In my home, because I am a nerd and I live with another nerd as well as a cat who does not get a vote, we watch Jeopardy! If you are also a religious Jeopardy! viewer, you probably know some of the things nightly viewings of the trusty blue quiz show entail. There is a lot of shouting at the television. There is criticism of Daily Double wagering techniques. There are declarations of vastly superior knowledge and wisdom. There are threats that involve the purchasing of scorekeeping accessories.
And, lately, there have been heart palpitations and yelps and coverings-of-eyes, thanks to an ongoing spree by an extremely knowledgeable and suddenly quite wealthy lunatic named Austin.
Austin Rogers—introduced to viewers as “a bartender from New York,” and more recently by longtime host Alex Trebek as a contestant in possession of “hair” and “chutzpah”—is, as of Tuesday night, the winner of the last six episodes of Jeopardy! During his run, he has accrued more than $257,000 in winnings. He is good at trivia, but you knew that. What sets Austin apart, besides his hirsuteness, are two things. First: He appears to have a personality, effectively trashing the holiest unspoken rule in all of Jeopardy!-dom; Austin dances and makes faces and narrates his decision-making in real time. And second: He gambles like a madman.
He also made an early enemy of Trebek. The best part of Jeopardy!, in my humble opinion, is the changing moods of Trebek, whose steely demeanor rarely cracks. His shifts are subtle: He has a tendency to make fun of contestants’ stranger hobbies; when a winner fails to take home a substantial sum, he makes his disappointment clear. (I wrote about that last point in February, and Jeopardy! retweeted the link; I like to think this was a message from Trebek himself that low earners are unworthy of his time.)
With Austin, Trebek dropped his subtlety altogether. During the bartender’s first game, he swore repeatedly after missing clues until Trebek finally chided him on air: “You realize, of course, that we will be bleeping two or three of what you’ve had to say so far this half hour.” In response, Austin chuckled and carried on, defiantly telling Trebek, “That’s all right.” The bartender’s skill, though, seems to have won the host over; in Austin’s fourth appearance, he won $69,000, just $8,000 shy of the all-time single-day record set in 2010.
Austin’s scores are helped by his tendency to bet the farm at every opportunity. If you watch much of the show, you know that most contestants are conservative to a fault when given the chance to gamble in Double Jeopardy. Many contestants wager just $1,000, and you can quickly find yourself begging the television for someone brave or foolish enough to say the magic words: “Alex, let’s make it a true Daily Double.” Austin, on the other hand, brashly bets most or all of his winnings again and again. After wagering $15,700, even Trebek was shocked: “Whoa,” he said, just before Austin answered correctly again. As an at-home viewer, the effect is one of excitement—finally, someone playing to win!—and terror. (It’s also worth noting that Austin has the dignity to steer clear of the hunting-for–Daily Doubles technique that has lined the pockets of previous illustrious winners like Arthur Chu and the future IBM robot overlord Watson; Austin tends to follow the traditional method of working his way down categories in order. In short: He plays the game the right way.)
His techniques have nonetheless proved divisive: “My dad literally sent me an email last night about how much he hates this guy,” a Ringer staffer told me Wednesday. Others have taken to social media to decry him as annoying, “king douche,” and “seriously the worst person I have ever seen in my life.” A Twitter account under the name “Austin Tyler Rogers” has lately been popping up to opine on the streak. Is it Austin’s actual account? I don’t know. Certainly it is the account of someone who is searching Twitter for messages containing “Austin” and “Jeopardy” and then responding to them, sometimes in Latin. Take from that what you will.
Austin’s frenzied, high-stakes gambling will, in the end, almost definitely be the end of him. Until then, he sails closer and closer to glory. He’s the booze-friendly, giggling Icarus that we all deserve.