Quiz Week on TV: ‘5th Grade’ Questions, the National Spelling Bee, and More

By Mark Walsh — May 28, 2015 3 min read
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It’s “quiz week” on TV, with the revival of a “grade school” show, the national spelling bee, and a challenging knowledge-based game show for adults filling the airwaves.

On Tuesday, Fox brought back “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” I didn’t even realize it had been off the air for four years. I knew it had left Fox, but I thought the Jeff Foxworthy-hosted show had been hiding on a cable channel somewhere.

The premise, as before, is that an adult contestant answers 1st through 5th grade questions with the potential help of youngsters. But if the adults reach the top, they’re on their own to answer the $1 million question. Tuesday’s contestant, identified as Tolton, did reach the final question. Since the show already aired, here’s a bit of a spoiler: He was not smarter than a 5th grader, and it cost him a lot of money he could have walked away with. Here’s a question Tolton did get right:

Foxworthy told Entertainment Weekly that there is a twist to the revived show. Whenever a contestant reaches the $10,000 threshold, there is a “Grade School Giveaway” for a needy school. The school will be Skyped into the show, and it will win $10,000 if the contestant answers that question correctly. (There was no such giveaway in the season premiere.)

The show is fun enough, but I think the folks behind the Common Core State Standards might want to get in touch with the producers. The show offers subjects such as 4th Grade World History and 6th grade Chemistry. (Yes, 6th grade. It was the $1 million question.) I don’t remember tackling those subjects in elementary school.

Meanwhile, over on various ESPN channels this week, one could find the Scripps National Spelling Bee, from suburban Washington, D.C. The semifinal and final rounds are Thursday (May 27).

Watching a bit of the preliminary rounds on Wednesday, I thought I noticed Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kan., a spelling bee veteran who also advanced pretty far in the Lifetime show “Child Genius” earlier this year. Vanya was the contestant whose father coached her prep sessions and constantly told her to keep hydrated. “Drink some water,” he would say. I worry for her in the spelling bee, though, because it does not appear that the contestants have water or any other refreshing beverages available when seated during the lengthy rounds.

Last year, there were co-champions—Sriram Hathwar of Corning, N.Y., and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas. Both are of Asian-Indian descent, like many successful bee participants.

The Washington Post this week examined the dark side of that phenenomon—ugly comments on social media about those contestants’ ethnic background. It’s unfortunate that it’s a story that had to be done, but the Post did it well.

Finally, ABC this week continues the special multiple-night run of “500 Questions,” which is ostensibly for an adult audience but certainly should be educational and appealing for some youngsters.

Host Richard Quest, he of the British accent, stresses that this show is more challenging than others because there are “no saves, no helps, no multiple choice.” Of course, for the typical question, the contestant does have 10 seconds to offer as many answers as necessary in the hope of providing the correct one. I wonder what the psychometric community thinks of that.

Still, the show moves quickly, has other types of questions (“battles” and other questions that require answers in a list), and has had several contestants already who have been able to survive for multiple rounds. I wonder whether a kids’ version is in the offing. Here’s a clip with a contestant who obviously did well in 6th grade Chemistry:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.