Austin Rogers lost very dramatically on 'Jeopardy!'

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

And so after a 12-game winning streak that netted him $411,000, Austin Rogers lost on Jeopardy! Thursday night, bringing to a halt one of the most quirky and original contestant appearances in game-show history. The New York City bartender, who told host Alex Trebek that every item of clothing he wore on the show was from thrift shops, was gracious in defeat: He clapped and cheered for his winning opponent, Scarlett Sims from Tennessee, who ran a “Dolly Parton” category and excelled in buzzer technique.

Clearly, Austin has touched a game-show nerve. His Fozzie Bear outside, containing a sly devil inside, provoked lots of love and, inevitably, a certain degree of hate on social media. Among his fans is Jimmy Fallon, who met Austin while throwing a couple back at Rogers’s bar. The Tonight Show host invited Austin onto Thursday’s show to relive his triumph, and the contestant proved to be a relaxed, affable talk-show guest. To watch their interaction, Rogers and Fallon might be sitting around a dorm room swapping tall tales.

Austin was a postmodern Jeopardy! contestant, one who continually pushed at the edges of the show’s framework. During the show’s familiar opening introductions, rather than stand there and smile hopefully as every contestant, including all-time-champ Ken Jennings, has done, Austin performed mini-pantomimes (making a balloon animal, miming talking on a phone, etc.). He also injected some vinegar into the usually sugary small talk Trebek engages in after the first commercial. When Austin told Alex about scoring his wardrobe from Upper East Side thrift stores, he added, “People on the Upper East Side will give away completely good things. Except health care, apparently.” Trebek smiled tightly and silently backed away from the guest as if to say, “I’m not touching your comic attempt to inject a discussion of health care into my dream-like universe.” And Rogers lit up Twitter when, in a surreal, inadvertently naughty moment on Thursday, he compelled Trebek to say a new phrase: “dick tree.”

New champion Scarlett really aced the Dolly Parton category, which you might ascribe to her living in Tennessee (Trebek did), but you also have to acknowledge that she has a wide range of knowledge and she’s really deft with her buzzer timing. Both elements combined to defeat Rogers, who was more enthusiastic about her win than your usual game-show loser. But then, Austin Rogers was never your usual game-show contestant. I fear that his media success will inspire other Jeopardy! contestants to get self-consciously goofy — they won’t match Austin’s spontaneous originality. But the original will be back: Austin will appear in the Tournament of Champions in November.

Jeopardy! airs weeknights. Check your local listings.

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