The final round of the 2012 National Geographic Bee takes place Thursday, with students between the fourth and eighth grades testing their knowledge of countries, canals and lava lakes. Of the 54 contestants who came to the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., for the bee, only 10 remain.
Three of those finalists — Gopi Ramanathan, 14, of Minnesota; Neelam Sandhu, 13, of New Hampshire; and Anthony Stoner, 14, of Louisiana — spoke with Morning Edition on Wednesday, as they awaited the finals.
The geography bee questions "can be very easy or very tough," Ramanathan says. "Like, for instance, in the preliminary rounds — and for this one, you have to remember that I'm a Sri Lankan Tamil that's a Hindu — the question was, 'Hindus make up the majority of the Tamil minority in what island country?' And the answer was Sri Lanka."
Correct answers can also be found by deduction. For instance, one question asked what country disputes France's claim to Europa Island, which lies off the coast of Africa.
"I remember looking at a map and seeing the island of Europa, and it was pretty much right next to Madagascar," Sandu says. "So I figured if it was right next to it, they're most likely going to dispute it with that country. So I just used my best guess, and I got it right."
Asked how long he has been studying geography, Stoner says, "Since I was like 3 or 4, I guess. I'm kind of in a family of nerds, so there are a bunch of maps and atlases and stuff around the house. I kind of just looked at them in my free time."
Thursday's finals will be televised on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD at 8 p.m. ET/PT. The competition also airs later this month on public TV (find a station). If you'd like to get warmed up for the bee, you can see how you do on questions from earlier this week.
A list of the contestants who will compete in the final:
- Raghav Ranga, Arizona
- Varun Mahadevan, California
- Anthony Stoner, Louisiana
- Adam Rusak, Maryland
- Karthik Karnik, Massachusetts
- Gopi Ramanathan, Minnesota
- Neelam Sandhu, New Hampshire
- Rahul Nagvekar, Texas
- Anthony Cheng, Utah
- Vansh Jain, Wisconsin
To learn more about the competitors — and the states that they hail from — you can check out the contest's YouTube page, where each contestant gives a video tour of his or her home state.
The winner will take away a college scholarship worth $25,000, along with a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. The second- and third-place winners will receive scholarships worth $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And for all we know, the details of the map of Mongolia may make a difference in the life of some teenager in Washington, D.C. today. It's the final round of this year's Geography Bee, sponsored by National Geographic.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Fifty-four participants came to Washington, and a handful remain. We spoke with three of them yesterday.
ANTHONY STONER: This year, it's been pretty good. I got a nine out of nine in prelims, so I'm in the top 10.
INSKEEP: That's Anthony Stoner, who is 14 years old. He's from Gretna, Louisiana, near New Orleans, a location that makes you well aware of geography.
STONER: Well, most of us are kind of below sea-level - not such a great place to build a city. But...
MONTAGNE: And growing up, Stoner developed a passion for learning about other places and cultures.
STONER: Like, since I was, like, three or four, I guess. I'm kind of in a family of nerds, so a bunch of maps and atlases and stuff around the house. I kind of just looked at them in my free time.
INSKEEP: Family of nerds. Another finalist, Gopi Ramanathan, is from Sartell, Minnesota.
MONTAGNE: He knows a lot about geography, but sometimes it just comes down to luck, like getting a question about your own family's background.
GOPI RAMANATHAN: For instance, in the preliminary rounds, and for this one, you have to remember that I'm a Sri Lankan Tamil. That's a Hindu. The question was: Hindus make up the majority of the Tamil minority in what island country? And the answer was Sri Lanka.
INSKEEP: OK. Sometimes it's a luck, other times guesswork. Thirteen-year-old Neelam Sandhu from Bedford, New Hampshire got the following question...
MONTAGNE: Quote: "The island of Europa is in the Mozambique Channel, and it belongs to France, but it's disputed with which other country?" That's the question. The answer: Madagascar.
NEELAM SANDHU: I remember looking at a map and seeing the island of Europa, and it was pretty much right next to Madagascar. So I figured if it was right next to it, then most likely going to dispute with that country. So I just used my best guess, and I got it right.
INSKEEP: And they know, these students, that as they make these guesses, there is a lot at stake for them.
SANDHU: The prize for winning? I think it's, like, $25,000 in scholarship, and then you get, like, a free trip to the Galapagos Islands.
MONTAGNE: Whoever wins, the finalists at least they made it to the top 10 out of millions of competitors nationwide.
INSKEEP: And you can watch the finals of the GeoBee at 8:00 o'clock Eastern Time this evening on the National Geographic Channel.
MONTAGNE: You can also see how much you know about geography at our website, npr.org, where we've published some of the questions from this week's contest. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.