Three things have changed for Austin Rogers since his 12-game streak on “Jeopardy!” ended. He’s nearly a half million dollars richer; he’s learning how to fend off fans swarming into the Hell’s Kitchen spot where he tends bar; and he’s been banned from local trivia nights.
“When I’d go to a particularly facile trivia night, back in the day, being back before ‘Jeopardy,’ I’d win against 15 teams of five and it would just be me by myself,” Rogers, an East Harlem resident, recalled. “They’d be like, ‘That guy’s cheating!’ The host would say, ‘Nope, he’s just smarter than everyone else in this room.’ ”
Rogers hasn’t had much time to show off his skills at local bars since returning from his “Jeopardy” taping in California in August, but it’s probably for the best. He jokes that he’s been banned from Upper East Side pub Biddy’s, one of his old haunts, because he wins too easily.
“Well, you’ll see me at the ones I HOST ... just not as a participant,” Rogers said.
Surprisingly enough, the New York bartender who’s been recently deemed America’s favorite “Jeopardy” contestant didn’t prep for his appearance on the show by frequenting trivia nights. (He dropped by Biddy’s only when he had the free time, he said). He doesn’t have a photographic memory and didn’t spend years of his life training for his spotlight moment on the Alex Trebek-hosted game show that’s been around since 1984. So, how did Rogers turn a spot on the show into a nearly two-week long stint totaling $411,000?
“There are some people out there who, it is their holy grail, their sacred duty to be on ‘Jeopardy,’ and for me it was like, ‘hey, that’d be fun,’ ” he said, explaining that he’s simply good at accessing past memories and revisiting facts he’s previously read about when he needs to.
His intellect made him a strong opponent, only losing his spot on his 13th episode, which aired Oct. 12, to a competitor — Scarlett Sims — who earned $51 more than he did. His high-stakes bets, quirky personality and no-holds-barred approach to the game show made him relatable and lovable to viewers.
“I did not predict this reaction. I didn’t predict my behavior, either, because I can’t. Everyone’s like, ‘oh, this was just an act on the show.’ No, I did not modify a single thing,” he insisted.
Rogers has gained some serious viral fame off his appearance and says he now has dozens of fans “of a wide variety of weirdness” popping into the bar where he’s worked for two years, Gaf West, at 48th Street and Ninth Avenue.
“F------ Jimmy Fallon mentioned the name of the bar on air,” Rogers says of his Oct. 13 appearance on the late-night host’s couch. “My entire past week and a half at the bar has been spent with one-third of the clientele being people specifically there to see me. Some are like, ‘I just want to say hi, thanks a lot.’ Cool. Others are like, ‘I’m your biggest fan.’ I’m like, ‘OK, stalkie!’ ”
Though Rogers isn’t the biggest fan of the fame, he’s learning how to deal.
“The shield of the bar is one of the most remarkable psychological barriers on Earth. It makes the least attractive person attractive. You can say whatever you want from behind the bar and people think you’re joking,” Rogers said.
You’ll get to see Rogers on TV once more when he returns for the “Jeopardy” champions round in November, but after that, he’ll probably never show face on a game show again.
Here’s why: “I don’t like other game shows. ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’ is stupid because it’s multiple choice and they always ask you what your reasoning is and I wouldn’t have the patience for that. I’d be like, ‘It’s D. Why do I think it’s D? I know it’s D. Just pick D and move on. THE ANSWER IS D.’”
Not to mention he’s pretty content with the winnings he has now. When asked what he plans to do with his chunk of change, he said, “Nothing. Invest it and save it. I’m fairly happy. I don’t have many expenses. I don’t have a hunger for many material goods. I would like this money to become a nice firm foundation for a future where maybe I don’t have to work as hard,” he said. He’s hoping to find time to publish a historical fiction novel and is also fielding offers from networks looking to sign him for print and on-camera opportunities.
But, Rogers is still in the process of figuring out which offers are legit and which are, as he puts it, “shenanigans pedaled by a charlatan.”
“If nothing works out, doesn’t matter. I’m happy anyway,” he said.