Live Blogging the National Geographic Geography Bee

Bee_top10_DLMelody 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.

11:27 a.m.

Bucci: Winning question: Because the earth bulges at the equator, which mountain peak on the earth is farthest from the earth’s center?

Answer: Chimborazo
11:26 a.m.

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.

11:25 a.m.

Howard: Ricky got third just like me in the rehearsal. I played him in the rehearsal. Poetic?

11:24 a.m.

beewinnerphoto(1)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.

11:23 a.m.

Howard: Sathwik has a big grin as he writes the final answer, wins 5 to 4.

11:18 a.m.

Bucci: Conrad needs to get this next question right and Sathwik has to miss it in order for Conrad to stay.

11:17 a.m.

Kramer: Best of five between Sathwik and Conrad. So far we’re tied at 1-1.

11:13 a.m.

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.


Avi Misra from Missouri said he lives in Kansas but goes to school across the state line. That factored into his interest in geography. Girl from Louisiana said crawfish po boy, crawfish etoufee, a bunch of other crawfish things, crowd laughed. Kid from South Dakota said she’d go to NYC because there’s not much to do in SD.
One kid showed how he goes into rally mode.
One said he’d love to put geography info on a flash drive and upload into his brain.
Kid from Pacific territories said he’d be capt cook because he explored the pacific w/o the hindrance of scurvy.
 11:08 a.m.

Howard: In contestant highlight video, kid from Minnesota said his state is known by many for the mall of America for shopping.

11:07 a.m.

Kramer: The last two finalists:
Massachusetts — Sathwik Karnik is a 12-year-old 7th grader at King Philip Regional Middle School in Norfolk, southwest of Boston. He plays the clarinet and enjoys competing in chess tournaments. He’d like to visit the Galapagos, which he’ll do if he wins.

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.

11:03 a.m.

Kramer: Down to the final two — Massachusetts (24 points) and Illinois (21 points)

11:01 a.m.

Kramer: We’re down to the final four. The stage has been reconfigured so they’re all sitting in the same row.

Howard: Alex told to the audience not to say, whisper, or mouth any answers. As if that’s going to happen, he jokes. Most of you can’t even find Detroit.

10:56 a.m.

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.

10:53 a.m.

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.

10:51 a.m.

Kramer: There’s a penguin on the stage. It has a strange mating call. It’s currently silent.

10:49 a.m.

Howard: Neelam and Tuvya exit. Audience groans.

10:45 a.m.

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.

10:44 a.m.

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.

10:43 a.m.

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.

10:38 a.m.

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.

10:32 a.m.

New round of questions, involving National Geographic Expeditions. Eight contestants remain.

10:23 a.m.

Questions are getting much harder. This round involves looking at pictures of Google Earth and then answering questions about port cities.

10:20 a.m.

Calfornia’s contestant participates in model UN. He also enjoys cross-country running, baseball statistics, and international affairs.

10:15 a.m.

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.)

10:10 a.m.

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.”

10:08 a.m.
Fun facts: Three of the contestants are siblings of former contestants.
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.
Colorado’s contestant is a three-time President Award winner for Academic Excellence and is also a math champ. He loves The Amazing Race (and would probably be great on it.)
The older brother of the Massachusett contestant also was in the National Bee (and apparently does a great Trebek impersonation.)

10:05 a.m.

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.

10:03 a.m.

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.

9:59 a.m.
Based on the speed and accuracy of contestant answers in the first round, I have a feeling we’re going to be here a while. So far, a perfect score for everyone.

9:56 a.m.

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!

9:52 a.m.

Georgia’s Ricky Uppaluri is the youngest competitor in the top 10. He turned 11 last week.
9:49 a.m.
The contestants stride across the stage as the audience applauds loudly. They look a little nervous.

9:48 a.m.

Interesting facts about contestants:

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.

9:40 a.m.
Video tribute to Trebek highlights the fact that he can pronounce literally any geographic term flawlessly.

9:34 a.m.

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

9:25 a.m.

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

Human Journey

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn