He could have watched himself on TV anywhere in town Monday evening. But for Ben Hamman, it was a no-brainer.
Hamman, the long-bearded program coordinator for student support services at the University of Montana, once lived next door to Flipper's Casino on South Third Street West. He and his wife, Charity Atteberry, noticed that a group of regulars gathered there every weeknight to watch Alex Trebek and Jeopardy.
“After we realized that, I said to my wife, ‘You know, if I were to ever get on the show, I’m not going to say a word to any of the regulars. I’m just going to go there the night it airs so they can watch it on the screen and look over at me and say, hey ...’ “ Hamman said Monday afternoon.
So there he was at 6 p.m. Monday in Flipper's with his wife and a bar full of friends, with a pineapple shirt and light blue pants. It was the same outfit, sans a tan corduroy jacket, he wore for the taping in Culver City, California, in August. One television in the bar was tuned to a National League baseball playoff game. The other four showed Jeopardy.
Hamman said little did he know of the advance media blitz that surrounds such a viewing. Jeopardy and CBS, the network it airs on, are masters of promotion. KPAX of Missoula and KAJ of Kalispell teased his appearance on their newscasts. Social media helped spoil the surprise too.
Hamman’s quest for even more fame and fortune ended in the first round. He was on a roll in the Double Jeopardy round, climbing out of an early hole of minus-$1,600 to rack up as much as $8,200. He fell into third place when he missed the Final Jeopardy question, finishing with $1,199. The winner, Jessica Garsed from Augusta, Maine, had $12,600 and defending champion Kara Skinner of San Diego, ended up with $10,200. Skinner had racked up $17,800 in Friday’s Jeopardy airing.
Hamman introduced himself by telling Trebek about a “little hobby” he and his wife have rewriting the lyrics to popular songs. The chorus to Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection” becomes “Someday we’ll find it, the Nacho Perfection, lettuce, tomato and cheese.” Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock (I Am An Island)” becomes “He is The Rock. He is Dwayne Johnson.”
Sworn to secrecy until Monday’s Jeopardy aired, Hamman could not reveal more details but called it “a fascinating experience, by all means.”
“I’ve been a fan of the show since I was a little kid, and I’ve wanted to be on the show since I was a little kid,” Hamman said. “It’s a dream-come-true, bucket-list kind of thing.”
He said he's been taking Jeopardy's online test for five or six years and finally got a call in July to audition in Seattle. A week later he was beckoned to California for the August taping.
Hamman, 41, became the fourth person from Missoula since 2008 to appear on Jeopardy, according to the quiz show’s website archives. The previous three were Reynard Regenstreif-Harms, a UM student, on Feb. 28, 2008; Kelly Garza, a training specialist, on Nov. 27, 2009, and Jennie Burroughs, a college librarian, on Jan. 12, 2010. None made it to a second episode.
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Hamman and Atteberry are both from the Ozark country in southwest Missouri but lived in Chicago for years before moving to Missoula in 2014. They’d been to a Missoula friend’s wedding up the Rattlesnake the summer before and got the Horace Greeley itch. Atteberry applied and was accepted to UM's educational leadership program. Less than a year later, they moved here and put down stakes.
“In a very brief amount of time, we fell in love with the idea of Missoula,” Hamman said.
Both work at at the university. Atteberry is in the College of Education and Human Sciences as an academic adviser. She previously served in the same role in athletic services for the Grizzly football team.
Hamman took the job for UM’s TRIO student support services, a federally funded program that serves first generation and low-income students and those with documented disabilities. He graduated in May from the Master of Public Administration program.
“We’re just really excited for him because he is one of our best and brightest,” said Sara Rinfret, chair of the department of public administration and policy.
Hamman received the department’s public service award last school year.
"He's a fantastic steward of public service," Rinfret said.
As for the beard ...
“I’ve worn one for basically my entire adult life,” Hamman said. “I’ve always preferred wearing one.”
As a legal assistant in a small law firm in Chicago, he got word from his bosses when he needed to keep it “mowed down.”
“When I moved to Missoula, nobody said anything, so I kept growing it out,” Hamman said. “They let you do that in Montana.”
The beard was named best of show at a Montana Make-A-Wish fundraiser at Highlander Beer brewery in 2018.
“It’s kind of a funny thing,” Hamman said. “When they refer someone to TRIO student services, they’ll say go see the guy with the beard. It’s become a bit of a calling card.”