One might think that the brightest geographic minds in the world reside within the ivy-covered walls of our universities, in high levels of government, or at prestigious publications, such as National Geographic. Once again this year, experts worldwide were blown away by the astuteness of the finalists of the National Geographic Bee, an annual competition hosted by the Society, now in its 24th year.
Staff at NG headquarters have spent the past week humbled by the knowledge of the contestants. On Monday, 54 young boys and girls from throughout the United States arrived in Washington, aiming to take home a $25,000 scholarship by the end of the week. Only one walked away with the prize, Rahul Nagvekar, a 14-year-old 8th grader from Texas.
Nagvekar beat out nine other finalists in Grosvenor Auditorium, in front of a live crowd of over 400, and a nationwide audience on the National Geographic Channel when the special aired Thursday evening. In addition to the $25,000 scholarship, Nagvekar won a trip to the Galapagos Islands, as well as a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society, which includes a subscription to the monthly journal, National Geographic magazine.
third-place winner Varun Mahadevan of California; Jeopardy! host and Bee
moderator Alex Trebek; and champion Rahul Nagvekar of Texas. Photo by Laura
The competition, moderated by Jeopardy!’s Alex Trebek, began with 54
contestants on Monday; the pool was narrowed down to ten finalists by Thursday
morning. In the final competition, students answered a series of
difficult geographic questions about their world, ranging from the name
of a lake to the islands of origin of an endemic (only found in that location) species. Live animals
were used throughout the show, including a hornbill bird and a lemur brought onstage by animal keepers from nearby Busch Gardens and SeaWorld. The
contestants and crowd also enjoyed a traditional Indian dance performance as one of
the question clues.
Google, as a presenting sponsor of the event, employed Google Earth
technology to create a fascinating round of questions with zoomed-in
shots of popular city landmarks worldwide. Perhaps the greatest
surprise of the day was the question posed by President Barack Obama. He asked in which city along the Han River the latest Nuclear Security Summit had been held (Seoul, Korea). Recent event commemorations (the anniversary of the sinking of the
H.M.S. Titanic) and upcoming exhibitions of art (National Geographic’s “1001
Inventions”) were also question topics in the competition.
A few of the contestants had previously participated in the NG Bee. The runner-up, Vansh Jain of Wisconsin, made his third appearance in
the competition finals. And the lone girl in the finals, Neelam Sandhu,
had some family connections: Her brother competed in the finals
five years prior.
A television broadcast of the event aired on the National Geographic Channel at 8 P.M. on May 24th.
National Geographic Education would like to congratulate all the contestants on their impressive achievements. These young scholars are shining examples of the geographically literate generation that will lead our nation in making far-reaching geographic decisions in the future!
- Official National Geographic News article about the 24th annual Bee.
- Article by Juan Valdes, Bee judge and chief Geographer for the National Geographic Society, about how judges prepare, including
how they master the difficult pronunciation of foreign-language place
- Collection of Bee resources from National Geographic Education, including activities to help students start studying for next year.
- Video: What Can You Do with Geography? (created by Google for National Geographic).
- Official National Geographic Bee website.