TOP PHOTO: WLAF’s Charlotte Underwood hugs her life long friend, Brian Henegar, during his visit to the WLAF Studios in La Follette on Saturday. The friends started school together at Valley View Elementary School and then all the way through to graduating from Campbell County High School.

By Charlotte Underwood 

LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – You could say Brian Henegar was born to play Jeopardy! He began watching the show as far back as he can remember and began training himself to compete on it from an early age as well. It all paid off over the course of last week for the hometown Jeopardy! hero whose prize takeaway was $70,202, earned over four episodes of play. To the local Campbell Countians tuned in to cheer him on, Henegar was an “inspiration” and a “role model,” according to social media posts.

The three-time Jeopardy! Champion stopped by the WLAF studios on Saturday to discuss his winning streak, his experience on the show and what he’s going to do with his winnings. He first plans to donate $500 to the Anti Defamation League charity organization. Other plans include paying his car off and a few other bills, purchasing a new computer, as well as a little traveling.

“I just intend to live my best life; help my family out, help my friends out. I want to do some nice things for a few friends of mine who were invaluable for helping me prepare for this,” Henegar said.

He credited his buddy Tom Zulewski from Utah with helping him work on “buzzer timing, trivia flash cards and wagering.”

“If Jeopardy! was a Rocky movie, he was Mickey; he was my trainer,” Henegar said. 

Winning on the game show just once was the “culmination of a dream” for the LaFollette native, but winning three times has left him reeling and still not quite sure it really happened. He called it all a “blessing from the Lord.”

“It had always been my greatest dream to win one game and say I’m a Jeopardy! champion, but even if I hadn’t won anything, just being on that stage still would have been a dream come true,” Henegar said. 

Since he was a child, Henegar said he loved playing along with the game shows on TV. 

The 40-year-old began trying to get on Jeopardy! more than 20 years ago, when the show first began putting its test online. 

His friends and family, especially his parents, had always encouraged him to never give up on his dream and had been one of his biggest inspirations, he said.

Brian’s dad, David Henegar “prayed every day” for his son to be able to live his dream and get a shot on Jeopardy.

“My dad David told me, the one thing he had always prayed for was ‘win or lose, I want you to have your shot on Jeopardy!. Well, I made it and I didn’t waste my shot,” Henegar said smiling. 

His mother Sharon Henegar is “so proud of her son for achieving his childhood dream and for making everyone proud.”

Henegar traveled to Los Angeles in mid January to do the taping of the show. All four episodes were taped over a six hour period on January 17. Brian was the champion for three episodes of the four contests. 

He said it “wasn’t easy” to keep his winnings a secret for two and a half months.

“I couldn’t tell a soul, everyone knew I was on Jeopardy!, but no one knew how I had done,” Henegar said. 

After winning on the first episode, Henegar said he felt “every positive emotion you can imagine.”

“It was so surreal; I had watched this show every night for almost my entire life, and I’m there, I’m on TV and actually in the studio.  At first, it didn’t seem like it was really happening,” Henegar said. 

He said competing on the Alex Trebek Stage was an “absolute thrill” for him. Henegar also made sure to take his orange shirt and tie; his own “shout out to the Big Orange state” since he is from East Tennessee. University of Tennessee Knoxville President Randy Boyd in turn gave a Twitter shout out to Henegar for repping the UT colors. 

His reaction to winning that first game was so endearingly genuine, that it went viral on the internet, getting discussed on multiple social media platforms and by news organizations.  

Heading for a hug are K-12 classmates Charlotte Underwood and Brian Henegar.

His reaction was commented on as the “best reaction to a win in Jeopardy! history,” by one Twitter user. Henegar said he had made an educated guess with his answer of John Grisham to the Final Jeopardy! clue. 

“One of the things about trivia is that you get facts from the weirdest places. When I was in middle school I was reading People Magazine, and they were serializing a chapter from a book he did called Runaway Jury, which is a novelization based around the Big Tobacco trials. I just happened to remember that and put two and two together,” Henegar said. 

But the real story behind Brian’s reaction to his first Jeopardy win was the the huge relief he felt. 

“For two weeks leading up to the competition I had reoccurring nightmares that I was going to make a fool of myself; so first of all about a thousand pounds of weight went off my shoulders, and I’m thinking first of all I’ve won and secondly I didn’t make a fool of myself,” Henegar said. 

After the first episode aired on April 4, after his first win, Henegar said it was “crazy, the response he got from co-workers, friends, relatives and others cheering him on.”

“People were sending me messages and emails saying how proud they were of me and that I was making LaFollette look good; it was absolutely insane,” Henegar said.

He won again in the second and third episode. Because the episodes were taped in advance, Henegar knew he was going to lose on the fourth game, but still couldn’t let anyone know. 

“I knew that my fourth game was the one I was going to lose on, which made me kind of sad; I was a little afraid they (viewers) were going to be upset at me, but no, everyone was so proud,” Henegar said.

He said it meant a lot to him that people said they were proud of him and that he was a good role model for Campbell County and LaFollette.

“I’ve never been called that before, and I’m thinking this is bigger than I thought it was going to be and I am so blessed beyond words that I got the chance to do it and I am over the moon completely,” Henegar said. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 04/10/2023-6AM-PHOTOS COURTESY OF WLAF’S CHARLOTTE UNDERWOOD AND WLAF’S MATTHEW MOORE)

Brian Henegar talks about his life long journey to Jeopardy!

One Reply to “Jeopardy! champion Brian Henegar makes Campbell County proud”

  1. Congratulations to Brian on his outstanding run on Jeopardy! His intellect, wisdom, and heartfelt interaction with the host and the camera, made us all so proud and so very happy for his success! Brian, you will always be our favorite Jeopardy champion!

Comments are closed.