Battle of the Brains
Battle of the Brains is a a high school televised quizbowl competition in Virginia, currently airing on Saturday mornings on WTVR (CBS 6) in the Richmond area and on WTKR (CBS 3) in Hampton Roads. It was first televised in 1979 for Richmond-area schools.
Prior to 2005, all participants in the show came from the greater Richmond area, viewed as counties that include or border those intersected by a rough quadrilateral formed by Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Williamsburg, and Petersburg. The Hampton Roads area ran a separate TV event, Tidewater Challenge, for much of this time. From 2005 to 2009, a second Battle of the Brains tournament was run in the Hampton Roads area, labeled "Southeast Virginia" and open to area schools including some from the far northeast corner of North Carolina, with the winners of the two tournaments meeting in a "Champion's Challenge" similar to the It's Academic Superbowl.
Since the 2010 season, there has again been only one tournament including both Richmond and Virginia Beach-area teams as well as some from further afield. There are no formal published guidelines as to what area a school must be from to participate. In practice, the rule seems to be that any team in Virginia that is not part of the DC-area It's Academic show and is willing to make the drive to the WTVR studio in Richmond on tape dates is eligible to enter the pool of interested participants. Teams from Richmond, Hampton Roads, and Charlottesville, as well as several schools from up to 200 miles away, notably Cave Spring, all appear on the show regularly and compete in the same bracket, even if they are outside the broadcast area reached by the show itself. WTVR is available only as a cable station in Charlottesville, which is a separate broadcast market from Richmond with a different over-the-air CBS affiliate, and is not carried at all in Roanoke.
Stations & Hosts
It's Academic and High School Bowl aired intermittently in the Richmond area from the mid-1960s through 1976. In 1976, Julian Porter created the Battle of the Brains tournament as an intramural tournament for Meadowbrook High School after previously running one-off quizbowl exhibition games between student and teacher teams at Meadowbrook as an end-of-year activity. In 1977 and 1978 the tournament became an interscholastic event for Chesterfield County schools, and in 1978 the finals match was televised on the local PBS station. In 1979 the tournament expanded to all of Central Virginia and was televised in its entirety. Al Moffitt moderated the original intramural competition. Frank Soden was the longtime host of the PBS program until his 1994 retirement, being joined for one season by Bill King. Soden, who was a familiar broadcast voice of minor league baseball and college sports in Richmond dating back to the early 1950s, lent the program an immediate dose of credibility. Ken Curtis also hosted the show at some point. Garret Chester hosted for one season in 1995. From 1996 to 2002, the show was hosted by May-Lily Lee, a longtime broadcast journalist in Virginia who was perhaps better known as the host of the public affairs program Virginia Currents and also had a brief music career. Michelle Gary hosted on RICH in 2003, and Cheryl Miller has hosted since 2004.
In 1997 the name was changed to "Challenge 23" (because the PBS station was broadcast on UHF channel 23). This name was retained until the show was cancelled by WCVE in 2002 for, according to the WCVE producers, having "no measurable viewership." Julian Porter brought the show first to RICH-TV (a local cable access station) in 2003, and then to the local CBS affiliate in 2004, reclaiming the Battle of the Brains name. Starting in 2004, a second tournament was added for the Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Newport News area, under the name "Southeast Virginia." The winners of the two tournaments play in the "Champions Challenge," which, along with an all-star game where every player competes for himself, was added to the taping schedule as a post-finals event. Cheryl Miller has been the host of the Richmond tournament and the Champions Challenge since the move to WTVR. Stephanie Harris hosted all five seasons of the Hampton Roads version.
Since 2011, the show has offered a mail-in "brain teaser" each week, in which members of the viewing public can win "a trip to the Outer Banks or Pirates' Cove."
During the live era, episodes were always transmitted at 8 PM on Thursday evenings. This continued well into the taped period. Since the move off PBS, the show has aired on Saturday mornings, currently at 10 AM.
From the first all-televised tournament in 1979 until sometime in the mid-1980s, the show was sponsored by grocery store chain Safeway. From the end of Safeway sponsorship until the end of the PBS era in 2002, the show was sponsored by Richmond-area grocery/religion conglomerate Ukrop's, which awarded $1000 and a cake to the winning team. From its move to CBS until 2010, it was sponsored by the Virginia Lottery (despite all contestants on the show being legally under the minimum age to buy lottery tickets). Since 2010, the show has been sponsored by the Virginia 529 College Savings Plan, which airs the majority of commercials during the broadcast.
During some seasons in the 1990s, questions were provided by Answers Plus after previously sourcing from Lloyd Busch's question set originally used in Atlanta-area High Q. A special NAQT set was used from the mid-00s through 2008. According to a June 2009 email between Julian Porter and Dave Porter (no relation!), the 2008-2009 questions came from "several 'professional' question writing companies" and that the show receives "questions from our team of educational consultants." It is believed that the questions are a mix of recycled material from all suppliers who contributed to the first three decades of the show, combined with current events and popular culture added by the producers.
The show has experimented with several different match formats over the years, including a standard four quarter setup and a modified four quarter with the bonus or category rounds replaced with visual-based clues (such as a "Picture This" round where pyramidal clues were read about an object as a picture of the object was slowly uncovered). In the waning years of Challenge 23, the category round was replaced with a "spelling round," which led to some teams replacing their normal fourth player with a spelling specialist.
Minor or major changes to the game format occur at the start of nearly every season. For the 2013-2014 season, the format was one phase of tossups, a category round in which each team chooses one category from three available, a second phase of tossups, and a third, final phase of tossups in which all point values are doubled. This format continued with only small changes through the most recent year of buzzer-based competition in 2019-2020. The Zoom tournaments did not use buzzers or similar online tools and modified the game format to ask questions of only one team at a time.
A feature of the tournament during the Challenge 23 era was its awarding of the single paper set of questions used in each year's competition to the tournament winner. Thus, past champions could view judge's notes, running scores, and other information written on the packets while holding exclusive access to certain practice material.
Until 1992 every episode of the show was broadcast live; from 1993 to 2002, only the finals were. The show has been entirely taped in advance since 2003. The show tapes on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons during or after school, and does not interfere with weekend quizbowl invitationals. This has been the case since 1979 and has been a boon to the peaceful co-existence of BoB with Virginia quizbowl, proving that such an arrangement is feasible despite the claims of It's Academic defenders that weekday taping is impossible for some reason.
The majority of questions, which are not sourced from the NAQT sets, are generally not intended to meet current standards of pyramidal quizbowl. Computational math and spelling questions are used and other questions are generally of the "one-line" variety.
The format has always been a straight single-elimination bracket. Sometimes, more teams than a straight power of 2 are invited to participate, necessitating an opening play-in round in which most teams have byes.
Usually, if there is more interest in the tournament than spots available, teams are selected by a written exam held either at the start of the school year in which the season is taped, or at the end of the prior year (with graduating seniors ineligible to participate in their team's score). Other methods have been proposed or used, including at least one year when the field was selected by mass e-mailing the coach contact list and announcing that the first 40 schools to reply to the e-mail would be invited. Suggestions to rotate participation to rarely-represented schools by requiring schools to take a year off from the tournament after winning or after participating a certain number of times have been floated but not actually used. The first written exam was given in 1991; it is unclear how the cutoff for participation was determined in the prior years.
WCVE Format (1980s-2002)
After the tournament size was increased from 32 to 40 schools, the teams were seeded into five eight-team brackets, based on their scores on a pre-season written exam. Teams were arranged into the brackets by working inward from the highest and lowest ends of those scores. The top team went into bracket 1, second into bracket 2, etc., with team 6 going back into bracket 1; from the other side, the 40th team also went into bracket 1, 39th team into bracket 2, etc. This ensured a roughly-even distribution of test scores across the five brackets, while also pitting the highest- and lowest-seeded teams directly against each other in the first rounds, making for spectacular but lopsided scores in many early games.
The five winners of these single-elimination brackets entered a two-and-a-half round tournament to decide the year's champions. The five teams were seeded according to total score over their three bracket games, regardless of the original rankings from the written test results. The fourth- and fifth-seeded bracket winners played a qualifier game; the winner of this game played against the first seed in the semifinal. The other semifinal game matched the second and third seeds. The winners of these two semifinal games then met in the finals.
As a consequence of this format, the final results for first, second, and fifth place overall were all clear, while the official scoring for which team finished third or fourth overall was more murky; there was no "bronze-medal game" for the losing teams from the semifinal matches.
WTVR Format (since 2003)
In the WTVR era the show has generally used the 32 or 36 team format with either a straight single-elimination bracket or four play-in games followed by the power-of-2 bracket.
Since the move to WTVR in 2003-04, an all-star game has been played, in which eight selected players from the season all play a tossup-heavy game, with the highest individual score winning. During the Champion's Challenge era, each market had its own all-star game.
In 1988, the championship was won on a sudden-death tiebreaker question, which began "The Netherlands...." and was successfully interrupted by a Meadowbrook player with "euthanasia."
At some point during the all-live era of the tournament, a scoreboard mounted on top of the set fell onto the players during the game.
The 2012 semifinal featuring Maggie Walker's first loss in seven years was never broadcast, for unknown reasons. Other episodes that are announced in the prior week and show up with results on the bracket are occasionally skipped from airing, presumably due to technical malfunctions at taping.
The custom buzzer system used for the show in the early 2000s did not have a way to disable the buzzer during periods when players were not supposed to buzz in. During a round where a player failed to understand the rules (a "Picture This" sequence in which the clue had to be completed before buzzing in) a player repeatedly hit the buzzer and yelled "it's a tiger!" every time the judges reset the system.
This now-dead link features a viewer of the show circa 2012 complaining that the name of the Chesapeake Bay Governor's School was misspelled as "Govrenor's School" on the printed card affixed to the team's podium for their episode.
Information 1976-2014 (Richmond show)
|Year & Show Name||Champion||Second||Host & Station|
|1976 Battle of the Brains||Not televised|
|1977 Battle of the Brains||Not televised|
|1978 Battle of the Brains||Final game televised on PBS WCVE|
|1979 Battle of the Brains||The final four consisted of Midlothian playing Meadowbrook and Thomas Dale playing Clover Hill, though information on who won the semifinal and final games has not been recovered.||PBS WCVE|
|1980 Battle of the Brains||Douglas Freeman||Hermitage||Ken Curtis, PBS WCVE|
|1981 Battle of the Brains||Collegiate||Manchester||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1982 Battle of the Brains||Collegiate||Caroline||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1983 Battle of the Brains||Collegiate||Douglas Freeman||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1984 Battle of the Brains||St. Christopher's||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1985 Battle of the Brains||St. Christopher's||Courtland||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1986 Battle of the Brains||Stafford||Monacan||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1987 Battle of the Brains||Thomas Dale||Mechanicsville||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1988 Battle of the Brains||Meadowbrook||Thomas Dale||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1989 Battle of the Brains||Douglas Freeman||St. Christopher's||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1990 Battle of the Brains||Collegiate||Douglas Freeman||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1991 Battle of the Brains||Collegiate||Douglas Freeman||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1992 Battle of the Brains||Douglas Freeman||Thomas Dale||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1993 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Collegiate||Frank Soden & Bill King, PBS WCVE|
|1994 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Lafayette||Frank Soden, PBS WCVE|
|1995 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Garret Chester, PBS WCVE|
|1996 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||May-Lily Lee, PBS WCVE|
|1997 Battle of the Brains||St. Christopher's||Maggie Walker||May-Lily Lee, PBS WCVE|
|1998 Challenge 23||St. Christopher's||Maggie Walker||May-Lily Lee, PBS WCVE|
|1999 Challenge 23||Maggie Walker||Thomas Dale||May-Lily Lee, PBS WCVE|
|2000 Challenge 23||Maggie Walker||St. Christopher's||May-Lily Lee, PBS WCVE|
|2001 Challenge 23||Collegiate||May-Lily Lee, PBS WCVE|
|2002 Challenge 23||Maggie Walker||May-Lily Lee, PBS WCVE|
|2003 Battle of the Brains||Blessed Sacrament-Huguenot||Mills Godwin||Michelle Gary, public access RICH|
|2004 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Charlottesville||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2005 Battle of the Brains||Charlottesville||James Monroe||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2006 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Blessed Sacrament-Huguenot||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2007 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Colonial Forge||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2008 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Charlottesville||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2009 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||James Monroe||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2010 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Collegiate||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2011 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Henrico||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2012 Battle of the Brains||Charlottesville||Cave Spring||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2013 Battle of the Brains||Cave Spring||Maggie Walker||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2014 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||New Kent||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2015 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||New Kent||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2016 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Cave Spring||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2017 Battle of the Brains||Maggie Walker||Cave Spring||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2018 Battle of the Brains||Douglas Freeman||St. Christopher's||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2019 Battle of the Brains||Douglas Freeman||Jamestown||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2020 Battle of the Brains||The tournament was ended early due to the covid-19 outbreak.||The remaining teams when taping was suspended were: Collegiate, Maggie Walker, Steward, St. Christopher's, Douglas Freeman, Menchville, Fort Defiance, and Jamestown.||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
|2021 Battle of the Brains||St. Christopher's||Fort Defiance||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR (Tournament recorded using a modified game format via Zoom and aired on normal timeslot.)|
|2022 Battle of the Brains||Douglas Freeman||First Colonial||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR (Tournament recorded using a modified game format via Zoom and aired on normal timeslot.)|
|2023 Battle of the Brains||Princess Anne||Cave Spring||Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR|
- In fall 1990, WCVE also broadcast the final game of the Virginia Tech high school tournament, between Thomas Jefferson and St. Anne's-Belfield.
- During the five years of the Hampton Roads show (2005-2009, inclusive), the winners of the two shows met in the Champions Challenge, which was won by the Richmond winner in all five years.
Hampton Roads information (2005-2009)
|Year & Show Name||Champion||Second||Host & Station|
|2005 Southeast Virginia Battle of the Brains||Kecoughtan||Hampton Roads Academy||Stephanie Harris, NBC WAVY|
|2006 Southeast Virginia Battle of the Brains||Ocean Lakes||Isle of Wight Academy||Stephanie Harris, NBC WAVY|
|2007 Southeast Virginia Battle of the Brains||Ocean Lakes||Granby||Stephanie Harris, NBC WAVY|
|2008 Southeast Virginia Battle of the Brains||Hickory||Poquoson||Stephanie Harris, NBC WAVY|
|2009 Southeast Virginia Battle of the Brains||Ocean Lakes||Hickory||Stephanie Harris, NBC WAVY|