by Karim Doumar
Ben Hemmens, 43, a stay-at-home dad from Bailey’s Crossroads, came in first place on “”Jeopardy!”” on both Tuesday and Wednesday night and came in second place last night, winning a total of $45,200. His Tuesday appearance, in which he made $26,801 was capped by a strong showing in final jeopardy in which he increased his total winnings by over $10,000. Winning in “Jeopardy!” gives you the opportunity to play again so Hemmens added $16,399 to his total on Wednesday night and a further $2,000 to his total after a second-place finish last evening. His run on “Jeopardy!” is now over.
Hemmens won twice despite the fact that he was incredibly nervous while he was on the show, particularly during the Tuesday episode. “I couldn’t feel my legs at one point,” he said.
Hemmens got on the show after taking an online test and participating in a local audition.
“I didn’t really prepare at all prior to the online test and the audition,” he said “looking back I really could have and should have, perhaps.”
He made sure to prepare for his appearance on the show. Hemmens had about five weeks between being notified about passing the audition and taking the stage. At 43, Hemmens needed to go over information he hadn’t retained from school “like American history and European history,” he said. A big part of it was figuring out where he was weak and needed further review. Additionally, according to Hemmens, “there are some helpful books out there written by past champions which try to give you help in the subjects they ask about a lot.”
There’s no accepted, conventional way to study for “Jeopardy!”.
“”Jeopardy!” requires such a breadth of knowledge that it’s very hard to prepare for it,” Hemmens said, later characterizing it as “really overwhelming”. But he’s always been a trivia fanatic. He played trivial pursuit often as a child and even competed in a trivia competition in high school. “I did pretty well in that,” Hemmens said.
“Jeopardy!” is about more than just knowing the facts though. “Most of the contestants know most of the answers so it’s really about who can ring in first,” Hemmens said of the competition. Of course, you still need to know the trivia. “If your weaknesses are the categories that day then you aren’t going to do very well regardless of how quick you are on the buzzer,” he said.
Hemmens had no idea what kind of questions he would face. Even when the categories came up in front of him, they weren’t all completely clear.
“Sometimes the category headings don’t give you much of a clue as to what is going to be asked,” he said. Specifically, the names of the word-play categories offer very little in terms of the content of the questions.
Despite that, Hemmens didn’t panic. “I knew that there weren’t any categories that I hated – that I felt really badly about,” he said. That doesn’t mean they were perfect either. The show before, which aired Monday night, had a category that was D.C. area landmarks – perfect for a resident of the DC metropolitan area. “I was really upset that that was not in my show,” he quipped.
“Jeopardy!” shoots an entire week’s worth of episodes in a single day so Hemmens had to watch or participate in five episodes in a single Saturday. “You go back and change your clothes and you get your makeup touched up and you come out,” he said, adding that “Alex [Trebek] goes back and changes clothes and it’s a brand new day.”
The show is filmed on Saturdays so Hemmens played in three episodes and won over $45,000 in just one Saturday in spring. He plans on saving most of the money but, of course, celebration is in order.
“We’re going to go down to Florida and do Disney World, Legoland, that sort of thing,” Hemmens said of his family’s plan to celebrate the winnings. After that, most of the money will go towards saving for his young children’s college education.
Unbeknownst to most viewers, in “Jeopardy!”, the winner of the game takes home the amount of money on their board but second and third place only take home $2,000 and $1,000 respectively, regardless of their score. And because “Jeopardy!” doesn’t cover travel costs for the contestants, the second and third place winnings usually just go towards that.
That means in order to win another substantial chunk of money, Hemmens had to win. And he did. Twice.
He attributes his success to his preparation and to luck.
“I felt like I’d at least done enough so that if things fell my way, I could have a chance to win,” he said. Now, $45,000 later, to the absolute pleasure of his family and friends, it seems he was right.