Hardest National Geographic Bee Yet Goes to 13-Year-Old

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
May 20, 2009
Don't mess with Texas seventh grader Eric Yang—at least when it comes to geography.

Today the 13-year-old swept the toughest National Geographic Bee to date—with a perfect score.

Yang, of Griffin Middle School in The Colony, Texas, won the annual competition during a tie-breaker round with this question: "Timis County shares its name with a tributary of the Danube and is located in the western part of which European country?"

The answer, Romania, comes with a U.S. $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a trip to the Galápagos Islands with Jeopardy! host and Bee moderator Alex Trebek.

The Bee finalists prepared more vigorously than in previous years, prompting organizers to make the questions more difficult for the national finals, said Bee director Mary Lee Elden.

Still, three competitors got perfect scores in the preliminary rounds of the two-day Bee, which was held at National Geographic Society headquarters this week in Washington, D.C.

Yang said this year's questions were "challenging," but that he didn't change his strategy. "I just built on what I already knew," he told National Geographic News. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Video: The Final Round of Questions

Wallabies and Warriors

Yang was one of ten finalists whittled down from 55 fourth to eighth graders during the Bee, which began in 1989 in response to the lack of geographic knowledge among young Americans.

The 55 contestants had beat out nearly five million students in their state bees to earn spots in the national championships.

The kids hailed from all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the U.S. Pacific territories, the Department of Defense Dependent Schools, and Washington, D.C.

The ten finalists—who were allowed two mistakes—were given questions complemented by live critter cameos, a gorilla skull, and even a man posing as a Chinese terra-cotta warrior "sculpture."

To a chorus of awws from the audience, a Bennett's wallaby—its long tail sticking out of a towel—came on stage for a question about the 150-mile-wide (241-kilometer-wide) strait that separates Tasmania from the Australian mainland. Answer: Bass Strait.

A teju, a South American lizard, accompanied a question about its range, which extends from southern Argentina north to Brazil and includes what coastal country located in between? Answer: Uruguay.

Google, which sponsored the event, also sneaked into the competition: In one round, kids were shown Google Earth simulations and asked to name capital cities near natural landmarks.

Oregon's Arjun Kandaswamy, 14, an eighth grader at Meadow Park Middle School in Beaverton, won second place and a $15,000 college scholarship. Third place and a $10,000 college scholarship went to North Carolina's Shantan Krovvidi, 13, a seventh grader at Ligon Middle School in Raleigh.

No Procrastination

A "very excited" William Yang said that his Bee-winning son, Eric, is a "very independent boy."

"We try to provide all the support we can, but most of the time he spends his time by himself," William Yang said. The teen enjoys history books, cookbooks, and travel guides.

After the first round, Trebek chatted with the finalists and discovered that Eric Yang had gotten a 2200 on the SATs out of a possible score of 2400—at 13 years old.

"If you had to tell the audience about your weakness … what would you say?" Trebek asked.

Yang gulped. Silence.

"You remind me of a former president," Trebek said, and moved on.

Later, as Yang signed books for admiring former competitors, he paused to tell a reporter what he would have told Trebek.

"Procrastination," Yang said. "I do things at the last minute."

But for the Bee, at least, his timing was perfect.

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