Buzzy Cohen came from behind to win the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions last month, adding $250,000 to the $164,603 he won in his appearances on the game show in 2016. Originally from New Jersey, where his father owns a men’s clothing store, Cohen, 32, was given the name Austin but goes by what his parents nicknamed him in utero — Buzzy.
The Columbia University graduate moved to Los Angeles eight years ago and is now CEO of The Teenage Diplomat, which provides music for commercials. He married Elisha Cohen — her rabbi father officiated — in 2011, and they live on the Westside with their 3-year-old daughter. In a recent interview, he talked about his newfound fame, flashy wardrobe, plans for the prize money, and how being Jewish helped him win.
Jewish Journal: You were in third place going into the last game. What turned it around for you?
Buzzy Cohen: I thought, “I got 50 grand out of this.” I was happy to make it to the finals. But I got in the zone and went on a run and hit that Daily Double after and made the most of it. I think that was the game changer, not only because it pushed me so far in the game, but it also forced Alan [Lin] to make a big wager that didn’t work out. I forced everybody to play aggressively.
JJ: Did being Jewish prove to be helpful in any way?
BC: I did well in a Bible category in the first run [owing to] my Hebrew school study. There was a $2,000 clue about Philip Roth. My grandfather lived next door to him — a New Jersey Jew connection. Also, the Jewish culture is one that values knowledge, information and study. My parents and grandparents really valued education. So I think being Jewish prepared me.
And my dad, being in the shmatte business, helped with the suits. The first time I was on, he made me three suits. I started wearing a suit and tie every day after that and I continued to get suits made. For the tournament, I went a little more peacock-y. My goal wasn’t to win the tournament, just make it to the finals so everyone could see all four outfits.
“I did well in a Bible category in the first run [owing to] my Hebrew school study.”
JJ: Had you always wanted to be on “Jeopardy!”?
BC: My parents always wanted me to do it but I never thought I was good enough. I didn’t think I had ultra-elite knowledge. I’d never done well at a bar trivia night. I was the captain of the Quiz Bowl team in high school but put myself on the B team because I thought I wasn’t as good as other people. So I didn’t think I would win one [game]. It’s so far beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
JJ: There was a lot of on-air camaraderie among the contestants. Has the friendship continued?
BC: Yes, [including that] I’ve had dinner with Alan, and we’ve gone to our Wednesday trivia night at O’Brien’s [Irish Pub] in Santa Monica. A lot of former “Jeopardy!” champs attend.
JJ: Have any plans for your winnings?
BC: Between both of my appearances, my daughter has a college fund now. We’re talking about doing a trip to Europe in the summer. We were already planning a trip to Israel in the spring. My wife has been many times and has family there. With the initial winnings, we were happy to be able to make a significant donation to a number of charities, Jewish and otherwise, that were important to us, and this year we’ll be doing the same.
JJ: Are you enjoying the fame? Any unusual fan encounters?
BC: People have come up to me at a boxing match in Las Vegas and a Bruce Springsteen concert in New York. [Musician] Huey Lewis recognized me, and we’ve connected by email. I’m having fun with it. You get to brighten up people’s days. I’m probably on the E-list of fame, but I couldn’t think of anything other than a Nobel Prize I’d rather be known for.