His name is Ron Hamilton.
And he saved my sanity.
This is my story.
In September of 1990, I was taping my appearances on the game show Tic-Tac-Dough. On this particular day, I was waist-deep into my second day of taping. A week ago, during my first day of taping, I had only been under the hot show lights for under two hours and had participated in two contests against opponents. On this second day, I had been on stage, under the lights, for over five hours and had competed in six Q&A battles.
I was tired. I was stressing out. I was beginning to slightly hallucinate.
Then, my savior arrived in the form of Mr. Hamilton, who – appropriately enough – was a minister.
As we began my ninth game in my run on Tic-Tac-Dough, these were the statistics that Mr. Hamilton was running up against:
…I had answered 29 out of 33 questions correctly (87%) while my eight previous opponents had only answered 9 out 24 questions correctly (37%).
…Of my eight previous opponents, three had answered zero questions correctly, two had only answered a single question correctly, two had actually answered two questions correctly, and only one had managed to answer three questions correctly.
I give you those numbers to give you the sense that I had not been competing against the cream of the trivia crop. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Not in the least.
As champion, I went first and I chose the category that appeared in the bottom left corner, “Europe”.
My blue “X” went up on the board as I answered the question correctly.
Mr. Hamilton, my challenger, picked the category in the center square. The center square questions were always more difficult as they required a two-part answer. His red “O” appeared in the center as he answered his questions correctly.
Following my tried-and-true strategy, I picked the category in the top right corner, “Heroes”. My two “X”s now occupied opposite corners and I would only need one more corner to complete my strategy.
All was going according to plan as Mr. Hamilton picked the top middle square and answered the question incorrectly.
On my third turn, I choose the bottom right corner and its category “Faces of the Past”. I was then shown a black-and-white picture of an Asian woman who was the wife of a famous revolutionary. I was asked to name her.
I could not make out who this woman was based on her image and so I guessed “Mrs. Mao Tse-Tung”. I was wrong as she was the wife of Chiang Kai-Chek. My streak of seven correct answers (spanning three separate games) was snapped.
I had given Mr. Hamilton an opening and he took it.
He selected the bottom middle square and answered his question correctly so he had his second “O” on the board.
I countered by choosing the top middle square and answered my question correctly in the category of “Zoology”.
On Mr. Hamilton’s next turn, he choose the category in the top left corner to block me as I had “X”s in the top middle and top right square. However, he was taking a risk because this was a special “red letter” category that meant either contestant could win the square. My challenger, in an attempt to block me, was also giving me the opportunity to win the game.
This special box was “Seesaw” and the host would provide us a category and the Mr. Hamilton and myself would trade off answers until an incorrect answer was given, time ran out, or someone duplicated an answer.
The category was 20th Century Presidents of the United States who were Democrats. As the person who choose the category, Mr. Hamilton decided who would answer first and he chose me. I started the bidding with “Jimmy Carter”.
Mr. Hamilton replied with “John Kennedy”.
Back to me, I answered with “Franklin Roosevelt”.
On my challenger’s turn, he confidently answered “Lyndon Johnson”.
The spotlight turned backed to me and my time on stage was definitely wearing on me. I knew the Presidents. I knew the Democratic Party. In fact, had I been able to think even moderately clearly, I had already given myself a clue with FDR. After Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman took over as Chief Executive. But, my mind was turning to mush and, as time ticked down, I croaked out “Warren Harding”.
I was incorrect and Mr. Hamilton was able to place his “O” in the top right corner blocking me.
So when it was my turn to choose, here is what the board looked like:
I had a choice to make. I could block my opponent, but that would have meant choosing a “red letter” category and giving him the chance to defeat me on my turn. During my previous eight games, I had avoiding picking those special categories because I did not want to give my challenger the chance to take a square on my turn. I could have chosen “Classical Music” in the middle right in the hopes that he would miss his next question and keep me alive.
Like I said, my grey matter was starting to liquefy so I did not make the best choice and I opted for the special “Number Please” category.
This is how this category worked. The host would ask a question with a numerical answer. I would give the answer. If I was exactly right, I would win the square. If not, Mr. Hamilton would have the option to say if the correct answer was “Higher” or “Lower”. If he was right, he would take the square (and the game), but if he was wrong, my “X” would take the square.
The question to me was, “How many rooms are there in the White House?”
On the videotape, you can see me look upwards. I am mentally going through all the rooms I can name in the Executive Mansion.
Throw in a bedroom and a bathroom or two and I confidently come up with the answer of…
Like I said, my brain was mush.
The host tells me that my answer is incorrect. The host then turns to Mr. Hamilton to ask him if the correct answer is higher or lower. The image below shows you Mr. Hamilton’s answer of “Higher”, but you can read on my face that I know my run as Tic-Tac-Dough champion is over.
My face registers the realization that my time on this game show is at an end. My adventure in the land of Q&A and winning cash and prizes has run its course.
But am I upset? Am I sad?
I think the next image answers those questions. As the host goes on to explain that the correct answer is “132” and that Mr. Hamilton is the new champion, the look on my face is…
…one of excitement.
I am happy. You can see it in my expression.
I am elated. You can almost hear it in that still image.
I am happy not for Mr. Hamilton who has won a decent pot of money and who now will wear the crown of champion and have to fend off all challengers until his brain turns to putty.
No, I am happy because my mental ordeal is over. I am happy because I can now leave the hot lights, my itchy suit, and my pinching shoes. I am happy because I can now go home and live my life again.
Mr. Hamilton, in defeating me, restored my sanity.
That’s my story.
Mind you, I was also happy at my moment of defeat because I was walking away with $49,750 in cash and prizes and the biggest winner (to date) on this incarnation of Tic-Tac-Dough. When the run of this show finally ended, I would wind up as the third-winningest champion.
P.S. I did compete against a famous person on Tic-Tac-Dough, but that’s a story for another day.