Melody Kramer of National Geographic magazine will be live blogging today’s National Geographic Bee—the last to be hosted by Alex Trebek, along with staffers Brian Howard and Amy Bucci. Kramer is a Bee veteran—she was once a contestant in the New Jersey county finals. If she could go back in time, she would study Easter Island, which was ultimately her downfall. Howard also participated in the Bee, when he was a kid growing up in Indiana. He, too, was not a winner, although he did place seventh in this year’s staff Geo Bee. This year’s ten finalists (above) include three girls, taking part in what’s traditionally been a male-dominated competition.
Bucci: Winning question: Because the earth bulges at the equator, which mountain peak on the earth is farthest from the earth’s center?
Kramer: New Host Announcement: Soledad O’Brien. Her first name is also a town in California, which perhaps makes her uniquely qualified for the role.
Howard: Ricky got third just like me in the rehearsal. I played him in the rehearsal. Poetic?
Kramer: After many grueling rounds testing geographic knowledge about lions in Botswana, mountain ranges in Asia and port cities in England, 12-year-old Sathwik Karnik from Massachusetts was named the winner of the 25th Annual National Geography Bee (pictured, with penguin).
Karnik, a native of Norfolk, south of Boston, is a 7th grader at King Philip Regional Middle School. He’ll take home the spoils of the Bee prize: a $25,000 college scholarship, an all-expenses paid trip to the Galapagos Islands, and a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society. Competitors also get the chance to compete on behalf of the United States in an International geographic competition.
Nearly 5 million students started in the Geography Bee. After state and local competitions, those millions were whittled down to the top 54, and then the 10. Three of the finalists are siblings of former finalists – including Karnik, whose brother has participated in the Bee.
Howard: Sathwik has a big grin as he writes the final answer, wins 5 to 4.
Bucci: Conrad needs to get this next question right and Sathwik has to miss it in order for Conrad to stay.
Kramer: Best of five between Sathwik and Conrad. So far we’re tied at 1-1.
Kramer: Watching video montage of contestants. Things I have learned: The National Mall is bigger than Vatican City; the shortest place name in the word is A (it’s a village between Norway and Sweden); there’s a YOLO Street (in Kinshasa)!; the world’s shortest river is in Oregon.
Howard: In contestant highlight video, kid from Minnesota said his state is known by many for the mall of America for shopping.
Illinois — Conrad Oberhaus is a 13-year-old 7th grader at Daniel Wright Junior High School in Lincolnshire, a suburb of Chicago. He was also in the 2012 Bee. He has won multiple presidential physical fitness awards and state and national chess awards. He earned a black belt in tae kwon do when he was 6.
Kramer: Down to the final two — Massachusetts (24 points) and Illinois (21 points)
Kramer: We’re down to the final four. The stage has been reconfigured so they’re all sitting in the same row.
Kramer: Four contestants remain. All of the females have been eliminated. Illinois, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Virginia remain. They’re all guys. Youngest contestant Ricky Uppaluri is still on the stage. He just turned 11 last week.
Kramer: Six contestants remain. They’re asked to identify land masses on zoomed-in maps. It’s tough to identify any of these islands — particularly without other countries around them.
Bucci: If they can name the island when the map is at the most “zoomed in,” they get three points. Each time they zoom out the question is worth less. Asha Jain IDs Wrangel Island for 1 point. Virginia contestant names Socotra. Conrad from Illinois gets Costa Rica on the first try to big applause and 3 points.
Kramer: There’s a penguin on the stage. It has a strange mating call. It’s currently silent.
Howard: Neelam and Tuvya exit. Audience groans.
Howard: Conrad had the cities question I had in the staff Bee: Putting Prague, Budapest, Zagreb in order from north to south. He got it right: Prague, Budapest, Zagreb. So did I. I got the bonus for which has the largest population (Budapest) but he missed it.
Howard: Neelam was asked to place Iran, Yemen, Egypt in order of decreasing geographic size. Answer: Iran, Egypt, Yemen. She was right but missed the bonus: Which country has the highest population density? It’s Egypt, she said Iran.
Sathwik surges ahead to 19 points, gettng his lakes in order and the bonus question.
Bucci: Sathwik is from Massachusetts. As I am from Boston I am superexcited.
Howard: Shawn Cartwright came out to demonstrate tai chi. The contestants were asked which Chinese province was the source of the oldest form of tai chi, invented by the Chen family. Answer: Henan. Three got it. Conrad got the 1 point bonus. Just ahead, the next elimination…
Kramer: Contestants are asked to place countries in order, in terms of land area, population density, and other statistics. I am realizing how much I do not know about the world.
Kramer: Contestant from California just received question about California. Audience laughs.
Brian Howard: All but 2 students got Yucatan peninsula right: the peninsula near the Mesoamerican reef. Conrad got the question I had missed: the Pearl Islands are in what large gulf? Answer: gulf of panama.
New round of questions, involving National Geographic Expeditions. Eight contestants remain.
Questions are getting much harder. This round involves looking at pictures of Google Earth and then answering questions about port cities.
The contestant from Illinois has had a black belt since he was 6. He started when he was 3.
Georgia’s contestant, newly 11, had a perfect score in the prelims. At one point in his life, he was chased by a monkey, who ripped his pants off. Also, he collects globes.
Michigan’s champ is a story writer who has participated in National Novel Writing Month. (That means she wrote 50,000 words in one month.)
Virginia’s contestant just returned from Costa Rica, where he ate live termites, which apparently “don’t taste like anything.” Trebek confesses that this “grosses him out.”
New Hampshire’s contestant, a competitive swimmer and poet, feels “pretty relaxed.”
Oregon’s champ, a two-time state winner, is a basketball player who favors the Miami Heat.
A boa constrictor was just brought out on the stage. I don’t know what question is being asked because I am now trembling under my seat.
Compared to these preteens, I feel like I know nothing about the world. We’ve just gotten through a round of explorer-related questions. I think I knew the answers to 2 of them.
We start off with some border questions. The first one: What country is bordered by Burkina Faso and Libya? Neelam Sandhu of New Hampshire answers correctly: Niger.
The first round finishes off with no incorrect answers.
Second round: explorer questions!
Gabe Straus (New York) plays the double bass and likes baking novelty cakes.
Matthew Janson (North Carolina) says the best place he’s been is Hungary.
Abhinav Karthikeyan (Maryland) collects state quarters.
Kenny Petrini (Alaska) says the “coolest place he’s been is Detroit.”
Walker Miller (Florida) would like to be a travel journalist and would “love to visit Turkey.”
Prani Nalluri (Kansas) would like to climb Mt. Everest and hopes to become a surgeon.
Praise for Mary Lee Elden and Alex Trebek, who are both leaving the Bee after 25 years. Elden directed and founded the Bee; Trebek, of course, is the host of both Jeopardy and the Bee
The audience is beginning to fill into the auditorium. The 10 finalists on stage are:
Neelam Sandhu – New Hampshire
Harish Palani – Oregon
Pranit Nanda – Colorado
Sathwik Karnik – Massachusetts
Akhil Rekulapelli – Virginia
Asha Jain – Wisconsin
Conrad Oberhaus – Illinois
Ricky Uppaluri – Georgia
Neha Middela – Michigan
Tuvya Bergson-Michelson – California