What was the name of Clavell’s ode to adolescence? Elvis Costello!


We came in second. I’m still pissed.

They used to have this weekly TV show in Cleveland called Academic Challenge. It was a college bowl type of deal. I was born to be on this show. Let’s play Trivia Pursuit some time – I’ll get every single slice of my pie instantly and then I’ll spend the rest of the game missing geography questions. Anyway I was sharp as a whip and just demon fast on the buzzer.

There wasn’t much doubt as to who was going to be on the team. It was going to be me, my friend Andre, and either my friend Doug Bank or John Grinnell. Andre and I were terror in high school. I have little doubt that the school must have seriously considered skipping the thing rather than put us two mischievous boneheads on television. I think first prize was a set of encyclopedias. If you were Principal would you risk having me flip off all of Northeastern Ohio or something far worse for a set of encyclopedias? Andre and I could gleefully be that out of control at times. It’s a wonder to me now that nothing that outrageous happened.

The tryout was a hilarious farce. I was so fast that I literally answered 19 of every twenty questions. After about 15 minutes, they made me leave so they could pick the rest of the team. I was Clint Eastwood in the Outlaw Josie Wales fast!

So yeah that’s me in the picture in the center because I made myself captain. We were totally convinced that we were going to win this thing going away.

The show was run by a local weatherman, a real square with a deep voice. The first round of this thing was a speed round with no penalty for wrong answers, so we decided that we were going to buzz in immediately on every question. In fact, we had told all of our friends that we were going to answer Elvis Costello to the first question we had no idea what the answer was no matter what the question was.

We started out and built up a big lead. Finally, it happened. Joe Weather asked us something like, “What was the name of James Clavell’s 1963 ode to adolescence?” and I immediately spewed out a cock sure “Elvis Costello!”

Andre and Doug immediately started laughing uncontrollably. Our friends in the audience were all laughing. Everyone else including the host was completely baffled including our parents. The host eventually tried to chuckle like he understood, but he looked notably unhinged for probably the first time in his television career. “No the answer to that would be the Children’s Story.” Great fun!

At the end of round one we were up in the three team race by like 30 points. The team that came in third was so bad that they only answered like one speed question and it was on the show Star Trek.

After round one they let all the students identify themselves. Andre was determined to seem as stupid as possible so he just said, “Andre – basketball” in a disgusted monotone.

Watching later at home, I was sort of horrified by what I looked like. I was constantly making weird faces and rolling my eyes, and they showed me a lot because in the early stages of the competition I was on fire. It’s the same dorky look John Lennon makes all the time in a lot of early Beatles newsreels. If you’re John Lennon you can get away with it, but I sort of looked like a dork.

The next two rounds were timed, but only your team got to answer the questions. Our only competition in this thing was this team from Strongsville that was made up of two girls that never answered a question and this Aryan looking motherfucker with a dorky name. I can’t remember and I’ve tried to forget him, but it was Milton or something like that.

After round two we were ahead by like 50 points, and then disaster struck. Milton and his two useless chicks got this category of ten questions that a Who’s Smarter Than A Fifth Grader contestant could have aced. We had gotten 9 out of 10 and got something like 180 points for it. Well, Milton got 10 out of 10, but he didn’t get 200 points. Suddenly, these fucking sirens went off for Strongsville’s perfect score!!

Yes, there was this absurd perfect score bonus and it was like 200 points. They answered one extra question and suddenly our 50 point lead was now a 170 point deficit, with only one speed round of like 15 questions to go. It was over. One question and suddenly we had absolutely no chance to win.

I wish I still had the videotape, but it eventually burned itself up with repeated viewings. The final round is precious. Andre and I acted like true gamers and completely gave up. Every once in a while Doug would buzz in and answer a question and you can see me and Andre over to his right scowling underneath our breath at each other completely pissed and uninterested that the show is still going on. “Can you believe we’re going to lose to that Milton fucker!?” “Dude, this sucks can’t we just walk off the stage?” “You think we’d get in a lot of trouble if we pummeled that kid after the show?” “Can you think of anything fun to do in the next minute and a half that won’t get us expelled?” “Fuck, I can’t believe we’re going to lose to that Milton fucker.”

It’s engrossing television, seven upright attentive academics competing in a match that is already over and two guys slumped into their chairs leaning into each other’s heads not paying any attention and muttering numerous profanities just away from the reach of the microphones.

You’d think that we’d be like “Fuck it, we weren’t getting the damn set of encyclopedias anyway,” but we were really pissed.”

We finished second and frankly I think we were both kind of shocked that we didn’t have enough fight left in us to do something to ruin the rest of the taping. “Can you think of something we could do so this fucking thing never gets on television.” “Nothing comes to mind that wouldn’t end our chances of getting into a major college.” “Fuck!”

2 Responses to “What was the name of Clavell’s ode to adolescence? Elvis Costello!”

  1. How in the world can you possibly remember this stuff? I vaguely remember that it happened and that we lost, but don’t remember anything else.

    BTW, what’s the name of the driest desert in the world? Need help with the geography questions? Ask my 8 year old. He knows…

  2. thank you for giving me the best laugh of my week! I have to know what year this was, because :
    a) I grew up worshiping ‘Academic Challenge’. My sisters made fun of me, but I dreamed of being on the Strongsville team, being on TV, and being a champion!
    b) My older sister’s friend/crush (I forgot his name..) made the team one year, and we watched that episode over and over and over again
    c) Which must mean that YOUR year was earlier.. I think that my sister’s friend’s episode was from 85 or 86, and I don’t remember Milton.. now I want to check some old yearbooks and find him
    d) By the time I was a senior in high school, Acadamic Challenge was no longer.. at least I think it MUST have been, because I was never given a chance to try out and show off my brilliance. I know I could have won it all, as just like you, I am a trivial pursuit tyrant (although I can’t get the gepgraphy questions either..)

    And the saddest thing.. I never met Don Webster. Although I did get Dick Goddard’s autograph when he spoke at my 8th grade National Junior Honor Society induction, but it was no consolation for not being on Academic Challenge.

    Brad, you’re my hero. If only you could have won.

    Go Mustangs!

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