Trivia battle offers game show thrills

PHOTO: Michael Kwan, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with game shows. On one hand, I like believing that I’m smarter than people on TV. That’s really the only bar to clear to stay happy in modern society. You just have to stay off those brainiac channels like PBS or Animal Planet.

On the other hand, game shows are really, *really* dumb. Every day they rustle up new morons from within 25 miles of a soundstage in California. Some of the smartest people in the world live in California. But they don’t get that way waiting in line outside the “Price is Right” studio every weekday.

Sometimes it seems the only real criterion to become a game show contestant is whether you answer questions by jumping up and down and screaming. That’s also how we select members of Congress and Supreme Court justices. Here’s hoping it’s a fad.

I suppose not all game shows are dumb. Jeopardy, for instance. Some of the greatest minds of our generation have appeared on that show. Ph.Ds and Mensa members. Theoretical physicists and learned rhetoricians. And they’re judged on just one thing: how fast they can buzz in when the little light goes on. Too slow, Peabody. Better luck next time.

Game shows sell us the notion that something meaningful may be achieved in 30 minutes within a premise designed by people who write commercials for a living. A protagonist faces a great challenge. Life changing achievement is the reward. (About $8,300 after taxes). But more than drama, we become immersed. We compete alongside the contestant. We solved the puzzle first, Pat Sajak. Not Debbie.

The thing that really sells game shows are their hosts. Alex Trebek isn’t just the host of “Jeopardy,” he’s a cooly detached wizard. Steve Harvey isn’t just the emcee of “Family Feud,” he’s a fully self-aware chronicler of the decline of western civilization. Sajak hands out prizes like a car dealer throws in undercoating on a new Buick.

Each day, producers swap out the regular folks who pass through these hosts’ purview like Corn Nuts through a colon. But the hosts, they are forever. Some of them probably died years ago. We’re just watching the slow burn through what’s in the can.

That’s why last year I was so excited to become a trivia host. It was like being a game show host if only for one night. And that’s why I’ll be doing it again this year.

Perhaps trivia is a different matter than game shows. Trivia is an upstanding pursuit, performed ably by amateur scholars waiting for their meals at sports bars. Maybe the host isn’t as important in trivia. After all, the host is often a preprogrammed Power Point slide show. But I choose to believe otherwise.

On Tuesday, Oct. 16, I’ll host the second annual Great Minds Trivia Battle at the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids. Teams of six will compete for prizes in a trivia contest. The event is a fundraiser for the nonprofit Great Minds Learning Center in Hibbing and Grand Rapids. There will also be a silent auction and door prizes.

Last year I learned that the hardest part about being a game show host is knowing the answer and not spilling it by mistake. I also learned that having a piece of paper that tells you all the answers isn’t the same as being smart. It just *looks* the same as being smart. And that is convenient.

Mostly, it’s just fun to see people testing their knowledge and trying to solve the riddle of life. Big cash prizes are great, but it’s the glory that matters more. Not really but we like to say things like this. It’s part of the social contract. And besides, when it’s for charity there are no losers. Just winners who are slightly less intelligent than other winners.

If you’re interested in joining the Great Minds Trivia Battle you can find out how to register at the website The cost is $150 for a team of six or $25 for an individual.

And full disclosure, my wife Christina works for Great Minds Learning Center. They provide tutoring for students with learning and reading difficulties at offices in Hibbing and Grand Rapids.

I promise I won’t blab the answers.



The cotton gin.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. “pass through these hosts’ purview like Corn Nuts through a colon” caused a spit-take while I was doing my morning reading. Nice job Aaron! 😀

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