National Geographic Bee 2010


Image courtesy National Geographic Bee

Which city beginning with the letter “K” has more than 7 million inhabitants living within its metropolitan limits?

Kiev, Kinshasa, or Kuala Lumpur?

If you said Kuala Lumpur, which would have been my guess, you’d be wrong, as was the contestant who attempted to answer the question in the first round of the National Geographic Bee Final yesterday in Washington, D.C. The correct answer, Kinshasa, a city located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is one of the largest in Africa, comparable in size to Johannesburg (South Africa) and smaller only than Lagos (Nigeria) and Cairo (Egypt).

The Bee Final was characteristically exciting–and challenging for us onlookers (even those with degrees in Geography)! Ten contestants–all male–advanced past the semi-final round held Wednesday (a head-to-head match-up among winners from all 50 U.S. states, territories, and Department of Defense Dependents Schools), to compete for a chance at a $25,000 scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society.

 A few highlights from the Final:

Musical Stylings

  • Aadith Moorthy, the eventual champion, who now lives in Florida but was
    born in India, serenaded the audience with a rendition of South Asian
    classical singing before the contest even got underway.
  • During the competition, contestants were asked to identify the
    geographic origin of a fulyara, a long, clarinet-like wooden instrument
    used by shepherds in Eastern Europe to calm sheep, and played by a
    musician in traditional dress onstage. I couldn’t help feeling caught
    in the middle of a “Ricola” commercial myself. Alex Trebek, who
    moderated the Bee, apparently also found the performance entertaining.
    Ever the comedian, he quipped “”I think it’s working: I have an
    insatiable desire to climb a mountain and eat grass.”

Geographic Pursuits

Just as he does on his hallmark show Jeopardy!, Mr. Trebek spent a
portion of the program interviewing contestants about their interests
and hobbies.

  • This year, a few of the students described hobbies that struck me as
    particularly geographic. One collected luggage tags; another collected
    license plates from around the world. His favorite: A bear-shaped plate
    from Canada’s Northwest Territory.
  • A couple of the students cited aspirations to pursue geographic
    careers. One wants to work in international relations, potentially for
    the United Nations; another wants to be a meteorologist.
  • When asked which country they most wanted to visit, one of the
    contestants chose South Africa, the site of this summer’s World Cup
    soccer tournament. He also said he hoped an African team would win the
    tourney–even over the United States. A very global perspective!

My Favorite Round: River Flow
In one round, students viewed Google Earth flyovers to identify rivers,
following the flow paths of the rivers from source to mouth. Very
cool–my favorite round for its application of Google Earth and
connections to Geography Awareness Week 2010: Freshwater!

Most Challenging Round: Map Errors
In another round, contestants were asked to look at maps of relatively
small geographic extents (usually a region of a country) and describe a
“major error.” The deviations varied in nature: the nation of Swaziland
absent from the interior of South Africa, a lake or river too far east
or west. I thought the exercise in spatial analysis was pretty tough!

Study Tips (three from contestants and two from my own observations)

  • Learn one new fact every day!
  • Anthony Cheng of Utah created 418 of his own computer games to study
  • One boy slept on his atlas every night–ouch!
  • If you don’t know the answer from memory, use your noggin’ to do some
    deduction! For one of the last questions, the final two contestants
    were asked to identify the origin of Tswana, a Bantu language from a
    landlocked country. Aadith got it right, presumably making the
    connection between “Tswana” and “Botswana.”
  • Experience leads to excellence! For those of us without the
    encyclopedic memories of these whiz-kids, personal geographic
    experience can be critical to knowledge-building. Most of the answers I
    got correct (fewer than I’d like to admit) I knew from my own travels,
    or the journeys of others close to me. For example, I knew that Kakadu
    National Park and Arnhem Land are in the Northern Territory of
    Australia because I visited both when I studied abroad “Down Under.” I
    guessed that Yerba Maté tea comes from Argentina because my twin sister
    used to describe the students who drank it when she studied abroad in
    neighboring Chile. And I only located the Trevi Fountain in Rome
    because intern Sarah Evans wrote about it a few months ago here on the

Congratulations to first place winner Aadith Moorthy of Florida, second
place runner-up Oliver Lucier of Rhode Island, third place finisher
Karthik Mouli of Idaho, and all the other finalists and state winners.
Great job!!

If you missed the Bee last night on the National Geographic Channel, make sure to check local listings to see when it will be airing on a public broadcasting station near you.

Sarah Jane for My Wonderful world

2 thoughts on “National Geographic Bee 2010

  1. Hi,
    My daughter is Isabella, the only girl who qualified for the D.C. finals this year. We had a great time at the event. She missed the tie-breaker on Tuesday by one question, but will try to be back next year… We need some girls up there with the boys.

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