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A: He beat the best Q: Who is Brad Rutter?
Friday, May 27, 2005

Brad Rutter, it turns out, does have a weakness, though you wouldn't know it by the way he thrashed trivia whiz Ken Jennings during Wednesday evening's episode of "Jeopardy!"


Brad Rutter

Ken Jennings
"Ballet," Rutter said yesterday, as he was being transported between TV news interviews. "Opera." He's not such a classical music buff, either, he admits.

It hardly mattered. Rutter, a single 27-year-old from Lancaster County, dispatched Jennings, the former "Jeopardy!" royalty who last year won 74 times in a row on the popular TV game show, erasing the all-time winnings record that until then had belonged to Rutter.

In the conclusion to a 15-week tournament of champions, Rutter also bested Jerome Vered, a Los Angeles screenwriter, and in the process claimed the first "Ultimate Jeopardy!" title.

"Appearances can be deceiving," Rutter said of his lopsided victory. Uh-huh. One of those closer-than-the-scoreboard-indicated type of match-ups, right?

"If we played it again," he said, "it might have turned out differently."

In his victory, Rutter might help to recast the nation's popular image of Lancaster County residents, who these days are known primarily for their tendency to take their airplanes for joyrides into Washington, D.C., airspace.

Rutter takes home the $2 million winner's purse, takes back the show's lifetime earnings record -- he's now collected $3.2 million -- and takes away a measure of the mystique Jennings accumulated during last year's run.

"I sent him an e-mail when he passed me last year," Rutter said of Jennings. "I was looking forward to meeting him."

Fans of the show were looking forward to the meeting, too. This was the trivia geek's version of the 1970s Steelers playing the 1990s Cowboys, a dream bowl match-up. The show was taped two weeks ago, and Rutter was mum about the results until last night. (If he'd let the cat out of the bag, it could have cost him a $5 million penalty.)

Rutter won about $200,000 in his first runs on the show, then won $1 million during his 2002 appearance on the show's "Million Dollar Tournament."

He was barely old enough to buy a celebratory drink then, but he was plenty old enough to drive, so he treated himself to a Porsche Boxster S. Now he's going to trade it in for a Porsche 911, whose starting price is $70,000.

New car aside, Rutter used much of the winnings from his first "Jeopardy!" run to finance and host his own game show, called "InQuizitive," airing in central Pennsylvania and testing the brainpower of local high school students. This time, he's going to use part of the money to set up a scholarship fund honoring Anne Clouser, the high school teacher who persuaded him to try out for Manheim Township High School's quiz team in the first place. Clouser died five years ago at age 49.

Rutter, Jennings and Vered battled for the ultimate title through three shows, culminating with Wednesday night's showdown. Going into the final question of the night, Rutter had $23,600 to Jennings' $9,400.

The Final Jeopardy answer: "These names of two original Mercury astronauts who orbited Earth in May 1962 and May 1963 are also occupations."

The question: Who are Malcolm Scott Carpenter and Leroy Gordon Cooper? Rutter got it right, Jennings did not.

Rutter is already a local celebrity. He has the game show, he's been in the local papers, People magazine took his picture once and he's even been on "Oprah."

Yet having bested Jennings, he's now being recognized outside of his hometown -- even in the city of strangers, New York City. "I think this is a little higher-profile," he said.

But will Rutter's profile rise like Jennings' did? Jennings has a board game coming out, has written a book, is set to star in a Comedy Central game show, and lately has been getting some work as a television pitchman.

Rutter, a Johns Hopkins University graduate and a former record store clerk, isn't worrying about that right now. "We're just getting ready for the fall season" of "InQuizitive," he said.

First published on May 27, 2005 at 12:00 am
Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.
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