For the Weehawken High School trivia team, appearing on MSG Varsity’s “The Challenge” - a game show which pits high schools from around the tri-state area against each other in a tournament-style battle of quick wits and random knowledge - was the pinnacle of two years of hard work.
“It was like Jeopardy,” said the team’s captain Pearl Lee, a junior.
And just like on Jeopardy, knowing the answers was only half the battle. The team had to deal with some buzzer-related difficulties, Lee said.
“When we were in the green room with the other team before the taping, we were allowed to see and hold the buzzer so that we could get a feel for it,” she said. “Unfortunately, one of the kids on the other team had programmed the same buzzer to control a robot he built.”
The team, consisting of juniors Lee, Mary Callahan, Jack Skuller, Emily Chong and sophomore Charles Eid, appeared on the show on Oct. 22.
“It was just like Jeopardy.” - Pearl Lee
“I think we got a good feel for it, and it was certainly a great experience,” she said. “But most of us are juniors, and Charles is a sophomore, so we can do a better job next year.”
The team’s coach, economics and accounting teacher Al Cevoli, echoed Callahan.
“They’re the best part of our team, our core of juniors,” he said. “If they’ll have us back on the show, we’ll be ready.”
Bowl each year
The team also participates in, and hosts, an academic trivia bowl each year, when they invite trivia teams from the other districts in Hudson County to compete. This takes place each spring, so last year’s bowl gave Cevoli a chance to hand-pick the five competitors he would take on “The Challenge.”
Cevoli, who has been involved with the school’s trivia team for 10 years, only became the head coach last year after the departure of Jon Hammer, the team’s previous coach. Aside from teaching, the team is his passion.
“We won the academic bowl six years ago, and we got to go to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national bowl,” he said. “That was a great experience, and I’d love to be able to bring the team down there again.”
Eid said there is a bit more pressure once you are picked, but that it is more exciting for the same reason.
“The academic bowl is fun. There’s around twenty kids on a team, and you’re sitting, things like that. You write down your answers,” he said. “The show was more intense.”
Consisting of four rounds- a multiple choice round, the lightning round, the free response, and the “complete 180°” round, the game works on a points system, and the intensity varies from round to round. Through the lightning round, Weehawken stayed nearly neck and neck.
“In the lightning round, we got to choose between two sets of questions, hats and celebrity memoirs,” said Callahan. “We chose hats and it turned out to be the right decision.”
North Brunswick failed to answer the majority of the celebrity memoir questions, and at one point chose “Led Zeppelin” as their answer to the title of Keith Richards’ recent biography. Richards is the guitarist of the Rolling Stones.
“At least we knew the music questions,” said Weehawken’s alternate, Emily Chong. Chong said her specialty in trivia lies in the spheres of music, movies and culture.
Weehawken scored eight out of 10 in the hats category, pulling within just five points of North Brunswick. One of the two that they missed, “A skullcap worn primarily by Jewish men,” caused the team to gently tease Skuller, who is Jewish.
“Yeah; we won’t let him live that one down,” said Cevoli.
Despite the score at the end of the second round, North Brunswick began to pull away during the third round, and controlled the game by the time the fourth began.
“The experience was worth it. It was really cool, and didn’t really matter that we lost,” said Chong.
Nearly all of Weehawken’s team members are involved in multiple other extracurricular activities. Lee, Callahan, and Skuller are all in the school’s Math League. Skuller is a musician and writes for the school’s newspaper, Chong is a drummer in the marching and jazz bands, and Eid is three-sport athlete, playing football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. Cevoli also coaches girls’ volleyball.