Long Live the Queen

I'll admit it. I watch Deal or No Deal like a fiend. I cheer, I yell, I jeer. (If this show is a complete mystery to you, go here for a rather cynical explanation by the Freakonomics freaks.) There are contestants I love totally and ones I loathe completely. On Monday night Brent Sloan, a Texas-flag-shirt-wearin', teary-eyed cowboy was slightly endearing, but the show was nothing without Cathy Hamm, Queen of Spam. Hamm, an American Airlines flight attendant based in Dallas, was one contestant I was totally behind last week, and here's why: Not only was Hamm lovably vivacious, but she pointed to each suitcase using stewardly double-finger exit motions, bears a striking resemblance to Florence Henderson and is the reigning Queen of SPAM after winning 2005's National Best SPAM Recipe Competition at the State Fair of Texas. Needless to say, I had to talk to this lady.

I caught up with Hamm at home just after she ended a call with a Deal or No Deal producer. She was checking on the reaction she was getting from the show's airing. Hamm reported that while people are recognizing her, she's not getting the boos she thought she'd get for losing out on the big money. See, Hamm wiped out the left side of the Deal or No Deal board like a pro on March 13 and returned the following Friday to "no deal" on an appalling amount of money, then went all the way, avoided the one-cent case and took home $5,000. (I suppose the "banker" was right, if not totally inappropriate, when he wrote on The Banker's Blog on March 17, "She did great last Monday, but don't be surprised if I toss her like a salad tonight.")

But now what of the SPAM Queen thing? Now, Hamm guiltily admits that her winning Island Teriyaki Bites were a somewhat spontaneous creation. "I'm a very disorganized, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of person," she says. "I knew I wanted to enter SPAM—it's very kitschy. And my mother always cooked grilled SPAM with pineapple, so I went with the Hawaiian theme. It was like 1 o'clock in the morning the night before." She finished up at about 7 a.m. the day of the contest, and history was made. "I do feel bad because these people come from all over that have spent forever perfecting their recipes, and mine was so last minute!"

The producers of Deal or No Deal were so enamored of Hamm's winning creation they treated the audience to a helping of Hamm's winning Bites--unbeknownst to Hamm, who was "floored" by the surprise cameo.

"I thought to myself, 'If I only knew back in October when I opened up a can of SPAM for the State Fair that I'd be here, watching them give them to everyone, I'd have said no way,'" she says. It worked out well for the audience, which had to endure two tapings with just one 20-minute break. "They were extrememly happy to get SPAM," she says, and we will take her word for it. --Merritt Martin

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky