A Fan Takes Center Stage. Stand Up And Cheer For Him.

As many of you know,  I am a passionate believer of face-to-face, actual human contact.  I freely admit the pandemic was disarming to me, and its timing and the destruction of what I thrived on for decades–a work family to make up for my lack of anything concrete or supportive elsewhere, opportunities for chance encounters with top executives that played huge roles in my career advancement and sustenance, and a supportive hug and the opportunity to give one when life would inevitably take a bad turn–has impacted me harshly, and still continues to.  Far too many of what remain of my friends are still essentially living life in bubbles, for myriad reasons, and the fact that I have no choice but to actually be out there in the world to simply keep a roof over my head makes them and/or their partners so filled with irrational fears of “infection” has all but made me a pariah in their eyes.  And plenty of them have given up on me entirely, and I them.

My exception to that rule was and is where geography plays a role, and during the first days after I left behind my past life one of the saving graces was getting to know, virtually, a number of very passionate game show fans like myself.  Many were spread out over the country, in some cases other countries, but we’d regularly convene at the dinner hour (for many of them, prime time), to play computer-assisted versions of board games based on classic and obscure formats.  The leader of that group is an avid collector of such games, spanning 70 years of history, curated from Targets, garages and E-Bay auctions.  Some of our contributors were fluent in other languages and brought to the group home games from foreign countries which they served as both emcee and translator for.  I doubt there were people in Japan that played the home version of Super Quiz as avidly as we stumbling Americans did.

Now I should add that as part of my past responsibilities with Game Show Network I was often assigned the task of monitoring online chat groups and other forums where our shows and our talent was being discussed.  Frankly, I earned that responsibility by default.  The majority of my management team despised super fans, strongly believing they were either “old, old, old , old, old , old, old” , and therefore worthless to advertisers, or shut-ins that would watch literally anything and therefore not worth pursuing.  And a significant portion of that majority of  genuises absolutely believed any engagement with any fans was beneath them.   They thought–“well, HE’S one of them, let HIM deal with those dopes!”

So I would read their comments, occasionally post a homogenized, network-approved response and on rare occasions respond to long-winded e-mails.  Many of those correspondences were indeed embarassingly poorly written, sometimes threatening because we dared to skip an episode of a 25-year-old series, not realizing or accepting the fact that episode no longer existed in an airable form.  But many were articulate, quite astute with their thoughts on our newer shows and our strategies, and I would attempt to be their voice at the table.  A few such fans were part of that wonderful Zoom group, along with many people who produced our shows.  And through that group, I got to at least become online friends with other fans.

One in particular struck me as being especially up on his facts and while he had strong opinions on hosts, formats and concepts he was articulate, respectful and nuanced.  And so, while I’ve never physically met Brian Henegar, I became his Facebook friend, and, indeed a fan.  Which makes what has happened to him this week all the more wonderful.

Here’s how Kelli Boyle of TVInsider.com told the world about Mr. Henegar’s accomplishments yesterday:

After making an impression in the April 4 game with his delightful reaction to his win, Brian Henegar impressed again with his Jeopardy! performance on April 5.

The guest services agent from La Follette, Tennessee was up against Brandon Broughton, a local history librarian from Ozark, Missouri, and Teresa Browning, a home inspector from Columbus, Ohio, in the Wednesday night game. At the first break, the scores were Henegar at $5,000, Broughton at $3,400, and Browning trailing far behind at -$800. She only increased her score by $200 by the time Double Jeopardy came around, but her opponents didn’t drastically increase their leads either.

Heading into Double Jeopardy, the scores were Henegar $7,800, Broughton $4,800, and Browning -$600. Browning turned things around and got out of the red in this round, but ended up losing $2,000 from her $2,200 total when incorrectly answering the Daily Double about Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne.

Henegar had a different Double Jeopardy experience, taking his score from $7,800 to $23,000 in just that one round. He didn’t get entire categories correct but came close, getting enough right to give him a large lead heading into Final Jeopardy. The scores heading into the final round were Henegar at $23,000, Broughton at $10,000, and Browning at $400.

Once again, the Final Jeopardy stumped all three players. Henegar wagered $2,999, keeping him comfortably in first place at $20,001. His reaction wasn’t as animated as the night before, but the smile on his face spoke volumes.

The previous night, Brian’s stunned reaction to his long-desired, and highly profitable win, lit up the internet, not to mention the feeds of many of my Facebook friends.  Darian Lusk of The Sun reported on that all the way from the UK:

A JEOPARDY! contestant on Tuesday’s episode has left the internet buzzing since he just couldn’t believe he won.

Brian Henegar had a “priceless” reaction when he emerged with the highest score.

Brian, who revealed he’s a game show devotee with an orange-on-orange ensemble and Alex Trebek-style stache to boot – led by the end of Double Jeopardy though it was still anyone’s game.  Despite missing the last Daily Double, he kept his game face on and nabbed some high-value clues to go into Final Jeopardy with a slight advantage.  He had $13,800 while Crystal had $11,600, and Amanda had $5,400.

Final Jeopardy under: “Novelists” read: “A 2012 book review noted subjects that ‘sparked his ire:’ capital punishment, big tobacco & ‘the plight of the unjustly convicted.'”  Brian seemed like he was finished writing early and put his stylus pen down.  Ken first turned to Amanda and then Crystal who were both incorrect, writing “[Upton] Sinclair” and “[Sinclair] Lewis” respectively.Ken then turned to Brian who kept it current and correctly wrote: “John Grisham.”

“Yes, that’s correct. A reference to courtroom novels like The Chamber and Runaway Jury and the Confession,” Ken began to explain.  As Ken was speaking, Brian burst into a reaction for the books.  He began panting and holding his chest in the best kind of surprise.

When Ken revealed his wager of $9,401 making him a big winner with $23,201, Brian began laughing out loud in shock.

Ken said since the celebration was hard to ignore: “As I believe is slowly dawning on you, you’re the new Jeopardy! champion. He can’t believe it!”

Yes, I cried.  Too.

JEOPARDY! these days is under the stewardship of Michael Davies, who grew up across the pond as a game (well, quiz) show devotee in much the same manner as did Brian and so many others–perhaps in a slightly more upscale way.  I got to know Michael during my time with GSN and learned that unlike so many of my snobby superiors he respected and embraced fandom.  It’s a huge reason why he had added so many bells and whistles that support his vision that today’s JEOPARDY! is a sport.  He’s added box scores, video recaps, and weekly podcasts to the repetoire.  He’s added new ways for more champions to participate in more different spin-off iterations, including the JEOPARDY! MASTERS series which will kick off ABC’s Summer Fun And Games next month.  He’s refined the show’s democratic qualifying mechanism of taking an online test, in a manner that invites literally anyone, not just those who appeal to casting producers via a viral video.  Much as he did with the “Fastest Finger” phone-in qualifier during his tenure as the executive in charge of the original American series of WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE.    Embracing how people play, not necessarily how they look.  (Though, I must say, the monochrome orange-on-orange look for a Tennesseean like Brian was as dapper as any ensemble Regis Philbin sported in his day.),

I had the unique opportunity to be cast while in college  on an otherwise forgettable show by a producer who had similar passions as a youngster as did Davies–ironically, he was a champion on the original Art Fleming version of the series.  I was cast because I played the game well and I was a fan and, in those days, with this producer, those qualities mattered more than who yoru agent was or could a casting producer envision you naked (yes, I heard those actual suggestions from some of my GSN colleagues).  I did OK, I suppose, but I hopped my way to my winnings, and my tie was borrowed from my grandfather because I didn’t even own a second one at the time that matched my sport jacket.  Brian has already eclipsed me both in winnings and style.

There’s a reason, I believe, why JEOPARDY! is the most popular original syndicated series, and regularly draws audiences far larger than almost anything else besides live sports on linear television.  It’s because of how the ability to be accessible enough to not only play along, but for the fans who are smart enough to be flown to Los Angeles, appear on the renamed Alex Trebek stage, on a show now hosted (at least some of the time) by a former champion.  I don’t know how much Brian earns in a  year, but I can assure you this kind of money is helping him and his family tremendously.  And who knows how much more he will win?

Well, he does.  And, of course, he’s not telling.  So, like me, you’ll simply have to watch (or, at least, watch the highlights and/or listen to the weekly podcast for the results).  Sony makes money from all of those ventures these days, and a lot of it.  Rest assured no matter how much Brian wins, they can cover it.

And, who knows?  He may very well be back here for one of those many tournaments.  I’ve already urged him to find time to grab a bite when he does.  I know some darn good places for sweet tea and Nashville hot not far away–or anything else you may want that you can’t get in Lafollette, TN.

You’ve earned it and then some.  You made us fans, and those who owe our careers to them, very, very proud.

Until next time…



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