The Ben That Inspired Us

jeopardy-toc-winner-2014

In case you haven’t heard, someone from the Carolinas won the Tournament of Champions. Ben Ingram has ties to a lot of places: Florence, Charlotte, Spartanburg, and yes, Columbia. He is a Florence native, went to school at Wofford and South Carolina, and currently works in Charlotte.

It’s no secret that Ben’s run was phenomenal, and we’ve enjoyed following along, at times from a distance, at times up close. His Jeopardy triumphs bookended our own experience, which is miniscule in comparison, but still something we’ll never forget. Our adventure, at least in our memories, will be inextricably linked with his championship and how he inspired us.

Ben’s run first aired in July of 2013. Coincidentally enough, that is right after the time Andrea auditioned in Nashville. Jeopardy was at the forefront of our minds and it was fantastic to watch someone from our region achieve such success. In the back of her mind, Andrea was probably thinking of strategies from all of the contestants. I think she paid extra attention to Ben, because she did employ a similar strategy when she made it to air. It worked for her.

This has been an active and highly publicized season for Jeopardy. When Andrea taped her episodes, Arthur had just begun his run. I believe he had won five games by that point, but in such impressive fashion that we wondered whether he would still be playing. Arthur quickly went viral. At first he was villainized for his unconventional, jarring strategy. That transformed as he went on, and a lot of people embraced him, including ourselves.

When Andrea taped, we heard about another upcoming championing that would be appearing at some point before her episode would air. We knew it would be a female, and we watched religiously, speculating which one would be the champ. It turned out to be Julia, and what a champ she was! With her infamous sweaters and bubbly personality, she became a media darling. She won 20 games, the 2nd most ever in show history. At first social media didn’t seem to notice, until she kept winning, and winning, and winning some more. Eventually she was doing interviews for major publications and TV shows.

During this time, we were preparing for Andrea’s episodes to air. It was tough to keep quiet about it, while planning for to celebrate with a viewing party at the same time. It was at this time that we engaged with Ben. He is active on social media, and if memory serves, he first took attention of us when I notified him that another Carolinian would be appearing soon. The three of us tweeted together. Since he was such an inspiration, it was nice to have him in our corner during the whole ordeal. He gave some valuable advice as to how to deal with everything.

One time he asked: “are you the steep climbs guy?” LOL. That’s me. It is not the first time I had been asked that question, but I would have hardly expected it from a Jeopardy champ.

We knew the Tournament of Champions was going to be coming up eventually, and we were sure that Ben had qualified, even though his first episodes taped over a year ago. We soon put our enthusiasm behind #teamben, rooting for the hometown hero that we had found to be just a downright good guy.

Ben won his quarterfinal match, and then obliterated the field during semi-finals. I’m not sure whether Arthur and Julia watched that match live. If so, they would have been shaken. Ben had two advantages. He was a formidable opponent and had become the forgotten dark horse. I tweeted the following:

Arthur retweeted it, which is interesting in hindsight.

A Fox News article came out about the Tournament of Champions, and they summarized it as a rivalry between Arthur and Julia. Ben wasn’t even mentioned. Instead, he became the “other guy.”

After Wednesday’s quarterfinal, we got an invite to the finals viewing party. It turned out he was having it at our hometown. It was short notice and the timing was actually terrible for us, but this was a chance to experience history. Not to mention it would be our second viewing party of the year, and this time all we had to do was show up.

The SC Jeopardy champs of 2014. The one on the right won a little more.

The SC Jeopardy champs of 2014. The one on the right won a little more.

We finally met Ben in person. He was just as charming, gracious and funny as he came off on TV. We met his family, including his mother who was at the screening. That meant she knew the outcome, but we knew better than to ask her. We’d been down that road, carefully deflecting the carefully worded questions trying to glean an idea of the results. We also met his girlfriend Liz, who was super cool. We met other members of the family that had flown in from Bismarck, ND. We met his brother, and plenty of his friends. He really has a wonderful family, and I could tell that they were all proud of him, although I don’t think any of them knew the outcome aside from his mom, who kept quiet.

Ben has a sense of humor too. This was his Julia reaction shot.

Ben has a sense of humor too. This was his Julia reaction shot.

We cheered loudly as the show went on. Ben played smart, and even though he fell behind Arthur, he completed his successful streak of answering every Final Jeopardy completely. It was a brutal question that both Arthur and Julia missed. We didn’t know it either. I doubt anyone else in the room did. Ben knew. Ben always knew. Well, almost always.

He had a $10,000 lead. I congratulated him, and he reminded me that this was a two-day competition. Anything can happen. He’s exactly right. His competition was fierce. I was impressed by how well he kept the secret, but I also remembered how quiet we had been. It was difficult for us, and Andrea only won a game. Ben had won the championship. I’ll bet that deep down, he felt euphoric and wanted to scream and yell the results. His exterior was cool, composed, and revealed nothing.

The final night had some tough questions and a brutal Final Jeopardy. Nobody got the answer. The question was which Shakespeare play had a place named in the title that was not in Europe. The Answer was Pericles of Tyre. Ben was a Mathematics major, and he made a smart, safe wager. It was good enough to win.

When Andrea had won, both of our phones blew up. It took days, weeks even to get through all the emails, social media notifications, and to finally come back to reality. I cannot imagine what it was like for Ben. There’s already a Wall Street Journal piece on him, and I expect many more articles in the coming days.

I expect him to continue to be successful, and he’ll probably play Jeopardy again some capacity. Maybe another Battle of the Decades, or maybe he’ll play Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, a computer .. or something. Jeopardy likes trotting their champions back out, and Ben is one that they, and we, can be proud of.

Congratulations Ben! Enjoy the celebration!

ben champ


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