Teen Jeopardy player has all the answers

Contestant: Mount Saint Joseph student Ryan Ballengee had to keep quiet about his game-show appearance until after it aired last night.

May 10, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Seconds after "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebeck read aloud the clue, Ryan Ballengee hit the button and easily identified the co-star of the movie "Never Been Kissed" who is also Steven Spielberg's goddaughter.

"Who is Drew Barrymore?" the 18-year-old from Pasadena answered.

Competing for a chance to win $50,000 and a car in the Teen Tournament, Ballengee scored points by correctly naming the author of "Catch-22" (Who is Joseph Heller?), the Dutch artist who painted "Night Watch" (Who is Rembrandt?) and, of course, the state that is home to Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption!

But the final clue - "The German name for this animal is Nilpferd, or `Nile Horse' " - stumped the Mount Saint Joseph's senior. He guessed a zebra, instead of a hippopotamus, and headed home from Philadelphia with $5,000 in winnings and a $2,500 Yahoo gift certificate. The show aired last night.

"Everyone was really nice and wanted to just have a good time," says Ballengee, an honors student, avid golfer and aspiring journalist. "Just the camaraderie of it was kind of cool."

Ballengee says he intends to bank the cash, although he could use some new clothes and might like to treat his friends to dinner. He wants to use the gift certificate to buy a computer for next year, when he will attend the University of Maryland, College Park.

Ballengee's appearances on the show got him a few kudos from St. Joe's students, and more than a few jokes. He laughed off renditions of "Singin' in the Rain" - he failed to identify the song in one round of competition. Most often, he dodged attempts to trick him into breaking his confidentiality agreement and revealing the outcome of the show before it aired last night.

Overall, he is taking his brush with fame in stride. "I don't think my life should change just because of one little game show," he says. "I appreciate all the recognition and things like that, but it will go away."

Getting on the show was a combination of luck, smarts and a helpful family.

"Ever since he has been able to watch TV, he has watched game shows," says Ryan's father, Charles Ballengee, a wholesale parts salesman at Fox Chevrolet on Security Boulevard.

Ryan's grandmother, Bernadette Fisher, of Berlin, saw the Teen Tournament advertised at the end of one show and called to tell him about it. His mother, Barbara Ballengee, a medical technologist at North Arundel Hospital, found the application online.

From nearly 15,000 entries nationwide, 3,000 were chosen at random. Ryan went to Philadelphia for a 50-question quiz. Then the entrants who scored 70 percent or better tried a mock "Jeopardy!" round, where they were judged on their presentation and attitude regardless of how many questions they answered correctly.

Ballengee, an A student, state finalist in competitive public speaking and leading member of his school's academic quiz team, did well in his tryout. A few weeks later, in April, he returned for an exhausting two-day taping.

Ryan's first day of competition aired on May 1, and he made a last-minute comeback from second place by recognizing the CIA Web site from a set of clues. He also took the opportunity to plug his Web site, www.ryanville.com, during a conversation with host Trebeck and saw the hits jump by 8,000 in three days.

Ballengee offers this on-the-set tip for future contestants: Don't be one of the many people who ask Trebeck if he can beat up Regis Philbin, the host of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." He is gracious but will dodge the question, says Ballengee.

Because it is varsity golf season and the end of the school year, Ballengee says he hasn't been home to see as many game shows recently. When he can, he watches "Millionaire," and he enjoys the hostess' sense of humor on "The Weakest Link." But he is not in a rush to try his skills again.

"Maybe I'll get around to it one of these days," he says. "I don't want to be known as the guy that runs the game show circuit."

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