A loss of buzzer “mojo” and “some tough luck on some ‘Daily Doubles.’ ”
Those are two of the biggest factors Lancaster native and “Jeopardy!” champion Brad Rutter said led to his surprising third-place finish in the quiz show’s “Greatest of All Time” tournament.
Ken Jennings beat fellow “Jeopardy!” champs Rutter and James Holzhauer to win the “Greatest” title and $1 million at the end of four matches. The tournament, played and recorded last month, ended with an episode that aired on ABC Tuesday night.
“Ken played fantastic,” Rutter said Wednesday by phone from Los Angeles. “He’s always good, but I feel like he took it to another level with this.
“And I just couldn’t get any mojo going on the buzzer, which was a first for me,” Rutter added. “That’s probably the most important factor in the game ... so, without that, that was going to be a tough sled.
“I was always optimistically thinking that, as fast as the buzzer mojo can go, maybe it can come back and then I’d have a real shot. ... I never count myself out,” he said.
Rutter and Jennings have both talked in interviews about how comfortable it is to be behind the podiums on "Jeopardy!" and how much fun it is to play the game.
"I might have been a bit too comfortable" during this tournament, Rutter said with a laugh. "That's one thought that crossed my mind. There's something to be said for adrenaline factoring into sharpening your performance."
Until the first night of the tournament last week, the 1995 Manheim Township High School graduate had never been beaten by a human opponent on “Jeopardy!”; he and Jennings lost to the IBM Watson computer in 2011.
“I knew it was coming eventually,” said Rutter, who has won more than $4.9 million on “Jeopardy!” — more than any contestant on any game show. “I’m glad it was a scintillating performance like (Jennings’) that did it.”
Rutter and Holzhauer both received $250,000 as tournament runners-up.
While Rutter has played against Jennings in several tournaments — always beating him until the "Greatest" contest — this marked his first turn against the sharp trivia mind and high-wagering swagger of Holzhauer, who holds "Jeopardy!" records for the highest-scoring games.
“(Ken and I) both knew that we were going to have to go with the big ‘Daily Double’ bets,” Rutter said. “Things have been trending that way for a while. ... We knew that’s how James (Holzhauer) was going to play, and we were going to have to match that.”
Unfortunately for Rutter, on some of those high wagers, he provided the incorrect questions in response to the answer clues — and lost all his points.
That Buchanan question
"I think I did a good job on the 'Decades in History' category," Rutter said, adding history is one of his stronger subjects in "Jeopardy!"
"And I'm sure I will be hearing about it a lot (in Lancaster) that Ken beat me in on the (President James) Buchanan response," Rutter said, referring to a clue about the fiancee and bachelor status of the local politician and 15th president.
"In fact, a friend of mine actually plays James Buchanan at Wheatland, and over Christmas I had been on his tour, and he mentioned Buchanan's fiancee's name (Ann Coleman)," Rutter said. "So that was a killer. That probably is a good indication of how things were going for me.”
Rutter said host Alex Trebek looked good despite his current battle with advanced pancreatic cancer.
"The craziest thing about that is that if you didn't know (he has cancer), you wouldn't know anything was wrong," Rutter said. "He's hosting the show as well as he ever has. You hear athletes say that, when they have tough things going on in their lives, the field or the court is kind of a sanctuary. I think there's a little bit of that going on with Alex. He gets out there and does his thing, and that's a few hours where he doesn't have to think about everything else. He can just do what he's the greatest of all time at.
"I think that was the best thing about the whole (tournament)," Rutter said, "getting to hang out with Alex for a bit. I've kind of taken it for granted over the years, but when you get some news like he did, it really focuses you and makes you realize that it's special to spend time with people.
“I’d just like to thank everyone back in Lancaster for their support,” Rutter added. “It’s been fantastic. This one didn’t turn out the way that I had hoped, but I hope I’ve been able to make everybody back there proud.”
James Holzhauer has been astounding “Jeopardy!” viewers with his winning ways — his smarts,…