By Tyler Aquilina
January 06, 2021 at 03:49 PM EST
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Credit: Ron Batzdorff/ABC

Five years before his record-shattering, 32-game winning streak on Jeopardy!, James Holzhauer appeared on Game Show Network's The Chase, a remake of a popular British game show that's spawned many international versions. The Chase pitted contestants against Mark Labbett, nicknamed "the Beast," a formidable trivia expert who frequently trounced his challengers. Holzhauer, however, foreshadowed his Jeopardy! prowess by handing the Beast, in Labbett's own words, "the worst beating [he'd] ever had." In fact, Holzhauer did so well that The Chase's producer had him audition to join Labbett as another resident expert, or "Chaser."

That didn't work out, but Holzhauer probably isn't too cut up about it. On Thursday, a primetime version of The Chase will debut on ABC, featuring Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter — the three highest-winning Jeopardy! players ever — as the Chasers. The trio, who faced off in last year's Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament, will now go head-to-head against contestants, trying to deny them cash prizes in a fast-paced game of knowledge.

"One thing I really like [about The Chase] is that you have to beat the final boss," Holzhauer tells EW. "Sometimes you watch a Jeopardy! episode and it's like the NFC East, where somebody has to win even if none of them deserve it. There's no undeserving winners on The Chase. You have to defeat the Chaser in a big battle and earn your money there."

Each hour-long episode of The Chase features a team of three contestants, who must each answer a rapid-fire series of trivia questions to build up a stockpile of cash. To keep the money, they must face the Chaser in another series of questions, staying ahead on the game board long enough to bank the cash for the team. It all culminates in the Final Chase, in which the contestants work together to answer still more questions, before the Chaser attempts to answer the same number of questions correctly to "catch" the team. If caught, the players go home empty-handed.

"I think I'm in the minority of people who thinks it's cool when [the Chasers] deny the contestants their winnings," Holzhauer says. "But I think there will be people who are fans of Brad or James or Ken who say, 'I don't care what these contestants dream of doing. I'm happy to see the Chasers smack 'em down.'"

"To have known these guys and how well they did [on Jeopardy!], and then to put them at the helm of a game show and say, 'You can have your chance to go up against them,' you have an established following that wants to see these guys do anything," says The View's Sara Haines, who's hosting the show. "We've got the strength of the format, but then people are tuning in 'cause they just want to see the GOATs. So it's a win-win. Not for the contestants, but…" she adds with a laugh.

Indeed, as Jennings notes, "You already know the Chasers, and you know that they have a relationship, and it really gives us a leg up. We don't have to create any kind of personas, because you already know, James gonna James."

Credit: Ron Batzdorff/ABC

The camaraderie and good-natured rivalry the trio developed on the Jeopardy! tournament carries over to The Chase as well. Only one Chaser faces the contestants per episode, but in an amusing addition, the show occasionally cuts to the other two backstage, offering commentary on the proceedings and sometimes roasting contestants or their fellow Chasers. (It's "the first-ever Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of a game show," as Jennings puts it.)

"One of the interesting things about this is, we're on the same team now, instead of playing against each other," Rutter says. "So of course we'll still want to do better than the other two guys, but I was kind of rooting for them too."

"Any trivia person would rather get the question right than wrong," adds Jennings. "But I think the format only works because we also like each other. If we genuinely didn't like each other, the ribbing would not work."

Being on the other side of things also helps take the pressure off; as Rutter points out, "All the pressure is on the contestants, 'cause they're the ones playing for the big bucks." But after so long as contestants themselves, the three have a key piece of advice for would-be players: keep your wits about you and do your best to ignore that stress.

"It's a fast-paced game, and you're gonna get a question wrong at some point," says Holzhauer. "You just need to put it out of your head and keep moving. The game moves too fast for you to dwell on anything."

Rutter also advises "knowing if you know it or you don't quickly." "For the contestants, as opposed to for us, you can pass, and you just get another question," he explains. "They don't subtract any money. So if it's something you know you have no idea about, or that you know it's gonna take you a couple seconds to think about, just pass it and you'll get a new question that you'll probably do better on."

Do that, and you just might earn the Chasers' respect. If not, that's another story.

Recalling his own experience facing the Beast, Holzhauer says, "[Labbett] has a very gruff, 'I'm gonna destroy you' persona, but he also is very genial towards the contestants who come and bring the fight to him. He congratulated me and said, 'Hey, credit where credit is due.' And I think that you can bring both of those things [as a Chaser]. There are a few contestants who legitimately impressed me, and I gave them their props when they did. And those that didn't: 'Well, you had your chance.'"

The Chase premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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