Battle of the Brains

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Battle of the Brains is a a high school televised quizbowl competition in Virginia. It was first televised in 1979 for Richmond-area schools. From 2005 to 2009, a second competition 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. Any team willing to make the drive to the WTVR studio in Richmond on tape dates is eligible to enter the pool of interested participants, and 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.

Broadcast history

An ad for the first televised tournament, featuring four Chesterfield County schools in April 1979.
An article about the first 32-team, all-Richmond tournament, which concluded in June 1980.
The finals of the 1980 tournament, between Douglas Freeman and Hermitage.

Stations & Hosts

It's Academic was aired for one academic year in the Richmond area, ending in 1976. In 1975, Julian Porter created the Battle of the Brains tournament as an intramural tournament for Meadowbrook High School. From 1976 to 1978 it was for Chesterfield County schools only, 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. 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 noted person who "caught a guppy because she was fishing in the dark," May-Lily Lee. 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. 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."

Timeslot

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.

Sponsorship

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. Since ending their sponsorship, Safeway has closed all of its Richmond stores and Ukrop's has been sold to the Martin's chain, proving that BoB sponsorship is a curse on the grocery industry.

From its move to CBS until 2010, it was sponsored by the Virginia Lottery, perhaps the only show featuring an entirely unable-to-legally-gamble cast that is sponsored by a lottery. Since 2010, the show has been sponsored by the Virginia 529 College Savings Plan, which airs the majority of commercials during the broadcast.

Questions/Format

During the 1990s, questions were provided by Answers Plus. 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 trash 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 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 is 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.

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.

Notably, not only does Battle of the Brains continue to use computational math questions, but spelling questions and other inherently nonpyramidal question topics are common, probably due to none of the show's question-writing personnel (or indeed, anyone remotely involved with running the show) being actually affiliated with the mainstream quizbowl circuit. Gimmicks such as asking about popular TV shows being broadcast on CBS occur with shameful frequency. Questions are also occasionally reused between episodes, in some particularly egregious cases between episodes that are aired or uploaded to YouTube before other episodes containing those questions are filmed.


Tournament Format

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.

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)

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.

Famous incidents

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."

In one of the 1997 semifinal matches, Collegiate trailed St. Christopher's in the final round, but jumped in on a toss-up question to claim a bonus. With his team clearly stumped by the bonus question, captain Pasha Paterson looked seriously into the camera and announced, "We'll take the physical challenge."

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.

Production values

https://www.facebook.com/cbs6wtvr/posts/447262952425

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 PBS WCVE
1980 Battle of the Brains Douglas Freeman Hermitage Frank Soden, PBS WCVE
1981 Battle of the Brains Collegiate Frank Soden, PBS WCVE
1982 Battle of the Brains Collegiate Caroline Frank Soden, PBS WCVE
1983 Battle of the Brains 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 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
2016 Battle of the Brains Maggie Walker Cave Spring Cheryl Miller, CBS WTVR
Host since 2004 Cheryl Miller and show creator/executive producer Julian Porter present the 2014 trophy.

Notes:

  • Context from articles about other years indicates that the 1983 tournament was probably won by Collegiate, but there is nothing definitively stating this.
  • 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

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