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(From f00dave, among many others. A little late, but I actually took it almost a week ago.)

OK, I take back what I wrote last week about The Scholar.

The Scholar (airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC) is a television reality show, which seems to have been filmed in the winter or spring, about 10 high school students who can't afford private university, but are scholastically excellent. The students live in a house and compete on academic and applied challenges, until the single winner receives a full-ride scholarship. Add a panel of judges and "specialty host judges" for each challenge area, and the show resembles The Apprentice as well as "Big Brother for HS drama nerds".

The episode began as usual with talk of boyfriends and girlfriends, and I thought, eh, here we go again. I set my internal stopwatch to surf on in five minutes.

This time, though, the challenges were geography, film (screenwriting, technical film production, and dramatic acting), and American History. The whole thing came off as a reality show based upon a cross between an episode of Kids' Baffle (or Beat The Geeks for all you young whippersnappers) and one of those lazy afternoon games that we'd rustle up at CTY. I was rather impressed.

As usual, everyone has a grade point average of 4.0 or higher. Liz (the charismatic nerd) even filked a little ditty about it, and being an NHS officer and National Merit finalist, to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". I have nothing against extra credit, but why can't we admit that we have a GPA that's based on a 4.6 scale? I say, extra credit may be extra, but opportunities are opportunities and we should not omit mention of them just to keep people from having hurt feelings. So you didn't have an AP Calculus BC course or Honors French V at your high school. I only took through Honors French III; I got my general chemistry, composition and literature (Honors English 11 and 12), and U.S. History (in lieu of AP American History and "Occidental" Civilization) at Anne Arundel Community College! I even took FORTRAN there when I was 13. Then I went home to Hopkins. You make do with what you have, people.

Now, as I said, the focus was on the good-looking humanities geeks, Liz (Buhl, ID) and Davis (Memphis, TN). These were a very creative pair, and admittedly there was some general audience draw in the unrequited affections that Davis seemed to harbor for Liz.

I was much more more intrigued, however, by the lightning-round geography exercise. Why, you ask? Well, the challenge was to put 48 states on a map of the continental U.S. Bo-ring, you say? Well, perhaps, and it took them about 2.5 minutes at a minimum; but guess what? No one but Liz and Davis finished it...and everyone made careless errors - Davis left out South Carolina for several minutes, and Liz left out Utah. Both of them would have finished in a minute and a half if they hadn't slipped up! I tell you truly, absent minded-mistakes are what make us human. While they aren't a badge of genius per se, I would fain challenge the true intelligence of any person who can't cope with them, and rise far above them by bringing something more to the table.

The primary challenge of the episode took the kids to the University of Southern California (USC) film school, where Lucas and Zemeckis got their formal training. The students were given 10 hours to write, shoot, and edit a 2-minute film based upon their choice among the following three quotations:
"To be or not to be, that is the question." -Shakespeare
"Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly." -JFK
"You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." -Plato

The gold team (captained by Davis) chose the Plato quote because the first two seemed too "road not taken".1 They produced a film that was still a little cliche, voiceover-driven, more external, and ambitiously filmed and edited. I have to give props to the editors, really. The red team (captained by Liz) chose the Hamlet quotation, and made a film that was quirky, clever, comedic, and dialogue-driven. I normally love crossing of the footlights, but this one was too introspective even for me. Suffice it to say that the gold team won by a close call on the judge's part. (Does anyone know whether he was a director or a USC professor? I didn't recognize him.)

A bonus round closed out the episode. At stake was an intermediate prize of $50000 in scholarship money, to go to the student who correctly answered the most questions on American revolutionary history. About a quarter of an hour was spent discussing the bonus round and the choice of three contestants who would compete, their dreams and conditional plans, and their preparation strategy. (This is typical of competitive "reality" shows, which are at their heart an examination of social aspects of competition.)

Liz, Amari, Davis were chosen by the blatantly Trump-evocative scholarship committee. All seemed to be rather good, though in typical reality show fashion, they did not display the actual score. Amari, an African-American girl, was eliminated upon missing a question about John Paul Jones, but she guaranteed a berth among the five finalists. The questions ranged from easy ones such as Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin, to Cornwallis at Yorktown, to Lexington and Concord for the Shot Heard Round the World. (This is probably old hat to you history buffs and high school and university students, but it's impressive to those of us in engineering and science who haven't cracked a history textbook in 15 years and tend to skip the American history shows on the History Channel.) The final round had answers such as "Benedict Arnold", "the Treaty of Ghent", and "the Whiskey Rebellion", on which Liz won. And so the American revolutionary history geek lost because he taught the brilliant girl he had a crush on as much as he could, and he missed one and she didn't. Predictable but not stale, I say. The show has more substance than I imagined.

jereeza remarked that it must be terribly stressful, in that high schoolers are perhaps too young for the competition, the ruthlessness, and the public humiliation. Now, if you're like Jesse Reichler and zengeneral, I'm sure your hammering your fists on your thighs in sheer glee at any semblance of an intellectual shark tank. But seriously: I think sharp competitiveness is the basis of a drive to excellence. As long as otherwise competent and brilliant people get what they deserve, namely, a chance at some recognition and other rewards, there is nothing wrong with having them go head-to-head in tournament mode. There's no shame in losing! We seem to have lost some of that in American society, where "everyone's a winner" is a keener syndrome than ever.
We don't have to win. We only have to fight.
    -Mace Windu, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (novelization by Matthew Stover)

1 For those who aren't or didn't apply to university in the USA, one of the most common application requirements is an original essay on one's aspirations and outlook on life. This is phrased in many different ways, but it is the closest thing an undergraduate admissions committee can have to a statement of purpose for young people who may not have yet discovered their purpose. (Yes, zengeneral, I know: their purpose is to feed your insatiable hungers both refined and gross. Moving on...) Often times, the high school students will base their essay around Frost's "The Road Less Traveled". It's become synonymous with "college application essay angst", so if you're a high school student, consider trying something a little less trite, unless you want to be different by taking something that has become hackneyed through overuse and doing something fantastic and new with it. Be warned, though, admissions officers are not always diligent enough to spot such things.


As for Beauty and the Geek (airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on the WB): it was predictable, and yet I still suspected that Richard Rubin the Incorrigible Geek was going to get eliminated along with his long-suffering partner Mindy. I almost made a bet about it, but I stayed true to my nature ("hope springs eternal"), and lo, Mindy saved the day again: she hasn't missed a single question (out of nine) in three trips to the elimination round! Although Richard provides most of the drama, and hence the entertainment value, on the show, I think the audience is meant to be horrendously annoyed at him and polarize along lines of sympathetic former (or present-day outcasts and losers) versus cooler people, who just don't grok the utter dork. (NB: Richard is an actor, and so even though he may be a genuine dork, not everything he does should be read as "the way he really is".)

In any case, I still rooted for Richard even though I cringed at his antics. You want to know why? First, I thought that Chris the Functional Neurology Student's off-the-cuff diagnosis of Richard as an ADD-sufferer was uncalled for - it was unprofessional, but it was also just mean-spirited. Second, I gave props to Richard for standing up to him, as this show is about "breaking out of the mold and becoming something more". This fellow has yet to show his potential and shine, I warrant; witness his frequent self-deprecation and prnouncements that he can't help it. Third, and most important, though: I pegged Chris for a false dork from the first glimpse I got of him three episodes ago. "He reinforces the negative stereotypes that many people have about dorks," he sniped in a critique of Richard at the beginning of this episode. Now wait a minute: Richard is a (nontechnical) geek and a dork, but despite his moderate intelligence, I don't think any serious nerd could call him one. Anyone who uses "geek" and "nerd" synonymously needs to be viewed with suspicion at best, even though the terms, like all such labels, are a bit nebulous.

And might I add: it's blatantly obvious that Chris has long since outgrown his "scrawny" younger identity and is no longer an outcast. It matters a lot when this happened for him. I will venture a guess that this fellow did not endure the years of derision, ridicule, the inner regret and lasting pain of awkwardness, that plagued all of us True GeeksTM growing up. You Calvins of the world, who really have been beaten up for being a smart aleck by the Moes of the world! You know of what I speak.

And so I was glad in my heart when the otherwise admirable Shawn and otherwise tawdry Scarlett were sent packing, and the beatifically geeky and beautifully nerdy pair (for Mindy is actually quite bookish, if you pay attention) went up to once again disapppoint the pretender to dorkdom.

ETA, 11:15 CST - apropos of the above, my case in point. As you can see, when it comes to being a dork, I am the real deal. Vanity, thy name is banazir. ;-)

--
Banazir

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
wiliqueen
Jun. 30th, 2005 05:21 pm (UTC)
And then there's discovering at one's university orientation that APs exist. Competency, thy name is not that of my high school counselor. :-P

As for GPAs over 4.0, the first time I heard of such a thing, I couldn't fathom why an apparently smart person would tell such a lame lie. *wry g* My high school had a "fast track" program allowing community college courses, but 4 is still where the numbers stopped, period.
banazir
Jun. 30th, 2005 06:18 pm (UTC)
Opportunity cost: competency
And then there's discovering at one's university orientation that APs exist. Competency, thy name is not that of my high school counselor. :-P
Ugh! Gah, all of my middle school and high school guidance counselors and university advisors were competent, and even if some of them were a little misguided in trying to "push me beyond my stereotype" of the engineering/CS-head, if they ever erred outright, it was usually in my favor.

As for GPAs over 4.0, the first time I heard of such a thing, I couldn't fathom why an apparently smart person would tell such a lame lie. *wry g*
Hehe!
I couldn't tell you what my real GPA was. My ironic one was 4.02, which I saw was highest in the class. I graduated 2 years early, so they ruled me ineligible to be valedictorian or salutatorian. I believe my real one was probably in the high 3.8s. As an undergrad it was 3.75 by the end, and as a grad student - when it no longer mattered - it was a genuine 4.0.

My high school had a "fast track" program allowing community college courses, but 4 is still where the numbers stopped, period.
Was an A- worth 3.7 or still 4?
Back when I cared, the fact that Hopkins counted only the letter grade points and not plusses and minuses was a big deal.

--
Banazir
wiliqueen
Jun. 30th, 2005 09:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Opportunity cost: competency
if they ever erred outright, it was usually in my favor.

Alas, in Bennett her job was more about the kids who were in trouble. One can get into a surprising amount of trouble in the middle of the windswept prairie.

I was the first National Merit SEMI-finalist they ever had. There was just plain no experience. And a lot of assumption by everyone along the way that everything would take care of itself for me. I intuited for myself that that wasn't the case, but didn't know to what extent until I was already in college. :-P

Was an A- worth 3.7 or still 4?

IIRC, we didn't have pluses or minuses on report card grades.
banazir
Jul. 4th, 2005 08:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Opportunity cost: competency
Alas, in Bennett her job was more about the kids who were in trouble. One can get into a surprising amount of trouble in the middle of the windswept prairie.
Tell me about it. Are you from East Central IL?
I spent only 6 years there, all in grad school and postdoctorality in chambana, but my friends taught primary and secondary ed.

I was the first National Merit SEMI-finalist they ever had. There was just plain no experience. And a lot of assumption by everyone along the way that everything would take care of itself for me. I intuited for myself that that wasn't the case, but didn't know to what extent until I was already in college. :-P
Ugh. I do sympathize. Severna Park Middle was like that, and I would have been in for a worser fate if I'd have gone on to SPHS instead of Walton AcademySevern School. If I had to count all the PSAT/NMSQT 1337 ha><0rs in its then-75-year history, well, it wouldn't have been easy. (Actualy, Severn only started admitting female students in 1971, probably close to the time the PSAT started.)

IIRC, we didn't have pluses or minuses on report card grades.
We had them, but like the "ironic grades" from Ivy League universities, they didn't always mean anything.

Well, glad you turned out all right scholastically. May I ask where you ended up going to university?

--
Banazir
wiliqueen
Jul. 5th, 2005 03:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Opportunity cost: competency
Tell me about it. Are you from East Central IL?

Eastern Colorado. For middle school and high school, anyway -- this was after first through fifth grade in DoD dependent schools. Suffice it to say the Bennett curriculum literally had nothing new to me for a year and a half after we moved there.

Well, glad you turned out all right scholastically.

More or less, anyway. It's just mind-boggling to look back and realize ho much nobody around me knew. My folks are both blue-collar kids from Detroit, so for them the key to success was "go to college," and they didn't know any details beyond that. Or where to look for the information.

May I ask where you ended up going to university?

Michigan State. Which I chose on the basis of how their Honors College is set up -- almost as its own small university within the vast state institution -- and that turned out quite well. The primary advantage is that it's designed to allow much more flexibility -- probably most valuably, they let you apply grad courses to undergrad requirements.
chandra
Jun. 30th, 2005 05:48 pm (UTC)

Did I miss the butt grabbin' or the boobie shakin'?
banazir
Jun. 30th, 2005 06:12 pm (UTC)
Get thee behind me!!
Wait, lemme rephrase that...

--
Banazir
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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