2020 was a big year for trivia. Starting in January with Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament, continuing with AMC’s excellent Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? scandal miniseries Quiz, and concluding with an impassioned response to the tragic passing of Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, this was a year that highlighted Western society’s fascination with competitive knowledge-sharing. And at the center of much of it, as he often seems to be, was Brad Rutter.
If there ever was a trivia competition Hall-of-Famer, it’s Rutter. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania-born former Quiz Bowler has been a staple of competitive trivia for years. Rutter has had one of the most impressive Jeopardy! careers of all time having been a five-time champion (the show used to cap contestants at five wins), winner of the 2001 Tournament of Champions, the Million Dollar Masters, the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, the Battle of the Decades Tournament, and last year’s All-Star Games, all good for over $5 million in lifetime earnings. He also faced off against Ken Jennings, and James Holzhauer in the aforementioned Jeopardy! GOAT tournament, but he probably wants you to forget about that particular performance.
Now Rutter and his two Jeopardy! GOAT compatriots Jennings and Holzhauer are set to get 2021 off to a strong trivia start with ABC’s The Chase. The Chase is hosted by Sara Haines based on a British program of the same name and will feature Rutter, Jennings, and Holzhauer as in-house quiz show experts dead set on ruining the contestants’ days. The series previously had an American pilot attempt at Fox in 2012 and a successful American adaptation run for Game Show Network from 2013 to 2015. When the show premieres on ABC on Jan. 7 at 9 p.m. ET, however, it will be the first attempt to bring the popular format to primetime American audiences.
We spoke with Rutter about the trivia year that was, what it meant to work with Alex Trebek, what can be expected from The Chase, and of course: his Philadelphia Eagles.
Den of Geek: What was the process of you, Ken, and James agreeing to do The Chase together? Did you guys have like a group text chat going?
Brad Rutter: There was a little bit of that. There was talk of, “We’ve got to figure out a way to get you guys back on TV,” just because Jeopardy GOAT! was such a ratings bonanza. And I immediately thought, “Oh, you know, maybe The Chase. We’d be pretty good as chasers.” But I didn’t have any inside info on that. That’s sort of how it ended up coming together.
How were you familiar with The Chase originally? Had you watched the British version?
I had. I actually was also the American Chaser in the original pilot for Fox back in 2012. There was a regime change over there right after we shot the pilot. It ended up getting picked up on GSN with Mark Labbett, “The Beast.” And they didn’t end up using me. But yeah, I was quite familiar.
What was it like getting Sara Haines to join up as host?
Fantastic. I’m obviously not The View‘s target demo, so I wasn’t super familiar with her, but we went out to dinner the night before we started shooting and really right from bat, I knew that the chemistry was going to be there. She just absolutely clicked with all three of us. I think that’s a really important thing to have in a show like this, because it’s all about the banter. She’s really great facilitating that and sort of sparring with us and also with the contestants a little bit. We had an absolute blast shooting it and I really think that’s going to come through on the air.
I went back and watched a little bit of the Jeopardy! GOAT tournament and some of the interviews they cut with you. One thing that you said was studying probably doesn’t even help that much when it comes to Jeopardy!, but it’s like an emotional armor to wear. Do you do much studying prior to Chase episodes? And do you still kind of feel that way – that it’s more of an emotional armor?
Less so for The Chase than for Jeopardy!, actually, because I think Jeopardy! has more of a defined canon. They can conceivably ask you about anything, but you know that presidents are going to come up a lot, Shakespeare is going to come up a lot, world capitals are going to come up a lot. So I generally try to stay in shape with that type of stuff.
With this, I wouldn’t study to the extent that I would with Jeopardy! just because you don’t know what’s going to come up. This is a brand new show, so you weren’t quite sure. If we do a season two though, I’m going to study the Billboard Top 40 … to give you a little clue about where the stew of the questions might be going.
Jeopardy! famously films many episodes in advance. What’s the filming schedule like for The Chase and how long ago did you lock these episodes?
I think it was November 13 through 20, and we did two a day, except only one on the last day. The 13th was a Friday, so I guess nobody was superstitious. I didn’t even realize that until now. Jeopardy! can get away with shooting five a day because A, it’s only half an hour and B, they’ve been doing it for 35 years, so it’s kind of a well-oiled machine.
With a new game show, there’s all the standards and practices stuff and the legal things where you really have to get things right. One little hiccup can end up causing huge delays, but fortunately that didn’t really happen here. I was actually pleasantly surprised, because for first time shows, there’s usually going to be hiccups.
That’s interesting too because you’ve only done this show under COVID protocols then. Did it seem kind of different from a usual production due to the environment right now?
Yes and no. I think it would be fun with an audience. So knock on wood, season two we can make that happen. But yeah, otherwise it was a lot like a normal production just with everybody masked up and trying to stay away from each other.
How has your, James’s, and Ken’s relationship evolved through the GOAT tournament and then going into The Chase?
We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well, which is nice. And we do have a group text. We send stuff back and forth when we think it’s appropriate and sort of like something comes up that we had a question on in the GOAT tournament or something like that. I actually just texted them about something I saw that was a question on The Chase, which I can’t divulge right now. But that’s the kind of stuff we do when we’re having fun. Spotting the promos and stuff like that, and talking about people we know getting in touch with us because they saw us on Monday Night Football. That kind of thing.
We talked earlier about how strange and awful 2020 has been at times. Obviously we all just had to recently deal with the tragedy of Alex Trebek’s passing. You’ve already spoken about your experience with him beautifully on social media. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about in regards to spending time with him?
Well, I think that he actually ended up having an impact on my life just watching him work and getting to know him a little bit. It comes through watching the last few episodes that he did shoot that he was really proud of the show and it was his life’s work. He really put a lot of effort into something that he was very proud of. He had very high standards for himself and the show, and was always trying to live up to that. But at the same time, he was always having so much fun with it. Just watching Alex go about his business on Jeopardy!, I realized that’s a really great blueprint for how to live your life: care about something, strive for excellence, and have a good time doing it. If you’re picking three rules for life, I think you could do a lot worse than that. He’s inspired me for a long time, but even more so lately.
Do you have a take on who should host the show next?
Alex. But we can’t do it, unfortunately. That’s one of the terrible things about it. I can’t even really imagine what it’s going to be like. That’s all I can say about it.
I’ll just switch to a happier topic real quick at the end here. I like the notion of you, Ken, and James texting back and forth about Monday Night Football. How do you feel about the Jalen Hurts era for your Philadelphia Eagles?
Encouraging. Encouraging start. The poise is what I really noticed and coolness under pressure. I, for the life of me, can’t figure out what the Saints’ defensive game plan was about. It was almost as if they were preparing for Carson Wentz and then Hurts could just trample and run all over them.
You would’ve thought that they would have expected a little bit more of that. I am interested to see how he does now that there’s some tape out there on him. We’ll see how he does there. But it’s a giant mess anyway, because they can’t get rid of Wentz because of this contract. And they might have to try to trade one of them and who knows? [EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted following the Eagles’ victory over the New Orleans Saints. In the subsequent three weeks, Rutter’s Eagles went 0-3, missed the playoffs, and quarterback Jalen Hurts was benched in the final game. So uh…whoops].
Quarterback uncertainty is not something I would wish on anybody. But I’m a Browns fan. So…sorry for trading you that second pick that became Carson Wentz.
Well it looked like he was going to work out great. And maybe he still will, I don’t know. It’s 2020. Who knows what’s in the water over there.
The Chase premieres Jan. 7 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.