Category Archives: Jeopardy

The Ben That Inspired Us


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

The Winner Speaks

It is rare that I publish a guest post, yet people ask to write them all the time. I can say no to friends and acquaintances, but not to someone who wears the pants in the family. I was surprised when Andrea suggested a guest post, but I’m thrilled that she put the time into doing it, and cannot think of a better way to end the coverage of the experience. Thanks for sharing your story, honey!

Andrea and her Dom!

My brain is full of useless information. I blame my childhood love of the World Almanac Book of Facts, and all the time I spent sitting in front of the television. For years, my family members (including my husband, Mr. SteepClimbs) have asked me to try out for Jeopardy. You would think that I would jump at the chance! Trivia and television? However, I was reluctant, a fear that stems from a lifelong trying to overcome crippling shyness, and also doubt. Those Jeopardy contestants are so smart and poised. What would my short, plump, frizzy-haired self look like on television? I didn’t want to think about it.

Finally, in early 2013, I threw caution to the wind and took the online test. I fully expected nothing would come out of it, and I would go back to enjoying Jeopardy in the comfort of my own home, yelling out the answers to my television screen. You can imagine my surprise when a few months later I got an email asking me to come to Nashville for another tryout. The timing was perfect, right in between my spring and summer semesters teaching, so I booked a flight to Music City.

The second phase of the process, after the online test, involved a written test, an interview, and a mock game with other candidates. I was doing well in the mock game, nearly running the Movies category, until I confused The Green Lantern with The Green Hornet. As a huge fan of German actor Christoph Waltz, who was the villain in the latter, I felt especially mortified by my wrong answer. So what did I do? I blurted out the right one after I had been ruled incorrect.

Nashville, TN

Nashville, TN

I thought for sure, with this faux-pas, that this would be the end of the road. The member of the production crew was telling those of us who gathered all about what would happen if we got “The Call” to be on the show. Frankly, I was only halfway paying attention at this point, thinking that I had no chance and that I’d wait out the 18 months and take the online test again.

Months passed. Aaron and I still watched the show, and occasionally I’d think about the Nashville experience, but I had given up all hope. (Aaron: I had too, and frankly forgot about it.)

Then, in early 2014, I got “The Call.” I played the message on my work phone over and over because I couldn’t believe it. When I called back, I was given specific days to be in Culver City. Something a lot of people have asked me is, “Does Jeopardy pay for your travel?” No. Because I won, it all worked out for us in recouping our travel costs. I won’t go into the complications with Aaron’s surgery. I think he’s covered that enough on previous entries in this blog. However, I gave him plenty of opportunities to back out. While this was the chance of a lifetime, I didn’t want anything to hamper his full recovery. But Aaron was insistent. He was coming with me. (Aaron: They could have removed my legs and I still wouldn’t miss this!)

I taped in the middle of Arthur Chu’s well-documented run. When those of us who were brought to Sony Pictures Studios were led into the green room, we half expected to see him there. No Arthur. It turned out that between Arthur’s run and our taping, there was someone with an even longer streak, 20-game-winner Julia Collins.

Jeopardy tapes two days a week, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, the first thing the contestants worked on was the “Hometown Howdies.” These are the promos used by the affiliates, so we are asked to come up with a quick quip with a local flavor. After really struggling with this part of the process (an early suggestion to include “gamecock,” my alma mater’s mascot and a symbol of our fine city, was shot down), I came up with “Grab some shrimp and grits and watch me on Jeopardy.”

The first-round anecdotes were prepared, and the production crew gave us a helpful talk on game strategies and legal stuff. We were warned what would happen if we revealed any outcome or any question before our episode aired. Let’s just say I was scared into that poker face that Joey Holleman noted in his State article.

We were brought out to rehearse. I thought we were going to go to some mock set, but no, they brought us out on the real Jeopardy stage. I can’t speak for my other contestants, but I was awestruck. Wow, there’s the board. Wow, there’s Alex’s podium. We rehearsed, and then we waited in the contestants’ allotted section of the audience. The first episode taped; and then the second, the third, break for lunch, fourth episode and finally the fifth. After the contestants for the fifth episode were announced, I knew I was coming back for Wednesday’s taping. I had mixed feelings, mostly because I was concerned for Aaron and his injury, but I knew I’d be less nervous.

After repeating the Tuesday process, sans the shrimp-and-grits “Hometown Howdy,” I was called to the stage for the first game, which would be broadcast on Monday, June 16th. Phew! This was it … and I had to face Katie. Katie and I had a lot of similar strengths from what I could tell. And as Aaron has written, I like Katie. But I still wanted to beat her. Thanks to a big wager, I did. Some of my family members have noted that I don’t gamble and I’m a rather frugal person, but that $10K bet didn’t feel like “real” money if that makes sense. Plus, my degree is in linguistics, so “Word Origins” was a category right in my wheelhouse. Yes, luck played a role, as it often does in life. “Conspiracy” — I now love that word.

Andrea beat a formidable opponent in Katie.

Andrea beat a formidable opponent in Katie.

The less said about Tuesday’s game, the better. And please don’t say anything about the Big 10. Or Big 14? I rue the decision to ring in on that clue! But I did get right to earn second place for a grand total of $23,800. Not bad for about an hour’s work. I was done.

The sequestering of the contestants reminded me of a jury, and I got to know some great people. Katie, the two-time champ I beat on Monday; Paige, who beat me; Brian, the champion on Thursday, Peter, my co-contestant in the Paige game, all awesome. Thank goodness for Facebook.

The production crew, as Aaron noted, was fantastic, an amazingly well-oiled machine. Someone said to me that we all looked so calm on television. I credit the crew for calming our nerves. They were fun, professional. The lady who did my makeup even said I had great skin! And Alex? Everyone wants to know what Alex Trebek is like. From my observations and interactions, he was affable and funny. I liked the way he used the commercial breaks to talk to audience members. (Aaron: Alex was charming with the contestants and the audience. He’s a pro).

After the California trip, we waited for my television debut. As my husband has noted, the lead up to the appearance was nerve-wracking. First of all, we had to keep everything secret. Even something as simple as what to call the event where our friends gathered to watch me on television was fraught with semantics: a party implies a celebration, while a viewing, as one of Aaron’s Facebook friends noted, sounds like something associated with a funeral. That poker face came in handy. Ha! I am a good actress! I always knew it! I did it!

However, despite all the fun I had, I am a little Jeopardy-fatigued. I’ll still watch the show, and I’ll always be a fan, but this past week has been extremely stressful. Even a simple matter like where I’m from became complicated. (My dad’s hometown is Batavia, NY and he promoted me to them. I grew up in Rochester, but they didn’t claim me. It’s all good—my paternal grandparents emigrated to Batavia, and I spent time there, so Batavia can claim me if they’d like.) I’ve lived in Columbia for over two decades now, so it’s my home.

Thanks to Aaron for all the coverage. (Aaron: You’re welcome. Congrats to both of us!)


Thanks to a friend for making this reaction shot video.

Proud of the Champ


All good things must end. As Alex said as he talked to Andrea during Final Jeopardy, it was not her day. These were not the ideal categories for her, but they were not terrible either. They just weren’t as good as yesterday, where she had an advantage yesterday. State Capitals and Dialects were categories so fitting for her that she was able to respond quickly.

Another facet of the game that I haven’t touched on much was buzzer speed. From my vantage point, I could see all three contestants pressing their buzzers on nearly every question. That meant that on most of these, they all knew the answers. Paige was incredible quick on the buzzer, and built an insurmountable lead. By the way, she was very sweet. We talked to her at length later. Just an extremely friendly person. We didn’t stick around to see whether her run continues, but we’ll be rooting for her.

Andrea seemed out of it by the end, but her getting Final Jeopardy ensured a 2nd place finish. We’ll take that. Total winnings: $23,800. Frankly, we didn’t even expect that much. With my injury, the surgery, recovery time, and the nerves of the entire experience, we would have been happy with second place in the first game. We even discussed that. If she could have gotten better with the buzzer, then she could have kept going. She’s that smart. She got both of her Final Jeopardys, and she knew a lot of them from the week prior when we watched shows. That’s where it matters most.

As you saw, we had a nice romantic story about our Honeymoon. I’ve mentioned before that we are serious film buffs. We met at a film festival 10 year ago. One of our favorite movies was Before Sunset, and while in Paris, decided to go from location to location. We didn’t make it to all the locations because the filmmakers are lying liars. You cannot get there in an hour and a half. Toward the end of the day, having seen enough, we decided we saw enough.

Cafe from Before Sunset. We enjoyed a nice coffee here midway through our trek.

Cafe from Before Sunset. We enjoyed a nice coffee here midway through our trek.

Did I mention that we met 10 years ago? After the taping, Andrea was digging around our old stuff for mementos and found a ticket stub from that film festival. As it turned out, it was from our first date. That date was 6/16/2004. Yes, exactly 10 years to the day from Andrea’s Jeopardy win. To us, it was all about yesterday. That was the day to shine, and now the date will be cemented in our history. We have an anniversary (August 5th, 2006), but this date may seriously rival that one. We’ll just keep two anniversaries and call it a day.

Thanks for following along this crazy journey. There will be another post or two remaining, one of which will be about our experiences with the media. We’ll just say that ever since the big win, today has been absolutely nuts. We are utterly, completely exhausted. In that sense, it kind of feels good to lose. There’s something to be said for having your 15 minutes (or 60 minutes in Andrea’s case), and getting back to normalcy.

This was a different type of steep climb, but when all was said and done, it felt good to drive home and rest in our own bed, comforted by having accomplished our goal.

Back home from the most memorable trip of our lives.

Back home from the most memorable trip of our lives.

Glad to be back to reality.

The Viewing Party

The Before Picture.

The Before Picture. Will she get it?

To be honest, I had forgotten a lot about the episode. But I remember how Andrea started slow, came back strong, and bet big when it counted. The jubilation I felt at the moment when we realized that Andrea was a champion was something I have never felt before. It wasn’t just that she won, but HOW she won. I wanted others to feel that same way, or at least close to it.

After the win. There was a lot of movement so pics came out blurry.

After the win. There was a lot of movement so pics came out blurry.

We knew it was going to be a dramatic finish, and we knew that the way it unraveled was going to be a crowd-pleaser. We decided to have a little viewing party to celebrate the occasion. All the while, we kept the results to ourselves. Even the local newspaper article commented on Andrea’s poker face. I maintained that same face here and elsewhere.

We invited quite a number of people, and received a lot of RSVPs in return. It was actually a surprising, staggering figure. We knew there were going to be 100, but toward the end, it appeared that it could approach 200. It turned out to be a good thing that we didn’t get that many, because I’m not sure the restaurant could have handled it. My guess is that the final tally was over 150, and we overflowed outside of the big room that you see filmed.

The local ABC news affiliate showed up to capture the moment. They were always around, and captured the finest moments, the lows (missing the Daily Double) and the highs (the big win!), and the higher than highs — a Jeopardy Champion celebrating with a bottle of Dom Pérignon!

They asked us to give an interview before the episode. The only problem was that the majority of people were coming in at the same time they wanted to film, but we had to talk about stuff that would air on the 11pm newscast — specifically the outcome that we didn’t want to spoil! At first we tried in front of the restaurant. That was a bad idea since people kept coming in. Instead we moved around to the side of the building where there was a little more privacy, although we still had to stop a couple times. The downside was it was 95 degrees and the sun was in our eyes.

Here is the ABC article and video. This does more justice than any of my words can. Please view it if you really want to see the excitement of the night.

Andrea snuck in a bottle of Dom! Woohoo!

Andrea snuck in a bottle of Dom! Woohoo!

The guest list was a combination of a few different groups. Of course there were cyclists, a couple of whom rode to the party. I had a lot of friends from work come, and Andrea had many of her closest personal friends and teaching colleagues.

This was the best bike rack Scott could find.

This was the best bike rack Scott could find.

The fact that we kept everyone in the dark really made the party work. A lot of people thanked me for not saying anything. There were people at the party that we could have told (family, tax attorney), but we wanted to keep the spoilers under wraps. We wanted the crowd to have that same feeling that I had on that February day that seems like ages ago.

To winning Jeopardy! Cheers!

To winning Jeopardy! Cheers!

Andrea continues playing tonight, which in reality, took place 10 minutes after that monumental and stunning win. In the meantime, she’s been speaking with other media outlets who may be publishing articles soon.


Andrea Alex Jeopardy - small

I detest secrets. Loathe them. I probably have the worst poker face on the planet, but this was a secret I had to keep. Revealing this secret could jeopardized (ha!) my wife’s winnings.

Yes, winnings .. She won! Can you believe it?

As I mentioned in the last post, I knew that the odds of her winning were slim, especially since she and Katie had the same strengths. I failed to mention that Andrea had basically been an at-home nursemaid for the prior three weeks. After surgery, I needed someone to wait on me hand and feet, and Andrea never missed a beat. Even when I stubbornly tried to get something for myself, she made me sit down and got it for me. This time took away from her studying time. And yes, studying before Jeopardy makes a big difference.

Early on, I noticed that some of the categories were favorable to her. Dialects was right in her wheelhouse, and she went after it. She even got the Daily Double. Even though she missed that, she played wisely and rang in when she was confident of knowing the answer.

All I was hoping was for her to be in the hunt. And she was. Katie had a slight lead on her going into Final Jeopardy, but again, the category was a major strength for Andrea: Word Origins. When I saw the clue, I was nervous. I had no idea. Would she know? My ignorance revealed why I’m not on Jeopardy, and why the three people at the podiums were. They all knew the answer. “Conspiracy” is now one of my favorite words.

Andrea bet big, $10,000. She briefly had the lead. I had a glimmer of hope until I saw that Katie also had the correct answer. But her wager? $5,000 … Apparently she was not as confident in the category. It makes sense that she had not bet high, because that helped her win the prior game. You really never know.

So that’s right, my wife is a Jeopardy Champion! And I’ve kept that secret since early February.

The adventure is not over. She plays again on Tuesday, and I cannot reveal the outcome of that game..

Since the taping, a lot of people have asked me whether I got mentioned on the show. I had to give a non-answer, but for a good reason. That is because the answer was yes, but it happened on the 2nd show. Tonight there will be a reference to me in Andrea’s anecdote. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with cycling. If she keeps winning, then that could come up.

I’m actually writing this on Sunday, and publishing it at 8:15pm Monday. Right now we are at our viewing party, drinking champagne and celebrating with over 100 friends and family. Our phones are probably blowing up this very second. ABC of Columbia is filming the event and they’ll be interviewing us at some point for their 11pm news show.

What a journey this has been! And it’s not over yet!