Dr. Hill and students
Wofford grad Ingram one of Jeopardy's all-time most successful winners

By Drew Brooks
Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ben Ingram viewing party / Spartanburg Herald-JournalBen Ingram's long run on Jeopardy! finally came to an end Thursday, but he'll still go down as one of the long-running quiz show's greatest champions.

Ingram, 30, a Florence-native with degrees from Wofford College and the University of South Carolina, finished Thursday's contest in third place.

His $1,000 consolation prize brought his total winnings to $177,534, good for ninth all-time, according to the Jeopardy! website.

Officials have confirmed that Ingram's streak of eight consecutive wins was tied for fifth-best all-time.

The Charlotte, N.C. IT consultant who now lives in Lake Wylie filmed his appearances on the show in late March, but was sworn to secrecy on how he did.

Now, nearly two weeks after his Jeopardy! run began, Ingram is finally free to tell all.

After Thursday's show, Ingram said he felt as though a weight had been lifted.

Even though he knew he would lose, Ingram said he tuned in to watch the match, which he said was his favorite of his nearly two-week run.

“That was a really good game,” Ingram said. “That was amazing.”

Ingram held the lead after the first round and, at one point in the second round, the three contestants were separated by fewer than $2,000.

He entered Final Jeopardy! in third place, and his answer “What is the 1812 Overture?” was correct, but Ingram wasn't able to close the ground between him and his competitors.

The clue was “This piece that premiered in Moscow in 1882 includes strains from “God Save the Czar” and “La Marseillaise.”

Wofford College alumni who gathered to watch the performance at Hickory Tavern in Spartanburg said they were proud of Ingram.

One group of alumni said Ingram's long run brought the school together.

Debbie Thompson, Wofford's alumni director, said the Wofford name has exploded on social media and across the nation thanks to Ingram's success on popular quiz show, which officials said averages 25 million viewers each week.

“It's been unbelievable,” Thompson said.

Incoming Wofford freshman Ellie Varn said Ingram has been the talk of campus.

Ingram's Jeopardy! run became must-see television for Wofford College faculty and alumni.

Viewing parties were also held in Ingram's hometown of Florence, and even Gov. Nikki Haley weighed in on Ingram's performance.

Last week, after Ingram's first five victories were aired, Haley said on social media that South Carolina “has another reason to smile.”

“Congrats Ben … you've made your state so proud!” Haley said.

Ingram said he was recognized in public a few times, including once at McHale's Irish Pub in Fort Mill.

That's where Ingram hosts a weekly trivia night on Tuesdays which just so happens to start just after Jeopardy! goes off the air.

Ingram said that earlier this week, guests who must have watched Jeopardy! recognized him.

“It's been a lot of fun,” he said. “I said this was not going to change my life, but I was wrong about that. I've met some great new friends. It's been a great experience and I'm grateful.”

Jeopardy! observers, including the authors of the show's fan-site, thejeopardyfan.com, repeatedly praised Ingram for his strategy and skill during the run.

“Personally, I've really enjoyed Ben's run,” said Andy Saunders, who along with Jeanie Kenkel reviews Jeopardy! contests for thejeopardyfan.com.

Saunders said Ingram's strategy of hunting for Daily Doubles had been used successfully in the past.

The Daily Double can completely change the game, he said, especially if a trailing opponent gets it.

With those options off the board, a comeback is even less likely.

“Ben's strategy makes it much more difficult for opponents to beat him,” Saunders said.

Ingram's habit of targeting high-value clues early can also be disconcerting to his opponents.

“It can be disheartening to find yourself down $3,000 and only seeing $400 and $800 clues on the board,” Saunders said.

But Ingram's Jeopardy! run hasn't been without its critics.

Saunders said Ingram's habit of only betting just enough to win is risky in and of itself, as evidenced by Ingram's tie game last week.

“His strategy certainly isn't universally liked, by any means — my own father has complained to me about Ben's Daily Double hunting, and Alex has made a point of jibing Ben about his small bets on the show,” Saunders said. “But liked or not, Ben knows what it takes in order to win!”

Ingram said he never cared about his monetary earnings. When he arrived for the first match, he had modest goals.

“I came on there just wanting to win one game,” he said. “I told myself, ‘If I win one game, I'm okay with it.'”

But with only a 10-minute break between filming, Ingram said his win quickly grew. He said he didn't fully comprehend what he had done until he was in the airport waiting for his flight home.

Ingram wasn't new to trivia when he first stepped on the Jeopardy! stage. He has competed in similar events since middle school and was a member of the 2005 Wofford College Bowl team that traveled to the national championship tournament in Seattle.

Ingram's former College Bowl coaches have been among those watching.

Natalie Grinnell, a Wofford English professor, said Ingram was an anchor of the 2005 team.

She remembers him as being impressive, even then, and particularly remembers an instance where, on the way to a College Bowl tournament, Ingram spent an hour telling his team the differences between Titanic the ship and Titanic the movie.

Grinnell and other professors and been good-naturedly harassing Ingram about his few wrong answers, she added.

“It's been a sheer delight,” Grinnell said. “His breadth of knowledge is a tribute to a liberal arts education … But he knew everything in College Bowl, too. He knows the most obscure things.”

“At 8 p.m. each night, Facebook explodes with comments,” Grinnell said, referring to the large number of supporters following Ingram's nightly Jeopardy! appearances.

Mark Byrnes, an associated professor of history who also served as a College Bowl coach for Ingram, said Ingram's many dominate wins were very familiar.

“He could be an absolute machine like that,” Byrnes said. “He can get into a zone and he's just unstoppable. If he's locked in, he'll know every answer.”

Both Grinnell and Byrnes called Ingram a class act and quality competitor.

“He's a very serious competitor but he's very much a gentleman about it,” said Byrnes, who called Ingram a smart, quick and instinctive player.

But Ingram's streak hasn't been without its drama.

Grinnell she worried on several occasions that Ingram's streak was cut short.

“You can't tell with the look on his face,” she said.

And Byrnes took to screaming at his television late last week when the Final Jeopardy! clue was about which two U.S. presidents were in office a decade to the day of their inauguration.

Ingram answered correctly, guessing Franklin Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland. But you couldn't tell by his poker face.

“I was personally desperate for him to know it,” Byrnes said. “I yelled ‘You know this!'”

As for Grinnell, she said she's impressed by Ingram's emphasis on his South Carolina roots.

“It's fantastic for Wofford,” Grinnell said. “It's fantastic for South Carolina.”

With his winnings, Ingram said he hopes to give back to the communities where he grew up.

“I'm just very, very proud to come from the Palmetto State,” Ingram said. “And I'm very proud to come from Florence.”

He hasn't decided exactly what to do, but Ingram said he hoped whatever he decides would have an impact that would last forever.

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