9 Things You Learn From Being On Academic Quiz Bowl


During my later high school years, I joined our school’s Academic Quiz Bowl team. It was a joyous occurance, and one of the better, more enlightening (rap game John Locke) experiences of my high school career. Here are some lessons I learned by virtue of being a nerd with a buzzer:

1.  If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

We’d go to competitions and crush. We’d go to other competitions and get crushed.

While losing was never fun, it was always fascinating to watch that one genius kid at work; answering complex math problems in half a second, or slamming down social studies facts with the fury of an Olympic ping pong player. Playing those Will Huntings was always a challenge; but it was a challenge that you wanted, and a challenge that was inevitably gonna make you better.

I think this lesson could be #readilyapplied to career stuff as well — if you’re the biggest fish in your pond, it’s time to find a new pond.

2. No one will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

Despite sounding a lot like the sort of advice you’d get on a lackluster fortune cookie, this sentiment rings true — half of being good at Quizbowl was buzzing when you didn’t yet know the answer — possessing just the right amount of irrational confidence.

To liken quizbowl questions to basketball, quizbowl success was all about pulling the trigger if you thought you had an open shot — the open shot in this case, being a hunch as to what the answer would be. Like a housefly up against the wrath of a swatter, anticipation is the name of the game.

3. Nobody likes a big ego.

There’s a difference between believing in yourself and being a buzzer-hog.

Every team had that one overconfident dude who’d incorrectly buzz way too often, causing everyone else to silently seethe and then talk about how terrible Carmelo Anthony Blaine is behind his back. Don’t be a Blaine.

4. It’s not what you’re doing. It’s whether you’re good at it.

I was recently talking to a friend who was on his high school debate team. After making a few jokes about how debate team really elevated his high school social status, we started talking about the pull of weirder and nerdier type activities — specifically, how, despite what social norms often suggest, they can actually be very attractive.

He then said something that I told him I was gonna steal for this article; it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, so long as you’re good at — being good at stuff is really attractive.

5. It’s better to be specialized than well-rounded.

Every successful Quizbowl team seemed to follow the same sort of pattern; a math/science person, a history person, an english/book, and a pop-culture person. A team with all these categories on lock was pretty much impossible to beat.

6. You can’t skate by on your good looks skills alone.

When it came to some of the bigger end of the year competitions, I was not always selected — I basically took off in the winter months on account of basketball, and our (coach?) liked to reward the people who paid their dues. Naturally, this bummed me out, as it did the other athletes in my same position; we resented the fact that someone arguably “worse” than us got to represent our team in high capacity, in a tournament where we thought we could help our team more.

But looking back, I can’t help but respect with our “coach”‘s decision; the talent gap wasn’t ridiculously substantial, and there’s something to be said about unwavering commitment — committed people are almost always better ambassadors to the craft, and rewarding those who have paid their dues elevates the level of the craft as a whole — it forces you to respect the process, and acknowledge that this isn’t just something anyone can do. Dues are important. If I missed a basketball practice, I’d probably get benched.

Also, as a member of the #trophygeneration, I clearly wasn’t half as good as I thought I was.

7. If you want something in life, don’t wait around for it to come to you.

At one competition, one of our matches went into overtime. Overtime was sudden-death style, meaning that the next correct answer would win.

Our proctor person starting reading a question about ancient Rome, dealing with the emperor who split the empire in two. I knew the answer (Diocletian, clearly), but decided to wait an extra two seconds to ensure that the question was definitely going that way.

Within those two seconds, the other team buzzed.


Had we won that match, we would’ve made the playoffs. Given the fact that I am writing about this, I’m still not over this.

Lesson Learned: If a girl you really like is single, lock her up. You wait a few months too long, she may end up with a different husband.

8. Nerd look is a great look.

Our team had a bunch of cool collared shirts that had our last names on them. Wearing them around high school sounds like social suicide. Yet we all wore them. Quite proudly.

Six years later, I still wear that shirt. My girlfriend loves it. Or so she says.

9. Quizbowl and sports don’t mix.

One time, we traveled to a national competition in Washington DC. We had some down time, so a few of us decided to play basketball in the gym next door.

It was the first weekend in June, so I only had sandals on. I decided that playing basketball barefoot would be the best move, as barefoot would provide me with the greatest mobility and highest “IDGAF” quotient. About a minute in, someone with sneakers landed on my foot. Hard.

I looked down, and my pinkie toe was perpendicular to the floor. It had dislocated. The bone was almost sticking out, so all in all it was the sort of visual that’s really awesome when you’re eating food.

But being the pinkie toe, it was certainly a manageable situation. So I hopped over to the sidelines, and with the help of our team’s “science guy,” we popped it back into place. The whole thing took about two minutes.

For our trip’s chaperones, however, this was two minutes too long. Trip protocol and school safety measures required that I go to the hospital and get it checked out. So while the rest of my team was spending the day in competition, I sat in some random waiting room in Northern Virginia, having to explain to the doctor that I had dislocated my pinkie toe. Somehow, he didn’t burst out laughing.

I would’ve preferred to have been carted off after hyperextending my finger from buzzing exhaustion. Way more street cred.