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Local Winner of "Jeopardy!" Fell Short Yet Stood Out

A version of this originally ran in The Virginian-Pilot on December 14, 2006.

I phoned U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott's office Tuesday afternoon and asked to speak with the smartest person in Hampton Roads.

The receptionist put me on hold.

"Hello," a familiar voice answered. "This is Christian."

Christian Haines. Wait - you didn't think I called Scott's office looking for the congressman, did you?

With all due respect, it wasn't Bobby Scott who made five consecutive appearances on "Jeopardy!" in the past week, rampaging through random categories and decimating his hapless opponents along the way.

Nope, that was Haines, Scott's 27-year-old special assistant.

By the time Haines lost Tuesday night - in an uncharacteristic Final Jeopardy slip, he confused Chief Justice Warren Burger with Earl Warren - he'd raked in more than $100,000.

In a sea of bland Jeopardy brainiacs, the dreadlocked Haines stood out.

"I call my hairstyle a dread-mullet," he quipped, when asked about his impressive tresses. "All business in the front, all party in the back."

He didn't party on "Jeopardy!" He worked. Haines' first goal was to take one game. His streak ended at four.

"I wanted to be a five-time winner," the Warwick High School grad said wistfully. "That's the mark of excellence."

I dunno. Seems to me it was pretty excellent to ace this final Jeopardy question last week on World Geography:

Answer: The Lusatian Mountains, in the western Sudeten range, form part of the border between these two countries.

The Colorado lawyer guessed France and Italy.

Wrong.

The Wisconsin law student tried the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Nope.

"What are Germany and the Czech Republic?" Haines scribbled.

Oh, yeah.

"That was a very hard clue," Haines admitted. "You had to know history."

History. Geography. Celebrities. Haines knew them all.

"He even ran the country music category," gushed Bobby Scott when I talked to him about the Mensa-man in his office.

How did Haines prepare? You aren't going to believe this.

"I know people denigrate TV," he said. "But I watch a lot of it."

Haines is a devotee of "The Daily Show," "The Wire" and "The Simpsons."

In fact, it was a Simpsons episode that introduced him to the poisonous "fugu" fish. That particular piece of piscine trivia earned him $600.

Bobby Scott is a longtime friend of the Haines family. Haines' father, the Rev. Ralph E. Haines, is rector of Saint Augustine's Episcopal Church in Newport News, where Scott worships. (Haines' mother, Bettie, is a librarian at Heritage High.)

Scott was quick to point out that the "Jeopardy!" whiz is a product of public schools.

And Dartmouth. Can't forget Dartmouth.

Haines hasn't. He left after his junior year. A Washington internship in Scott's office and later a paying job in the district office stretched what was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical to five.

In January, Haines heads back to New Hampshire. Thanks to his game-show loot, he'll fly down to Washington to see his girlfriend regularly.

Which brings us to the money.

Haines doesn't know how much he'll get to keep. California, where the show is taped, skims off "6 or 7 percent in state taxes." The rest is subject to federal and Virginia levies.

Whatever the sum, Haines plans to divvy it this way:

10 percent for his church,

50 percent for investments and 40 percent for fun.

Category: "Jeopardy!" champs.

Answer: The smartest person in Hampton Roads.

Question: Who is Christian Haines?

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