In ABC’s new game show “The Chase” — the latest American adaptation of a U.K. format, hosted by ‘The View” co-host Sara Haines — the trivia master that contestants face off against is described as a “ruthless quiz genius determined to stop contestants from winning cash prizes.”
Here, that role is held by three of the most well-known trivia buffs on U.S. shores — Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, and Brad Rutter — thanks to their years of mastery of “Jeopardy!” and their participation in last year’s “Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time” tournament that proved to be a ratings giant.
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On this show, three contestants get a chance to beat either Jennings, Holzhauer or Rutter at a series of fast-paced questions. The players are given an advantage of being a few steps ahead of the “Chaser,” as the trivia kings are called on the show, but they are also enticed with additional cash prizes to give up part of that advantage.
This gig is more high-pressure in some ways, even though the trio isn’t playing for any money at all.
“I felt like I was letting the format down if I didn’t know something, because I’m supposed to be knowledgeable and pedantic, and I can do all that, but even though there was less at stake financially for us as players this time — because we’re not contestants — it did feel like, ‘Oh, for this show to work, I’ve really got to be on the ball,'” Jennings told Variety at a recent virtual press junket.
“You’re kind of fighting an uphill battle as a Chaser,” added Holzhauer. “There’s a lot of pressure up there. It takes a good sort of person to be able to handle that and play through it.”
Jennings, Rutter and Holzhauer have a private group text going — as well as a series of public Twitter exchanges, where they have been taking good-natured jabs at each other since the GOAT tourney a year ago. That explains their conversational ease with each other on “The Chase” stage.
“I wasn’t expecting the chemistry to gel as quickly as it did,” said Rutter. “It felt like we’d been shooting for years on the first day.”
While one trivia titan takes to the Chaser chair, the two others linger backstage in the “Chaser Lounge,” watching the game and making cracks about their peer — and the contestants.
Holzhauer, a sports enthusiast and self-described “armchair quarterback,” said he was “unsure” of the Chaser Lounge as a concept at first, but soon came around to it.
“The idea of people offering running commentary, it’s kind of what the world of social media and TV shows and things like that is,” he said. “You have people who are there watching there with you, and they’re saying the same things you’re saying; it’s a fun thing.”
Quips Jennings: “If you liked us ribbing each other during the GOAT tournament, just wait ’til you see it now where there’s literally nothing at stake and we’re just doing it out of pure pettiness.”
“The Chase,” like so many other trivia shows, works in the shadow of the format’s GOAT: “Jeopardy!” The new series, which premieres on Jan. 7 at 9 p.m., starts out with a heartfelt tribute to “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, who died several months ago after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Jennings, who last year became a consulting producer on “Jeopardy!”, will serve as one of several interim guest hosts in the wake of Trebek’s passing. He knows that it will be quite an adjustment for viewers who have been used to seeing Trebek up on that podium for nearly four decades.
“I join with the audience in not wanting to see me or any other guest host out there, because in a perfect world, that would be Alex every night, that’s who I want to see,” said Jennings. “But it’s a show with a huge fanbase that counts on it every night as a ritual, it’s a show Alex wanted to make sure outlived him. So I’m not thrilled about it, but I’m happy to do my part for my country and my game show and fill in as long as they need somebody in the chair, but it’s a tough transition.”
Shot during the pandemic, “The Chase” features no audience, and the cast and crew had to wear face shields and masks when they weren’t on the stage. For Haines, hosting “The Chase” is a welcome respite from the often difficult state of the world.
“I was a fan of the format before I realized these three guys were going to be on it,” said Haines. “And then you dangle the GOATs in front of me and I’m like, ‘Can I still come to the party? I’m so in!’ I love a game show, I think it’s such a uniting format, especially in contrast to the job I do every day, which is an amazing job, but we talk so much about current events — whatever the state of the world is in that moment, you’re having to check in to things that aren’t always fun to talk about or hard to think about. Oftentimes escape is what I want and games are that for me.”
Plus, she adds: “It was entertaining as anything I’d ever seen to watch these guys and the speed at which they demolish trivia.”
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