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I’ll take “Jeopardy!” Champions for $200, Alex

By Randall Kenneth Jones

Originally published in the Naples Daily News

The answer is: The all-time, top-earning undefeated “Jeopardy!” champion whose total career winnings exceed $4.3 million.

For those who have become “Jeopardy!” game-show aficionados during its extraordinary 50-year run, the answer (quite literally, “in question”) is easy: Who is Brad Rutter?

Brad RutterLancaster, Pennsylvania-native Rutter—who is connected to Southwest Florida through his publicist, part-time Naples resident Soni Dimond—was too young to legally rent a car when, at age 22, he arrived in Los Angeles for his first “Jeopardy!” appearance in 2000.

Since that time, Rutter has shattered game-show records by winning “Jeopardy’s” 2001 Tournament of Champions, the Million Dollar Masters Tournament and the Ultimate Tournament of Champions. More recently, Rutter triumphed in the 2014 Battle of the Decades.

A competitive exhibition of mental acuity presented in a series of academic sound bites, “Jeopardy!” is arguably the ultimate intellectual Q & A—or, more accurately, A & Q.

Naturally, I began my conversation with Rutter by disclosing a list of “Business Class” interview categories: preparation, game playing, competition and fear, the latter representing a reminder that “jeopardy” is, after all, synonymous with danger, risk and peril.

Regardless of the question presented, cool-headed Rutter provided effortless responses, so spot-on, in fact, that a printed transcript of our discussion would be equally compelling.

With no oversized game board or cameras present, the totally Trebek-less Rutter and his encyclopedic knowledge stood alone; however, his (swift and sound) sound-bite answers flowed seamlessly.

“Preparation” for $400:

As a child, Rutter—a lifelong bibliophile—visited the library once a week and always checked out the maximum number of books allowed. He subsequently “got into the habit of reading early and never got out of it.” (Think: Brick Heck from ABC’s The Middle, minus the attention-grabbing idiosyncratic behavior.)

On preparing for competition, Rutter quickly offers: “To an extent, you either know it or you don’t,”—a concept that either relaxes or terrifies, depending upon your point of view.

Though Rutter points to some more commonplace “Jeopardy!” categories such as World Capitals, Shakespeare Plays and U.S. Presidents as worthy of pre-game review, it appears that a lifelong commitment to self-education is Brad Rutter’s ultimate game changer.

True, it may be too late to change our childhood reading habits but, regardless of our fields, each of us certainly have a short list of categories that deserve our ongoing attention.

“Competition” for $600:

As for standing before headmaster Alex Trebek and adjacent to two other prospective know-it-alls, Rutter shares: “We are all nervous. The key is to be less nervous than the other contestants.”

Nevertheless, in the business world, the 11-character word, “competition,” is often described using any number of less-than-favorable four-letter words.

On this argument, Rutter takes the high road and wins again: “Competition is good for you as you can test yourself. You learn you are capable of things you may not have realized before.”

“Game playing” for $800:

Whether fueled by legitimate strategy and/or personal agendas, workplace game playing is everywhere. If this concept is unfamiliar to you, you are, quite simply, not working.

To Rutter: “You can always look a lot smarter than you really are if you just pay attention,” a comment worthy of everyone’s vigilant consideration.

In a salute to self-confidence, he offers: “If somebody’s going to win, it might as well be me.”

Finally, Rutter gamely suggests: “A lot of people waste energy complaining that the ‘rules of the game’ aren’t fair. Learn how to play within them or play another game.” Those words ring true in so many situations.

“Fear” for $1,000:

Fear, specifically the fear of losing something, is a common motivator in almost every professional setting.

On this topic, Rutter’s credible sound bites continue:

 1.  “I only have control over one question at a time. I can’t control the categories or the contestants.”

 2. “I can ‘logic’ my way out of fear. For example, I statistically proved to myself it was safe to fly.”

 3.  “Most people are more afraid of what they shouldn’t fear than what they should,” he jokes, a reference to parents obsessed with sunscreen-glazing their child while a stingray unknowingly lurks nearby.

Rutter has not squandered his considerable winnings. He lives simply in L.A. with two roommates and an ongoing commitment to working on both sides of the camera—a career focus resulting from the undeniable thrill of “Jeopardy’s” media-rich environment.

Brad RutterThough most of us have been involved in high-stakes negotiations and business dealings, the vast majority of us have not had the added pressure of seeing our transactions hosted and/or televised.

On the simplest possible level, intellectual powerhouse Brad Rutter and his spectacular yet unique success offer highly visible proof that, to be a winner, all you really have to do is think like a winner. Game over.

 

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Marketer, publicist, business humoristprofessional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida. 

Photos: TOP — Alex Trebek and Brad Rutter, photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.; Photo 2 and Photo 3 — Brad Rutter, photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc., BOTTOM — Randall Kenneth Jones.