As of Wednesday night, “Jeopardy!” contestant Austin Rogers had racked up $278,300. Judging by the reaction to the New York bartender’s seven-days-and-counting run on the game show, he’s also won the attention of the show’s fans, who have lit up Twitter over his performances.
While most of the response has been in admiration of his “Jeopardy!” skills and quirky antics, as with anything, there has been some trollery tossed in Rogers’ direction.
TheWrap spoke to Rogers on Thursday to discuss, among other things, how he handles the criticism, what he plans to do with his “Jeopardy!” windfall and the now-infamous “sherbert” flub.
You’ve received mixed reactions from the public on social media. How do you react to the criticism?
You know what? It’s been overwhelmingly positive, and I take the Haterade with a grain of salt. And I also will engage you if you are not playing ball. Not in a mean-spirited way, but in a snarky, self-deprecating way.
People are like, “He is so annoying,” and I’m like, “I know; I feel the same way too.” There was one like, “I hate Austin Rogers,” and I go, “Me too; I wake up feeling that way every morning.”
What else are you going to do? And some of those tweets have turned into converts from that sort of self-deprecation.
That’s all you can do with the haters, because they’re going to be there anyway.
Yeah. What’s up with people not liking winning?
People have really reacted to your antics — such as your feigning a phone call during your introduction on Wednesday’s episode. How much of that is planned, or is it off the cuff?
They’re completely off the cuff. While you’re up there, before the camera pans over to you, you forget that, “Oh no, I’ve got 11 seconds.” I forgot every single time. Every single time I stepped up to position No. 1 [and] they introduced the other two contestants and I go, “Oh, no; I’ve got 11 seconds to stare awkwardly into the camera.”
It is an unbearably long time; it’s like; “…and Austin Rogers, a bartender from New York, whose six-day winnings total 200 and blah-bity blah blah, blah-bity blah blah.” Do you see how long that just was? When you’re staring at a red light on a camera for that, you can’t hold a real smile that long, you can’t fake a smile for that long. because it just looks fake.
So I’m just like, “Oh; crap; I forgot. So what am I going to do? I’m just going to do something to kill this time.” It’s not so much showmanship, it’s really awkward to stand still and stare at the camera for 11 and a half seconds.
As a bartender, you’re probably used to getting free drinks. Have you been getting a lot more of them since you’ve been appearing on the show?
Oh, no! The bars I go to, they still charge me! Of course. They’re all my friends, of course they’re gonna charge me, because they know I’m gonna tip the hell out of them!
And they’re aware you have some cash on you these days.
Got a little bit of the cash; got a little bit of the cash flow.
You taped these episodes months in advance. So it was complete serendipity that you came up with the “What is a taco?” reply during Final Jeopardy on National Taco Day?
Complete randomness. One hundred percent kismet, serendipity, randomness.
Have you heard from Ken Jennings or any of the big winners of the past?
On Twitter, they’re talking about me obliquely, but not directly. I have met some of the other big players in the history of the game, because as word of my momentum spread, they started coming to my tapings.
Have they been supportive or offered advice to you?
There is this intimate fraternity of “Jeopardy!” players, and they’re all immensely, immensely supportive. Every single one has been really supportive and enthusiastic in meeting me and finding out that I’m the one who unseated them from such-and-such a record. Or I’m the one who surpassed them at such-and-such a total.
No one in this “Jeopardy!’ fraternity is ever jealous. Everyone is always, “It’s fantastic to see someone who out-excelled me.” When another person beats another person in “Jeopardy!” it’s almost exclusively, “Wow, you deserve that.” No one is ever like, “I got robbed, I want a replay.” It’s really enthusiastic. I like that a lot.
What has been your most disappointing moment during your “Jeopardy!” run?
“Sherbert” is disappointing. [During Wednesday’s episode, Rogers was penalized for pronouncing “sherbet” as “sherbert.”] It didn’t even occur to me; I saw the phrasing, I saw what they were going for, but that’s just how I say that word.
By the way, Twitter is overwhelmingly on my side. I thought it was maybe a Northeast regional dialect, but I’m seeing people from Idaho, and Iowa and Georgia and California all chiming in, saying, “We say ‘sherbert.'”
What do you plan to do with all of the money you’ve won on “Jeopardy!”?
I am going to be incredibly judicious. You hear all these terror stories of lottery winners bankrupt within years, blah blah blah blah blah. I have to pay my taxes, and therefore I am not touching a single dime of the money until all of my tax obligations are fulfilled.
Unlike most other contestants, I have zero encumbrances. I do not have a mortgage. I do not have a kid. I do not have college debt. I do not have car payments. I do not have grandma in the hospital. This is just literal free money for me.
So I can use it for leisure, or I can more likely, and better-thinking, use it for the foundation for a future of something bigger, beyond “Jeopardy!” This is now the concrete structure upon which I can build the home.
Are you still tending bar, despite the windfall?
Oh yeah, I love it! Why wouldn’t I?