Steve Bahnaman didn’t know what flavor filled the original Twinkie.
But when he had to answer the question on the ABC game show “500 Questions” or risk elimination, the expert trivia player didn’t panic.
In his allotted 10 seconds, his thoughts went from Twinkies to Moon Pies, and he called out flavors of the latter until he settled on the right answer: banana.
With that formula – a whole lot of knowledge and a bit of strategy – Bahnaman, 34, made it through 168 questions on the show, which aired this month.
The Campbell University librarian, who lives in Raleigh with his wife and two young children, brought home $110,000 for his effort.
In his final round, he answered questions about the element Einsteinium, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the movie “A League of Their Own.”
His undoing: Originally built for World War II, what kind of corrugated metal structure was named for the Rhode Island location where it was first manufactured?
The answer, for those playing along at home, is a Quonset hut.
Bahnaman, who filmed the show in March and has had to keep mum about the results ever since, said before his final episode aired that he was glad to have a chance to show people how much fun trivia can be.
“All of the contestants were excited to see hard trivia on prime time on a network,” he said.
A week in the celebrity sun has been fun, too.
The Campbell community cheered him on throughout the process, charting his progress on the school’s website. He’s bantered online with writer and humorist John Hodgman. When Hodgman joked on Twitter that the two should team up with Ken Jennings of “Jeopardy” fame for a show, Bahnaman was delighted.
Bahnaman got his trivia start on the Quiz Bowl team at Emory University, where he majored in religion and international studies. He went on to earn a master’s degree in theology from the school, then a master’s of library science from UNC-Chapel Hill.
Today, he often plays trivia online, meeting up with others with nimble memories.
Bahnaman said he signed up to audition for “500 Questions” because he wanted to see what he could do against the best of the best in trivia. The chance to win more than a free round of drinks at a local bar’s quiz night was an inducement as well, he said.
“People who do trivia are basically in a constant state of hoping people might give them money for it,” he said.
Bahnaman said those looking to show up their friends at bar trivia should increase their exposure to quizzes. At some point, though, the ability to recall information instantly is what separates the experts.
“Your brain has to be wired a slightly odd way,” he said.