Smarter than a 5th Grader: How do they make sure the contestants aren't very good?

I don’t watch the show regularly, but sometimes a fall asleep during the Simpsons and wake up to some excited shouting. At any rate, it seems like the contestants on the show aren’t really trivia whizzes. I think any Jeopardy champion would cut through all 12 questions in about 3 minutes. Heck, I don’t think of myself as being good at Jeopardy, but I don’t think I’ve missed a single question on 5th Grader in the four episodes I’ve seen. (Except tonight, but I think I was right and the show was wrong; Hawaii is both north and south of the Tropic of Cancer)

To get to the point, how do they select contestants? They clearly don’t take the best, so do they give a test and take the middle performances? I assume there is some kind of interview, but how do they protect against a slow-play? The prize is 1 million, so I would think they would have trivia whizzes trying to game the system all the time.

I can’t say for sure, but I recently applied to be on the show after coaxing from several friends who thought it would be both fun and hilarious.

The application is the first step, and it’s about 7 pages long, if memory serves. They ask a bunch of questions such as “Did you take the SATs in high school? If so, what was your score?” and “Did you go to an Ivy League school?” Later, they ask things like “What words would your friends use to describe your personality?” and “What would you use the prize money for?” Standard fare for a game show app.

Along with the application, you send in a video of yourself sitting and answering some prepared questions you print out from the website.

I imagine the only people who know how the selection process works are the few people doing it. My guess is that they automatically exclude boring saps, people who answer “1600” for the SAT question (or, for that matter, “600”), people who graduated first in their class from Harvard, people whose friends rant and rave about how smart and funny, or dumb as a doornail, they are… probably not a good idea to say you’d use the prize money to pay off your Harvard Law School student loans, either.

Again, no idea how the process works-- probably just people who “seem like they’d do well on TV, and are of about average intelligence” according to the producers, or whoever screens these things.

Should I get any further along in the process, I’ll be sure to update you. :smiley:

From what I have seen, big boobs and guys that can act confident. I think that is along the lines of the original People’s Court. They take the people that will look good on TV and take their chances with the million dollars.

SSG Schwartz

Um, by holding it in America?

True. We all know Americans are dumber than the rest of the world. Just watch objective proof like “Jaywalking” on Leno.

Clearly the US has no shortage of smart people to make game show contestants - Jeopardy has 10-15 per week for decades now. Clearly this show and that show have different criteria.

You are technically correct. The best kind of correct. I guess I wont use that in the Futurama quote thread.

While the main islands lie south of the ToC the state of Hawaii, in particular Honolulu Co., includes all the Northwest Hawaiian islands with the exception of Midway. Kure atoll is almost as far north as New Orleans.

Maybe they only take people who voted for Bush. . .twice. . . ?

I saw 5 minutes of that show last night. Those adults should be ashamed of themselves…and have their high school diplomas taken away.

Actually, most of the contestants they have on are high achievers. They WANT people who score well on their SATs or go to Ivy League schools. They often show graphics that say, “Bon scored 1580 on his SATs”, or “Bob finished in the top third of his class at Princeton”. Heck, they’ve even had a NASA rocket scientist on the show. Part of the appeal of the show is to see smart people get crushed by 5th graders.

As to why they don’t do better, I don’t know.

Perhaps they screen for people who lie on the application? :smiley:

Maybe they pick people who are intelligent and have the traditional markers of that, but have been studying or working on only a very limited field for several decades, allowing their memory of material they learned in elementary school to slip away. Just a WAG.

There was a guy on last night (or the night before last, I don’t remember) who was a middle school principal, and the graphic showed he got like a 1400 or something on his SAT. Seems like the kind of guy they WOULDN’T pick, but there he was. IIRC he stopped before answering the half-million dollar question.

Why don’t I think they do well? For one thing, many of the questions aren’t your basic elementary school questions. Maybe they’re questions someone mentioned once in that grade, but come on…while you may have known what the Tropic of Cancer was in 5th grade, and you almost certainly knew how many states there are and where they are generally located in relation to one another, how many people REALLY put those two pieces of information together at 10 years old?

Not that the questions are HARD, but would YOU study to be on a show called Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? My guess is most of them don’t, thinking it’ll be a piece of cake.

The other aspect is this: The cheats aren’t all that helpful, especially on the harder questions. On Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the cheats are useful, not to mention all the questions are multiple choice. You can make your odds 50-50, you can call one of a number of people who you trust may know the answer (and who presumably aren’t 5th graders), or you can ask an audience full of adults.

On this show, you can look at the kid’s answer and then answer yourself or you can take the kid’s answer without looking. Also, if you get it wrong and he gets it right, you can continue, once. Of the three, a combination of the first and last is the most useful – the principal used it on a three-choice multiple choice question to make his odds be 2/3 (he peeked, then chose another answer – if he was right, he would move on, if the kid was right, he would move on because of the save). Any cheat on its own, the second and third in particular, seems more like luck than anything, especially if the question is difficult.

So, while I don’t think the questions are very difficult (certainly not Jeopardy caliber), I think the show is a bit more difficult than it seems, and I think that’s what gets a lot of the contestants in trouble.

I think you’re on to something there. They probably ask questions about the same subject that you might see in a 5th grade curriculum, but actually require far more logic or integration than you would expect from your average 5th grader. I see the same thing often in my own life: You can take “intro level” physics and construct some really nastily hard questions. Add to that the overconfidence induced by the premise, the constraints of the game, and the pressure of being in the hot seat and you have a good chance of failing.

I’ve only seen the show once, but I have to agree with Garfield226. The questions I saw on the show were not the kind of things you actually study in the early grades, nor the kind of things you’d need to remember later. They were a mix of synthesizing information at a much higher than fifth grade level, and random factoids that might get mentioned in a 5th grade text somewhere but that would never have been the focus of your learning in that or any other grade.

While I’d expect adults to be able to synthesize information at a higher than 5th grade level, I’m not sure I’d expect them to do it while on camera. And random factoids are just trivia you know it or you don’t – a question you might not ring in for on Jeopardy can become your game ender on a show where you have to answer every one.

I have a 7th grader who got all A’s and B’s on her last report card and I don’t think she could answer many of the questions.

I think the question is not how they find dumb contestants, it’s how they find those smart kids (or supply them the answers somehow.)

They do sometimes come up with “obscure” bits of elementary school trivia. I remember once they posed a grammar question that gave me pause, and I taught advanced ESL grammar for 4 years.

But most of the questions don’t seem that difficult. If you’re unlucky you’ll be asked a question like “How many countries are there on the continent of Africa?” (a question to which I don’t know the answer, I freely admit) but the majority of the questions seem fairly standard.

The questions come from textbooks for the respective grade levels.

MilliCal is constantly after me to go on this show. She loves it, and watches it all the time.
From what people have said here, I’m not sure I’d get on.
It also seems to me that a lot of the questions aren’t hard, but you can get tripped up by a specific answer that isn’t obvious without, say, a map, but that you’d be able to answer in a guess or two. Only you don’t get that guess – you only get one shot. (Is All of South America east of Columbus, Ohio? What’s the capitol of Kentucky?)

They give the kids areas to study before the game, which seems crappy to me. Why not set up the game to reward kids who legitimately have lots of knowledge? Make the kids a bigger part of the game, reward scholorships. I haven’t watched the show much, but I’d have known probably better than 90% of the questions I saw when I was in 5th grade. Elementary education actually covers a whole lot of information very quickly, it’s just that most of it is retained briefly and then lost. I’d probably have known more of the answers on that show in 5th grade than I do now. So why give the kids study guides? Audition them, pick smart kids, and make them play a bigger role.

A viewing of “Are you Smarter Than a Canadian Fifth Grader” (yes, they made such a show) will quickly disabuse you of this notion.

And I’ll pipe in; no, the show simply is not as easy as people think it is. My wife didn’t remember who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, amd under pressure I might have blown it too (although I got it at home.) A lot of the questions do seem very easy to me, but unlike Jeopardy!, you don’t get to miss a question, you don’t have the option to play it safe and walk away with a bagful of money (the guy last night actually did know the answer to the next question, but wasn’t sure and walked awya with a quarter million - unquestionably the smart choice) and still win the game; you get two wrong answers and you go home.

They had some example questions for the Canadian version online, and I found that eight would be stupidly easy and then the ninth would be something like “True or false: the Whoaretheycallamiq Indians did not migrate to Ontario until the 18th century” or “Was Milton Q. Cocknozzle one of the Group of Seven?” and I would have not the faintest idea what the answer was. And I’m a trivia buff and very conversant in grammar, which helps me with a lot of questions (I’m not actually that intelligent, just full of trivia junk) and they still could stump me with some preposterously obscure factoid. I am sure that in Grade 5 we might have done a “unit” lasting a week during which we talked about the Group of Seven, or maybe went to the art gallery and walked by one of their paintings, but it’s not something even most smart, educated people would remember.

And that’s at home sitting in front of my computer eating popcorn. Under pressure, you’d be likelier to think your way out of the right answer.