Thursday, June 12

Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

When Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? first premiered a couple years ago, the general opinion seemed to be that it was just the latest example of our culture’s steepening decline, as though quizzing adults about grade school science was one step above televised bear baiting.

I’ve never really understood this response: even if the average adult can’t answer basic questions about geography, that’s not the show’s fault. Jay Leno is guilty of a lot of things, but those idiots on his Jaywalking segments aren’t his responsibility. (The fact that he stole the bit wholesale from Howard Stern, on the other hand…)

An aside: Yeah, I realize my logic opens up room for all sorts of over-the-top analogies—“If people are wilding on meth, it’s not World’s Craziest Tweakers fault!” and so on—but come on, this isn’t Metafilter…let’s keep the debate team wankery to a minimum.

Anyway, I have to wonder if the people bemoaning the existence of the show have ever really watched it, because I've found that, far from being an Idiocracy deleted scene, it’s actually quite difficult, certainly the straight-up hardest prime time game show around. (Seriously, if I answer two out of every five questions correctly I'm happy.)

The questions are very straightforward, and you either know the answer or you don’t. Unlike on Jeopardy, you can’t make an educated guess based on an excessively wordy question. And you have to actually know the answer: the questions aren’t multiple choice.

The questions are grade school subjects, of course, and for a trivia show, there’s remarkably little trivia being asked about. And that’s probably the worst part of how hard the show is…every single question is something you know you need to know about. In a way, it’s really remarkable that a straight-up general knowledge quiz has snuck unto American television. What is this, BBC Radio?

Here are a few recent questions off the top of my head:
  1. In what century was Shakespeare born?
  2. Only two elements are liquid at room temperature. One is bromide; what is the other?
  3. Who was the first pilot to break the sound barrier?
  4. Budapest is the capital of which European country?
  5. How many members are there in the U.S. House Of Representatives?
(Answers in the comments.)

Question three up there was the recent million dollar question, and that reminds me of another aspect of the show I really like: you choose the order in which you answer the questions. That is, instead of starting at $100 and moving upwards a la Millionaire, you can pick whichever question you want. You have to answer them all, of course, but you can do it in any order. (Except for the big one, of course, which is always last.)

I remember, during the height of Millionaire, seeing Regis on Good Morning America defending the first few super-easy questions, because they’re for the kids who watch the show with their parents, to make them feel better about knowing a few of the answers. Not to get too cheesy, but this is an aspect of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? that I really like. But with this show, not only can the kids watch along with their parents...they can presumably clown them, too.

I guess one reason people dismiss the show—aside from Jeff Foxworthy’s participation, of course; my revisionist defense of so-called blue collar comedy and Foxworthy specifically will have to wait for another day—is from the misconception that the adults are playing against the kids. That’s actually not true…the kids aren't really competing with the contestants so much as they're available to help them. It's a little hard to explain, but they're kinda potential lifelines the contestants can poll.

(Actually, the use of the kids on the show is a little pointless and could probably be retooled. A great way to do this would be to make their "earnings" more dependent on their performance. As it is, they all get a $25,000 savings bond at the end of the season, across the board.)

One actually sorta touching aspect of the show is how excited for the contestants the kids get, especially as they get closer to winning a million dollars. I don't know when we as a species acquire our schadenfreude, but it seems to be post-fifth-grade…


Moving on...apparently there are a ton of international versions of the game--just what Mark Burnett needs, more money--and Wikipedia, of course, has an exhaustive list of every single one. Here, though, is a very abbreviated list of my favorites:

¿Sabés más que un chico de 5to grado?


Slimmer Dan Een Kind Van 10?

Това го знае всяко хлапе!

Você é Mais Esperto Que um Aluno da Quinta Série?

¿Sabes más que un niño de primaria?

Czech Republic
Jsi chytřejší než páťák?

Er Du Klogere End En 10-Årig?

Êtes vous plus fort qu’un élève de 10 ans?

Das weiß doch jedes Kind!

Είσαι πιο έξυπνος από ένα δεκάχρονο

Bade Hue To Kya Hua?
(Can you imagine how tough this version must be...? Who could possibly be smarter than an Indian fifth grader?)

Okosabb vagy, mint egy 5.-es?

Ertu skarpari en skólakrakki?

Ben je slimmer dan een kind?

But…the absolute best is the English version of the Canadian edition, hilariously titled Are You Smarter Than A Canadian 5th Grader?

(Post continues in the comments.)


Johnny said...

I got this one wrong; I thought he was born in the 1600s.


I only knew this one because he's from West Virginia, where I actually WAS a fifth grader. (Shout-out, Mrs. Murphy!)

Also, this is a good example of what I meant in the post about Jeopardy's overwritten questions; the Trebek version would be something like "You'll have 'the right stuff' if you can name this first pilot to break the sound barrier, played by Sam Shepard in a 1983 movie." Like: dude, what are you even asking me? (Oh, and the category would be something like “Famous Chucks.”)

Hey John, here’s an idea for a future post: Jeopardy seen as more of a test of reading comprehension than general knowledge...

I got this one right—thank you, Arthur Phillips!—but if the question sounds familiar, it’s because Kellie Pickler's tortured attempts to answer it have been making the rounds of bloggers and morning show DJs:

I’d love to have quizzed the average blogger or DJ about the answer to that one before that clip started circulating…

5. 435
I’ll fess up…this wasn’t really a question from the show; it’s actually my go-to question whenever I want to bust the balls of my friends when they’re complaining that everybody in the world is completely retarded except of course for them:

“Yeah? So how many members are there in the House Of Representatives? You don’t know, really? Well surely you know the name of your own Representative, right? You don’t? Oh, that’s right, you only know about important things, like the fact that William Shatner and Ben Lee covered Pulp’s “Common People” one time. [Quickly, before they can interrupt:] And that it was Ben Folds, not Ben Lee. Good catch there, Brainiac.”

Johnny said...

Geek Out New York has been kind enough to link to this post, even though my careless wording sorta accuses him of criticizing a show without actually watching it. Not what I meant, I promise.

In his post, John says that what truly bothers him about the show include:

"[T]he gimmicky premise, the mediocre host, the 'cute' kids, the plodding pace, the low content-to-hype ratio, the fact that the show is impossible to watch without encountering spoilers of the very program you are watching, etc."

Let me go on the record as saying that I couldn't agree with these points more. In defending the premise of the show, I had to skirt the issue of the actual show itself being pretty crummy to, you know, watch.