Yesterday Varun Mahadevan, the 13-year-old geography king of California, came in third in the National Geographic Bee. (The Fremont Argus has a report.) Afterward, he told KQED’s Paul Lancour that the toughest question he received, and one he got wrong, was the identification based on a photograph of a lake north of Lake Superior. The answer was Lake Nipigon.

Another one Varun, who is from Hayward and goes to Fremont’s Prince of Peace Christian School, got wrong: What landlocked country borders Iran and Tajikistan?

Not necessarily the attributes you think of these days when you call to mind the correct answer: Afghanistan.

“I was under lots of pressure and wasn’t thinking properly, I guess,” Varun said. “And I was thinking that time was running out, so I entered Turkmenistan.”

But overall Varun was satisfied with his showing in the contest, which netted him a $10,000 college scholarship. “Third place is pretty good actually. At first I was very pressured, then I found a breakthrough and I did well.”

The winner of the bee was Rahul Nagvekar, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Sugar Land, Texas. He won a $25,000 college scholarship, a trip to the Gal├ípagos Islands, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a perpetual exemption from his partner asking him, “why don’t you just stop and ask for directions, already?”

Here’s the moment when a Bavarian city located on the Danube River — the legislative seat of the Holy Roman Empire from 1663 to 1806, mind you — netted Rahul the big prize…


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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