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The ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant some people love to hate can't stop winning

By Mary Hui

October 6, 2017 at 8:03 PM

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On Oct. 3, "Jeopardy!" published this video on YouTube, showing how an eccentric bartender from New York City, Austin Rogers, made it to his first five wins. (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

It’s been quite a week for Austin Rogers.

The New York City bartender has had an impressive nine-day winning streak on “Jeopardy!,” the trivia game show, raking in $332,400 in prize money. He has won out over a prosecutor, an English teacher, a journalist, a library director and an editor.

“This was a really hard game….Tough ones,” he wrote on Twitter about Friday’s nail-biting episode, which at one point had him a distant second, behind fellow contestant Diana McInnis.

Rogers has become a viral Internet sensation, developing a fan base that swoons over his hilarious style, alongside vocal haters who just can’t seem to stand the sight of him.

“He’s got hair; he’s got chutzpah. He’s got broad-based knowledge,” “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek says.

But some are also debating: Is Rogers “a lovable weirdo or an obnoxious child?”

On Twitter, he has his own trending hashtag: #austinonjeopardy. Rogers also live-tweets the shows, which were taped in April.

Part of the reason for Rogers’s popularity — aside from his winning streak — is that he is just so . . . quirky.

On the show, he plays with joy and confidence.

He bets big — and wins big.

He has goofy, dramatic hand gestures, sometimes punching his arm across his chest when he answers correctly.

And he has a distinctive mop of hair with a bushy beard to match, making him “both unkempt and natty by the show’s drab standards,” as Vulture put it.

He’s a bit like a delightful cross between Willy Wonka and a wacky Hogwarts professor. Or maybe a cross between the actor Zach Galifianakis and Martin Prince, the stereotypical nerd and teacher’s pet in “The Simpsons,” as the A.V. Club put it.

But those who dislike him think he’s awkward, arrogant and even casually racist for a joke he allegedly made about the Dalai Lama.

And all this attention doesn’t faze him.

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive, and I take the Haterade with a grain of salt,” Rogers told the Wrap.

So, what is his secret to winning?

Partly, he’s been watching “Jeopardy!” since he was a kid. And to prepare for his debut, he found ways to watch “hundreds upon hundreds” of “Jeopardy!” episodes, despite not having a TV, he told “Good Morning America” on Thursday.

He also had low expectations, which probably helps to keep stress levels low.

“I set myself a goal of two wins,” Rogers told “Jeopardy!” “I sort of exceeded that expectation.”

And Rogers has a vast, generalist body of knowledge, along with an unquenchable curiosity.

“I guess I got a good learning regimen from college, but the specific information utilized in answering correctly is mostly from my extracurricular reading, documentary watching and general nerdery,” he told “Jeopardy!”

“If I don’t know something, I’ll go out of my way to try and find it out,” he added.

Also important, he told “Good Morning America,” is looking for patterns and clues in the game.

“I’m not going to say there’s a system or a code, but if you watch enough, you’ll start seeing things repeat,” he said. “Like if it ever says ‘sculptor,’ it’s probably going to be Auguste Rodin. If it ever says, ‘American sculptor,’ it’ll probably be Alexander Calder. If it ever says Romanian poet, it’ll be Enasescu.”

And then there’s just the plain old smarts, which Rogers attributes to three things: “Genetics. Luck. Karma.”

As for what he’ll do with his winnings, Rogers has given different answers.

“I realize what an opportunity I’ve been given,” he told the Journal News in New York. “The money ($306,900 to date) is irrelevant. The opportunity is huge. I am working on tying up all the tax implications and creating a sensible investment structure; it will build the foundation for a larger empire!”

But on “Good Morning America,” he deadpanned that he would buy municipal bonds and a BMW.

Either way, his wacky theatrics are likely to be out in full force.

Read more:

Q: Their job is to stump you. Who are they? A: Trivia writers, of course. 

‘Fight Club’ for trivia: The coolest, weirdest Internet community you’ll never be invited to join 


Mary Hui recently graduated from Princeton University and is a reporting intern covering social issues.

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