12-time 'Jeopardy!' champion and viral sensation still works as bartender, hosting trivia nights

Rogers won more than $400,000 on the show.

Austin Rogers is a 12-time “Jeopardy!” champion whose impressively broad knowledge has helped him win more than $400,000 on the game show.

During his winning streak in 2017, Rogers became a fan-favorite and went viral because of his big hair and endearingly animated personality.

Today, Rogers still works as a bartender in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City.

“I am working! Why wouldn’t I come here, make some cash, hang out with my friends?” Rogers said during an ABC News special episode about “Jeopardy!”

Rogers said he invested his winnings from the show — all of it except for one special gift for himself.

“I bought a mint condition 1989 Honda Civic station wagon,” he said, noting it was his first car as a kid.

Rogers still lives in the same apartment as before appearing on the game show, and he still rides his bike to work, too.

However, that’s not to say that his 12-day run on “Jeopardy!” didn’t change a few things.

There are 15 to 20 people each day who visit “The Gaf West,” the bar in which Rogers works, because they know he’ll be there, he said.

“This tiny little bar in Hell’s Kitchen is sort of an extension and annex. A visitor’s center for ‘Jeopardy!’” he said.

When he’s not pouring drinks, Rogers hosts quiz nights at bars around the city, something he says he’s done for about 15 years. It was this activity that helped him train for the show — he would write questions that focused on his weaknesses.

“I hate it when people are like, ‘You’re a bartender, but what do you want to be?’ Actually, no, this is great. I love my hours, I love my flexibility,” Rogers said. “Bartenders, service people, the guy changing your oil … everyone’s smart. So don’t rag on them because it’s not the lawyer, doctor and surgeon that you usually get on ‘Jeopardy!’”

Thousands of people from all walks of life and professions study and compete for a chance to be one of the 450 contestants each year who stand on the “Jeopardy!” stage.

First, “Jeopardy!” hopefuls must take a 50-question quiz online that must be completed in 13 minutes. Those who pass may then be selected to visit a nearby city where they’re given another test and play a mock “Jeopardy!” game.

“I moved to the United States when I was 6 years old and a big part of how I learned English was through watching TV,” show hopeful Rina Wang told ABC News in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “‘Jeopardy!’ was something my parents had me watch with them every single day.”

Many contestants who passed the online test like Wang drove hours to the Midwestern city to test their mettle against other trivia pros and take the next step toward the “Jeopardy!” stage.

“If ‘Jeopardy!’ said, ‘Hey, do you want to drive to a city that's eight hours away?’ The answer would have been ‘yes’ before they finished the sentence,” contestant Hemant Mehta told ABC News.

ABC News met dozens of “Jeopardy!” hopefuls, from a high school teacher and an attorney to a financial analyst. Some said they prepared for the show by competing in their local trivia league like Rogers. Middle school teacher Vincent Cheng, meanwhile, said he read “a lot of middle school and elementary school texts” to up his trivia game.

When the show’s current host Alex Trebek made his debut in 1984 -- “Jeopardy!” was first hosted by Art Fleming -- Greg Hopkins jumped at the chance to try out.

“I had been a fan ever since I was a child in elementary school,” Hopkins told ABC News. “Someone said, ‘Hey, did you know ‘Jeopardy!’ is coming back on?’ And I said, ‘Hot dog.’”

Hopkins said he saw a call out for “Jeopardy!” contestants in The Los Angeles Times, so he signed up and took the show’s trial test. Ten days later, he got the call back.

“I literally went nuts. I was dancing around, you know, whooping and hollering,'” Hopkins said. “I said to myself, ‘I got your answers, you got my money. Let's play.’"

Hopkins ultimately won, becoming the first champion of Trebek’s reign. Hopkins made it to the second game but lost in the show’s first three-way loss in “Final Jeopardy.” He won just under $9,000, which he said made a lot of things possible, including proposing to his wife, Velvet.

“Now I can propose to Velvet … Now I can go to law school,” he said. “It was to finance our wedding and our honeymoon.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, the three biggest champions in the show’s history -- Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer -- will face off in “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” for the top prize of $1 million.

“I don't think any of us are really playing for money at this point. You know, Brad, and James, and I have done very well … Jeopardy's been very, very good to us,” said Jennings, who holds the record for the longest winning streak on the show with 74 wins. “It's just about loving the game and wanting to see, ‘Do I still have it?’ You know, these are the best players I've ever seen. Like, how could I not want to see how I'd stack up?”