Life

This 'Jeopardy' champion kept his bartending job — but still used his $400,000 winnings for one big splurge

Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

In 2017, Austin Rogers, a bartender from New York City, competed on the trivia game show "Jeopardy" on a whim.

It's safe to say that Rogers' impulse paid off: After a 12-game winning streak, he took home $411,000 in prize money and became a viral internet sensation, thanks to his positive demeanor and sense of humor.

While some "Jeopardy" contestants at this level quit their jobs after winning big, Rogers is still working as a bartender at the same bar, The Gaf West in Manhattan, he said in an ABC News special episode about "Jeopardy" on Jan. 2.

Beginning on January 7, three of the most successful "Jeopardy" champions of all time (Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer) will compete for $1 million, and the title, "The Greatest of All Time." Although Rogers, 41, isn't competing, he still is one of the best-known "Jeopardy" champions: Fans of the show still flock to meet him, and he hosts live trivia nights at other bars.

Since the show, Rogers has started several new endeavors. The flexible bartending schedule, along with the success of "Jeopardy," has allowed Rogers to focus on passion projects, including hosting a podcast called "A Lot to Learn with Austin Rogers," filming a television pilot, writing a book and launching a trivia app.

Before going on "Jeopardy," he was perfectly content to remain a bartender. "I would've never considered doing any of these things," Rogers tells CNBC Make It.

Rogers started bartending, also on a whim, when he was laid off from a corporate advertising job and his money was dwindling, he says. "Since then, I've never looked back," he says. "The way I always put it is, if I had never been on 'Jeopardy' and was still just doing my bartending thing, just like I'm doing right now, I'd be happy."

Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Today, Rogers enjoys working as a bartender because it allows him to connect with people and have a positive impact on their day. "The immediacy and the tangibility of serving someone is so great," he says. And bartending gives him money to pay his bills without interfering with his other projects.

Although Rogers is the seventh highest-winning contestant in the game show's history, he says he's "pretty frugal."

So, what did Rogers do with his earnings? First, he bought an "exceedingly rare" used 1989 Honda Civic station wagon, the same model of car he drove as a college student. He won it on eBay for $5,600 and drove it home from Salt Lake City, where he purchased it.

Travel was Rogers' big-ticket item. He went on vacation to Ireland for a few weeks and Southeast Asia a few times, he says.

Rogers also bought a couple pieces of high-value art, "not as an investment, but to enjoy," he says. For example, he's acquired artwork by Takashi Murakami, Marc Chagall and David Reed.

"I've got pretty good art going, which I know it's a different way to lock up your money, but it's a really, really fun way to lock up your money," Rogers says.

Then, Rogers invested quite a bit of money at the suggestion of a friend who works for the investment app Drive Wealth. "That has performed remarkably well," he says. Another chunk went into a high-yield savings account.

"My money is locked up — it's there, but it's not there, and there's something sort of refreshing about it," he says.

Although life is undoubtedly different post-"Jeopardy," Rogers says that money hasn't bought him happiness. "I've found my truest happiness when I sort of reallocated my expectations for life, became a bartender and just embraced and loved it," he says.

Of course, having a "safety valve" and rainy-day fund is a secondary benefit of "Jeopardy," Rogers says. "It does take an immense load off because I know what it's like to struggle," he says.

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