It’s the National Geographic Bee’s 30th Anniversary! Here Are Some Past Highlights

The week geography trivia enthusiasts look forward to the whole year is finally here. The 2018 National Championship of the National Geographic Bee will be held at the Grosvenor Auditorium at National Geographic Society Headquarters in Washington, D.C. this coming Wednesday, May 23.

From the 54 state and territory champions, 10 finalists will be competing for the grand prize, which includes a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society (including a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine), and an all-expenses-paid Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll.

To commemorate three decades since the first Bee in 1989, let’s take a look back at the fun competition’s 30-year history.

And a lot can happen in thirty years!

For 25 years the Bee was moderated by Jeopardy! host and Canadian-American TV personality Alex Trebek.

Journalist Soledad O’Brien succeeded Trebek and moderated for two years. One of those times she went around and asked New Yorkers about their geographic knowledge.

After O’Brien came humorist and journalist Mo Rocca, who has moderated since the 2016 competition, and who brought with him a typically pun-ny geography joke.

Some of the previous winners have gone on to become adults (shocker, I know) with important jobs.

Jack Staddon, the first Bee champion, is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Alex Trebek and Gil Grosvenor with 3 winners. Photograph by Sisse Brimberg, national geographic

1990 champion Susannah Ellsworth (née Bakto-Yovino) became an Assistant Professor of Clinical Radiation Oncology at Indiana University in Indianapolis, Indiana.

1994 champion Anders Knospe became one of the nuclear physicists who have worked on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland.

In the storied competition, there have also been notorious cameos by denizens from the District of Columbia, like the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, who asked this geopolitical question:

If you were wondering the state that has won the greatest number of Bee finalists, it’s a state from the Pacific Northwest. If you guessed Washington State, that’s right! They currently have 5 champions. Second place is a tie between the states of Michigan and Texas, each of which has had 4 champions.

Final questions from past years included: “What large mountain system that stretches more than 1,200 miles separates the Taklimakan Desert from the Tibetan Plateau?” (In case you didn’t know, the answer is the Kunlun Mountains.)

What a fun way it’s been to keep diffusing geographic knowledge! So let’s say: Happy 30th anniversary to the Bee! Don’t forget to tune in to find out who this year’s winner is later this week. In the meantime, I’ll go back to my desk and try to decipher the destination that some wind raiders are heading to from the Algerian oasis of Tindouf.


Human Journey

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Meet the Author
Camilo is a digital editor, multimedia producer, and staff writer at the National Geographic Society. He is often writing about our human journey, our changing planet, our wildlife, and the Explorers that are helping us reach a planet in balance. Some of the topics that he is interested in often appear in his pieces, such as: exploration, science, humanitarian aid, social justice, human rights, conservation, international affairs, international education, teaching, comparative literature, music, art, semiotics, philosophy, and religions.