world without Alex was not something… We all knew it was coming at some point, but I didn’t want my mind to go there. I was always pushing for the best, knocking on wood. He seemed to be doing well there, for a while. It’s a terrible disease.
There’s going to be guest hosts and this and that, but do you think Jeopardy will really be able to continue without him? Or is it too early or too tasteless to even think about replacements and the future of the show?
I don’t think it’s too tasteless. Alex talked about it. He always said the show would go on without him. It certainly won’t be the same, and I think he never gave himself enough credit for how much of the show’s success was due to him. At the same time, the show is an institution, largely because of him, and I don’t see any reason why it can’t keep going. The music and the answering in the form of a question will still be there. It’s made its way into pop culture over the years. It won’t be the same, and everybody will miss Alex, and nobody will ever host as well as he did, but I don’t see any reason why it can’t keep going.
Thanks for indulging me on that one, I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times lately. Let’s go back to The Chase. You hinted at this, but tell me about Sara Haines and the rapport you have on the show.
I think that’s something people will really enjoy. I’m obviously not in The View’s main demographic, so I wasn’t super familiar with Sara before we started shooting. But we went out to dinner the night before we started shooting, and from there, I knew the chemistry was there with all of us. She’s really sharp and quick and likes getting into it with us and the contestants. We had a ton of fun, and I think it really comes through.
It seems like the show has a more playful edge to it, that it’s still for trivia enthusiasts, but also a fun time for even big dummies like me… It’s like, “Let’s watch a half-hour adventure with these characters and the contestants playing a fun game.”
I think that’s actually not a bad way to put it. I think all three of us have our individual personalities. We’re gonna spend an hour watching how these contestants play against this particular Chaser, and see what quips he’ll throw out. Will Sara fire back on the contestant’s behalf? Will the contestants fire back themselves? The trivia is great, too, but there’s a lot of personality between the people on the show. It you look at it as just a trivia show, it’s a good trivia show, but it’s more than just a trivia show.
That’s nice, I’m really looking forward to seeing it. When you become as well-known in the trivia sphere as you have become, is it a hassle to return to your local trivia night? Are you banned? Are you even allowed to still participate, or does everyone leave, like, “Oh no, Brad’s here, let’s pack it up.”
I’m mostly self-banned. It’s sort of a no-win situation if you’re walking into a random bar where people recognize you. Some people are like, “Oh, wow, Brad Rutter showed up!” but other people are like, “Does he really need that $20 gift card?” Fortunately, in L.A., we have a bunch of Jeopardy alumni who run our own trivia night. It’s generally regarded as the toughest bar trivia in America, if not the world. I’m a regular there, and Pam Mueller, and Jerome Vered, and Buzzy Cohen… Pretty much the entire L.A. Jeopardy crew. And people who are in town from out of town play when they come to visit. I remember, when Austin was in town last, he stopped by. His team edged mine out, and he had to go live on Instagram to brag about it. We have our own little bar, which is nice…
You just triggered my imagination. I’m like, “Oh my God, I could write a movie about this!” It sounds like every game is the end of Rocky III, where Stallone and Weathers have one last fight without any crowds or prize, just for the love of the sport. Do you keep a record? Is it a big deal when you’re winning or losing, when you’re playing with people who are on a whole other echelon from mere mortals?
Well, that’s the thing. Because everybody’s in that echelon, it’s sort of just like any other pub quiz. Any team can win any night. If the competition is that fierce… I think the questions are probably just a bit harder than your average trivia night.
I hope someone buys the rights to this interview and makes a movie out of it… I’ll take my Executive Producer credit now, please and thank you. Anyway, tell me about how your life changed after you became famous. What did you want to do with your life that led you to this, and where do you see your career and your life headed in the next decade?
I honestly just want to work in TV as much as possible. I’ve produced a couple of sitcom pilots that didn’t end up going. That’s my dream job, being a series regular on a sitcom, showing up on set every day. It sounds corny, but it’s still magic to me, walking on the set. Every time I get to do it… If I could do that every day, that would be fantastic. And I wouldn’t mind hosting stuff. I know Chris Harrison’s got The Bachelor covered. But if they’re looking for anything else in that vein, give me a call.
I’ve never been behind the scenes of that particular racket, but I understand that there are countless pilots that don’t get picked up, that untold millions are spent on… There’s so much art out there that we’ll never get to see. Part of me is, like, you could release those pilots and have a whole season’s worth of television across every network, give us something scripted to watch during quarantine, you know?
I’m not 100% sure why they don’t do that. It doesn’t cost that much!
Take a chance, see if anything sticks! Clarify for me, you shot a pilot that you were in, right?
I’d love to see that! If The Chase takes off, I dunno, maybe there could be renewed interest or something, right?
Yeah! We could go back and pitch those around. It’s funny, here’s a little Hollywood inside baseball. It was basically about the world’s worst pub quiz team, was the premise. We shot it and I had a great time, I think it turned out really well. At the same time, it broke in the trades that NBC had ordered a pub quiz pilot, as well. You could tell, just from reading between the lines, that it wasn’t going anywhere. They just owed somebody a pilot through their contract, basically. So they just killed us dead. That’s the kind of thing that happens. On some level, it’s a miracle anything gets made.
Whatever happens, I’m confident we’ll continue to see great things from you. It’s been a treat and a pleasure to talk to you.