Brad Rutter on Joining ABC’s ‘The Chase’ & Remembering ‘Jeopardy!’s Alex Trebek

Brad Rutter in The Chase
Diana Ragland

Jeopardy! remains one of TV’s top trivia shows, but there’s competition on the horizon as three of the show’s champs — Brad Rutter, Ken Jennings, and James Holzhauer — put their considerable brain power to work on ABC’s The Chase.

Debuting Thursday, January 7, the game based on the British favorite takes TV by storm with the help of last year’s Jeopardy! GOAT tournament competitors, only this time they’re teaming up. Below, chaser and Jeopardy! champ Rutter opens up about The Chase, his experience with the GOAT tournament, and memories of Alex Trebek.

What should viewers know about The Chase before tuning in?

Brad Rutter: The simplest way to put it is that regular trivia players take on the trivia titans and see if they can take them down. There’s a few different rounds. One of the things I like about it is that there’s also a lot of fast-paced, rapid fire trivia like in Jeopardy!.

Do you think that will help draw in the Jeopardy! fans?

Yeah. The wide subject matter is very similar and there is a buzzer involved. Jeopardy! has 61 questions every night, and we’re easily going to have that too, and also a bit more one-on-one playing. And also, if you liked the smack talk between Ken, James, and I, there’s a bit of that with each other, and more with the contestants and [host] Sara [Haines].

Brad Rutter

Diana Ragland

What have you done to prepare for the show?

I try to stay in shape anyway. I play a lot of trivia and learn a lot of stuff that way, and I still do the same stuff I always do, which is watch a lot of documentaries. But especially since it’s a new show, I wasn’t really too sure of what to expect. So, just trying to keep my mind in shape rather than trying to study anything in particular.

Any advice you’d offer to contestants?

Well, they need all the help they can get. So one, if you’re going to show up, one thing I really noticed was that people don’t pass as quickly as they should on questions, because there’s no downside for the contestants. Stuff is timed too, so if you have to think about it, you’re probably wasting time when you could just pass and get a new question right away. Don’t be afraid to pass.

Despite being on the same team this time around, is there still a level of competitiveness between you and your fellow chasers? You mentioned something about “smack talk.”

Oh yeah, absolutely. And it’s funny, too. Another cool thing we have going is that while one of us is actually playing the game, the other two are watching in another room to give commentary and talk about what the right strategy would be for the contestants. It was pretty weird because, on one level, we are the same team and we know each other and we’re friends and we’re rooting for each other, but there’s that impulse to talk smack as well [Laughs].

That GOAT Tournament really was a monumental moment in Jeopardy!‘s history. What was it like to be a part of that experience?

Well, I was in immediately because, sadly, I wasn’t sure whether I would get to see Alex again. So that was just like, “OK, I get to hang out with Alex. That’s all you need to say.” That was what I was focused on, and plus, I love Jeopardy! and they’ve been great to me over the years.

The Chase Brad Rutter James Holzhauer Ken Jennings

The Chase (Credit: ABC/Ron Batzdorff)

I think this probably has to do with Alex as well, but the extent to which it was the biggest thing on television took me completely by surprise. I figured it would be a pretty big deal, but we don’t really have water cooler shows anymore, and it seemed like that was, and it wasn’t like anything I had been involved with before. So it was surprising and gratifying. I’m glad we got that big ratings win in for Alex, too.

Your fellow chaser Ken Jennings is set to guest host Jeopardy!. Would you step up to the plate if given the opportunity?

No comment…I’ll be as coy as possible [Laughs].

Alex Trebek impacted many people over the years. How has he impacted your life?

I was going back through the years and then thinking about him and what I learned from him. It turns out that I have been really inspired by spending the time with him on set. There’s three big things [I learned]. One, he really cared about the show and put everything he had into it. Two, he had a really high standard for himself of just absolute excellence and it was a pleasure to watch him work. And the third thing is that he was always having a good time. He was doing something he really cared about at an extremely high level and holding himself to that standard, and having a blast doing it. If you could just get those three things lined up, I can’t think of any better way to go through life.

The Chase, Series Premiere, Thursday, January 7, 9/8c, ABC