Back in college, Robert Hentzel and his teammates competed at the championship level, but victory always came without fanfare. Or fans, for that matter. As spectator sport, academic quiz bowl was a bit like watching a perpetual IQ test being given out loud, with small teams of students vying to see who could answer the most questions the quickest.Excellent article. Read the whole thing.
Quiz bowlers didn't merely accumulate knowledge; they stockpiled it. Fact upon fact upon small, obscure fact. Worthless information, outsiders would scoff. But the quiz bowlers' passion ran deep. And their pursuit turned out to be not so trivial.
Over the past five years alone, more than 40 former quiz bowlers have quietly infiltrated the ranks of television game-show contestants, raking in nearly $7 million, primarily from "Jeopardy!" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
Call it the ultimate revenge of the nerds.
"There's definitely a subculture there," acknowledged Michael Davies, executive producer of "Millionaire" and himself a reject from the academic challenge team at the University of Edinburgh. ("I was just useless in classics and the sciences.")
Certainly the most visible member of the underground intelligentsia these days is "Jeopardy!" phenom Ken Jennings, a 30-year-old software engineer from Salt Lake City whose pretaped winning streak is the longest and richest in that show's history, and is rumored to be more than half over. And while "Jeopardy!" questions are less complicated than quiz bowl's elaborate clues, Jennings said he figures that roughly 40 percent of his correct answers on "Jeopardy!" came from knowledge he amassed over the years via quiz bowl.
The people I knew at Quiz Bowl were very into quiz bowl, and I'd always wondered why these people didn't go tear through Jeopardy, because they clearly had the knowledge.
By my own estimation, I'd been very successful at quiz bowl in high school, and I knew from their record that my university's Quiz Bowl team wasn't that good.
I was blown away. These people just went out and memorized trivia for the sake of memorizing trivia. [Aside: there are Scrabble afficianados who memorize every possible 2 or 3 letter word, plus stems and many other obscure words] They could tell you the order of opponents in the original Nintendo version of Mike Tyson's Punchout! They could tell you who was on the cover of Newsweek in the 2nd week of November 1989!
Easy trivia questions like "Who was the only President and Supreme Court Justice?" (Taft -- who supposedly much preferred being Chief Justice) is akin to being asked their multiplication tables.
There were areas in which I could compete -- often based sheerly on speed, or because I could better guess where the question was headed -- but I quickly realized I wasn't going to be a star.
Unless you've witnessed this yourself, it's hard to fathom.