SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Talk about paying it forward.
C.J. Hendricks, a health and physical education teacher at Crossroads Middle School South in South Brunswick, helped collect 29,000 pounds of supplies for the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean island in 2017.
Hendricks’ parents are first generation Americans and three of his grandparents were born and raised on the island. He used to visit family there when he was younger. Thus, Hurricane Maria “hit close to home,” he said, and he saw an opportunity to help, inspired by his grandfather, Theodore Hendricks.
“He taught us why service is so important,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks’ family coordinated a huge collection event after the hurricane. Hermann Trucking of South Brunswick helped his family transport generators, diapers, blankets and medicine kits to the National Guard, which in turn shipped the items to Puerto Rico.
Hendricks said the school district administration, principals, middle school students, high school baseball team and community at large supported their efforts.
“To see our community in South Brunswick rally around a cause … they saw how important it was to me and got so many people to come out,” the Crossroads “Dean of Fun” said.
About three years later, Hendricks and his sister, Brittany, were rewarded by winning more than $900,000 on NBC-TV’s game show “The Wall.”
Season 4, Episode 2 of “The Wall” featured the siblings making show history as they secured the highest guaranteed contract amount to date in the question-and-answer show that offered chances to win – or lose – money based on where giant balls fell on the money board. Their episode aired on Jan. 11.
Formerly from Lawrenceville, C.J. Hendricks is also the head baseball coach and athletics site coordinator at South Brunswick High School. His sister, Brittany Hendricks, is a community event planner.
C.J. Hendricks said he and his wife watched “The Wall” when it premiered in 2016. He said the show reminded him of the Plinko game on “The Price is Right,” which he grew up watching with his grandmother.
His wife said C.J. and Brittany would do well on the show, so she applied on their behalf.
Hendricks said they received a call asking for an audition tape. Although they did not get selected during the first few seasons, in the spring of 2020 he received a call from a senior casting director.
That individual asked for an updated audition tape and the day after told him the show was moving on with the audition process. Beginning last June they were auditioning, until they received final approval the day before Thanksgiving.
During the first week of December, C.J. and Brittany found themselves on an airplane to Los Angeles to film.
They had to quarantine with just family before they flew to the West Coast, and they had to take COVID tests before leaving and upon arrival.
Hendricks said they quarantined in their hotel for three days, but that wait afforded them time to prep for the show by reviewing past episodes and playing trivia apps.
He said a key point was spending quality time with each other.
“I haven’t gotten to bond with my sister like that,” Hendricks said.
C.J. and Brittany decided C.J. would go behind “The Wall” to answer the trivia questions, since he is more familiar with multiple choice questions because he is a middle school educator.
After the first round of questions, C.J. and Brittany had $135,225 in the bank. C.J. and Brittany were then separated, with C.J. going “behind The Wall” to answer questions while Brittany determined the ball placement for the money drops.
Hendricks said he was sitting in the room, shut off from the rest of the world. There was only a camera and a screen to read the questions.
He likened the situation to “being in an SAT class all over again.” He said he had to see the options, break down the answers and try to figure out an educated response.
Next, during the Super Drop, seven balls freely moved down the board, bringing their total to $385,246.
“This feels unreal,” Brittany Hendricks said during the episode.
During the next round of questioning, C.J. answered two of three correctly, adding $15,010 to their total. However, after the one failed question and the “Evil Super Drop” where red balls were dropped from all seven slots to reduce their winnings, their total decreased by $325,102 to $60,054.
“I’ll never forget, until the day I die, that Fort Knox is in the state of Kentucky,” Hendricks laughed about the only question he got wrong.
Their father, Carlos, and uncle, Tarem, cheered from the sidelines.
The next section of the game asked Brittany to choose four balls to go into four slots to work up their total again at no expense – but she gained only $202.
C.J. was on the hot seat again, having to answer three more questions.
The big money makers asked what Latin word “diva” is derived from (goddess) which brought on a money drop of $600,000, and what sound is trademarked (the click of a Zippo lighter) which garnered $550,100.
At that point, C.J. and Brittany had $1,210,366 at stake, with a guarantee of at least $235,225.
From behind “The Wall,” without knowing how many questions he got right or what their total was, C.J. had to decide if he was going to rip up the guaranteed contract or take a gamble on whatever Brittany secured by the end of the game.
“Don’t play it safe,” Brittany willed C.J., without him being able to hear.
“The only currency we have always known is each other,” C.J. said from behind the screen. “There’s a time to be courageous and a time to be comfortable, but you can’t be both.”
With four more balls hanging in the balance, C.J. locked in his decision, unbeknownst to anyone in the crowd.
After the four red balls fell, their total only decreased by $300,100, allotting them $910,266 if C.J. Hendricks had decided to rip up the contract.
“This is tougher than any test I’ve ever taken,” C.J. said as he joined Brittany, emerging from behind “The Wall.”
“Our greatest currency has always been family, our greatest currency has always been love,” he said during the episode. “It’s a chance to dream big and reach for those stars.”
C.J. revealed he had ripped up the contract. Evaluating the show after watching it on TV, based on a dramatic reaction by his sister, C.J. said he had thought at the time that he lost all the money that would have helped his family.
During the episode, Brittany responded by saying, “Two hundred thousand dollars (from the guaranteed amount) is a lot … but not as much as $900,000” to which everyone started screaming and crying.
“My sister always has that moment where ‘she has me’ and that moment was on national TV,” he laughed.
C.J. and Brittany walked away with $910,266.
C.J. said the episode “was one of the most stressful situations of my life, without a doubt,” even though he has coached a lot of big games.
“I’m happy they were happy tears,” he said of crying on national television.
C.J. Hendricks said he received more than 500 text messages and hundreds of emails after the show aired, but he wanted to reach out to everyone individually to thank them for their support. He said his inspiration is what led him to “The Wall” in the first place: family.
“The best part about my students who reached out was that everybody reaching out with love and support shared a story about watching the show, and so many people were watching with their families … and how much fun it was to do that and how they miss doing that,” C.J. said. “Maybe we made people laugh and smile during a really rough time.”
He thanked host Chris Hardwick and the producers for showing the “realness” of the Hendricks.
“They showed how much family means to us, whether we won or lost,” he said. “Two kids from Lawrenceville, New Jersey, got a cool opportunity to do something fun together.”
To view the entire episode, visit www.nbc.com/the-wall
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org