Friday, December 12, 2014

Wagering for success: exclusive interview with Ben Ingram, Wofford grad and quiz show champion

Today, I'm pleased to present an exclusive interview session with Ben Ingram, 2005 Wofford alumnus and Jeopardy! champion. I'd like to extend a large thanks to Ben for his time and participation.

Talkin' Terriers: First, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, including your Wofford background?

Ben Ingram: Sure, I first visited Wofford on a spring break in 2000, and fell in love with the place from the start. I came as a freshman in 2001 and graduated in 2005 with a B.S. in mathematics. Guess reunion time is coming up.

TT: Sure is. Ten years--it's been quite a journey, hasn't it?

BI: Never saw it coming. I was sad and a little scared to leave, actually. I knew I was well-prepared, and I think what just happened was proof of that.

TT: Undoubtedly. How did you first get your foot in the door, so to speak, with Jeopardy?

BI: I took the online test in January of 2012. Actually, it was at my girlfriend's [Liz Hutchens, 2009 Wofford graduate] apartment in Spartanburg. I just plopped on the floor and took the test while looking out at Main Street. I remember I first tried out as a senior at Wofford, drove to Asheville to do it, but didn't make the cut. After the test, I went to India for a job, and in October, I got an email inviting me to an in-person audition. It was in my spam folder, and it said, 'Please reply within 48 hours.' It had been sent 47 hours before.

So, I tried out in December of 2012, and got called to be on the show in February, and we taped in March. I couldn't tell anyone what happened.

TT: I bet you will always check your spam folder now. Remarkable. Did you know anyone else that had tried out for or been on the show at the time?

BI: Don't think I knew anyone. I found out later that more than one Wofford alum had appeared. I know Wade Ballard was on in the 1980's, but he lost to someone who made the Tournament of Champions himself. I got to meet him at the most recent Terrier Ball, and that was something special.

I know Meg Audette represented Wofford in the college tournament and made the semifinals, and that was neat too. I was proud of both of them. They played before there was as much information on the internet about the strategy of the show, and what to study, all that, so they had it a lot harder.

TT: Back to your first taping, how hard is it not to tell everyone that you had won?

BI: It was easy, because I'm not much of a storyteller, and nobody wanted to be spoiled.

TT: What kind of preparation goes into a Jeopardy! appearance?

BI: Well, I didn't do much the first time around. I guess you can say I relied on what I had learned before. I didn't do much work, but the folks who taught me did all the work, so they deserve most of the credit.

The next time around, I knew I had to get better, because I knew the players would be amazing. I watched them. Liz quizzed me on areas in which I wasn't as good as I would have liked, and it turns out there's a lot that I don't know. Out of that, Liz knows a lot of it, so she was a solid coach.

TT: Which areas were your weak spots, and which were you strong on?

BI: I made sure I could add and subtract large numbers quickly, because if I messed up on the wagering, I knew I would get the business--especially as a Wofford math major. I didn't feel so hot about visual arts, food and drink, recent movies, and pop music, all those. I wasn't good as theatre either, but Liz was a theatre major, so that was mighty helpful. Before I came to Wofford, I would have been awful in literature and classical music, so I'm glad I took courses in those, among many others.

TT: Don't worry, I don't know much about pop music, either. Although I may know a thing or two about food.

BI: Wish I had gotten a hold of you before the games.

TT: Well, if they ask about stuff like 1917 Wofford football scores and general college football, that might be a plausible idea.

BI: There was a college football category when I was first on and I think we, as a team, got two of five.

TT: Are sports-related questions among the least-known, generally speaking, on shows like this?

BI: That's hard to say. I can speak for myself. I thought I was well-prepared for sports, but I guess experience proved otherwise. There are plenty of good players on Sports Jeopardy, though. I'm just about average on that.

TT: Just watch 25-plus games every fall Saturday. That works for me.

BI: Well, when time and my old T.V. permit.

TT: Try online stats, it keeps math skills sharp. Now that we're on sports, you still follow the Terriers pretty closely, don't you?

BI: I do. I still live pretty close to Spartanburg, and I try to make it over whenever I can, and it's always a fun atmosphere. I think I came to Wofford at the right time because it's been great seeing the athletic program grow and expand over the past ten or fifteen years, and to see America take more and more notice.

TT: Favorite sport?

BI: It's hard to say. I was a runner in high school, but didn't run competitively in college, so I have a special kind of respect for those athletes. They've all made a great impression on me, especially with their work ethic. I figured if they could put in the hard work it takes to compete and succeed at that level, then I could put in some work to try to get better myself.

TT: I found Wofford on the ESPN ticker in 2006, and fell in love with it. I don't know why, but I'm glad I did.

BI: 2006 was a neat year, just wish you had been in the fold in 2003. That was a real breakout year. Especially for football, going to the semifinals and playing on a national stage. I know another Tournament of Champions winner, Roger Craig, who did some graduate work at Delaware, and I think he knows that I'm still broken up a little by that '03 game. It was a great season, though.

TT: I wish; I've since watched a replay of that game. I was only four when it took place.

BI: Well, you've lived through some great moments. Great time to be a Terrier is right now.

TT: Well, I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions and give some great insight.

BI: Thanks for letting me. Love the blog. I'd be remiss not to thank the quiz bowl team. I played with them all four years; great players, great coaching. That experience, in my view, was vital because I believe I felt less pressure than those folks who were playing for the first time. I felt like I had done it all before, and aside from the bare facts and information I learned from playing with these folks, that was money in the bank.

TT: No doubt. The first time is always the toughest. And now, I suppose, it has turned into money in the bank.

BI: I guess so, but the experience and the friendships I've developed are more important and last longer, so that's even better.

Ben Ingram, a true Terrier.

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