Set those DVRs ya philistines! Thursday at 8 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel, you’ll want to watch Varun Mahadevan, Hayward resident and 13-year-old 7th grader at Fremont’s Prince of Peace Christian School, competing against nine other students from around the country in the National Geographic Bee finals.

First prize: a $25,000 college scholarship, a trip to the Galápagos Islands, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and the ability — though not necessarily recommended to be acted upon — to start every tenth sentence well into the senior years with “that reminds me of when I won the National Geographic Bee.”

And as if you needed even a smidgen more incentive: The finals will be hosted by Alex Trebeck. National Geographic Bee: “What is awesome TV?” is your answer in the form of a question.

From the San Francisco Chronicle’s article on Varun and the bee today:

The National Geographic Bee was developed by the National Geographic Society in 1989 in response to concerns that America’s youths were ignorant of geography. Last year, the Department of Education reported that only half of U.S. fourth-graders could correctly rank, in descending order of size, North America, the United States, California and Los Angeles…

The geography bee is less famous, but arguably tougher, than the National Spelling Bee. It is co-sponsored by Google of Mountain View.

Brian McClendon, vice president of Google GEO, called the geography bee “one of the strongest education competitions out there.”

Here’s video of Varun pointing out some local and statewide points of geographical interest


Yesterday, reporting for KQED, Chelsea Hawkins talked to the California champ and learned the following:

  • He enjoys reading and ice skating and hopes to play ice hockey this summer.
  • He wants to be a zoologist.
  • He became interested in geography after his mother gave him a globe when he was three.
  • He wants to go to Harvard (Editor’s Note: That’s in Cambridge, Massachussetts. Two can play at this game, Varun).

“I’m a bit nervous but I’m confident also,” the geographic goliath trash-talked yesterday. “Nervous that I hopefully don’t make any careless mistakes and confident because I’m pretty sure I will be able to answer all the questions.”

As to how he’s preparing for the competition: “I look at atlases, I look at current events, I listen to the radio and I read a lot.”

Random historical anecdote in which geography plays a key role:

“In northeastern California there’s a place called Lava Beds National Monument. They have these lava tube caves that were created thousands of years ago by lava cooling in them, and they have great formations inside. It was the site of the Modoc War, where the Modoc Indians fought against American soldiers. There’s a stronghold that the Modoc Indians had – there were 500 of them – and there were over 1,000 US Soldiers… The Modocs were able to keep the stronghold for over six months until they ran out of food and water.”

I’m guessing “what’s the capital of North Dakota?” is not going to be a question tomorrow…

Meet Hayward’s Varun Mahadevan, National Geographic Bee Finalist 23 May,2012Jon Brooks

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