Maryland student Taylor Smyth advances to championship of ESPN trivia show


Maryland’s Taylor Smyth, center, during the ACC round. (screenshot via YouTube)

It’s 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon when Taylor Smyth calls, taking a necessary study break as classes wind down and exams loom ahead. Shortly before, the University of Maryland junior opened up a Sporcle on NBA lineups this season, procrastinating in between papers and readings. Except playing online quiz games doesn’t exactly count as procrastination for Smyth, not while he’s also competing on an ESPNU trivia show.

Seven years removed from his popular ESPN Classic game show “Stump the Schwab,” researcher and trivia buff Howie Schwab returned to the network for “The Schwab,” a segment featuring college students that airs during the late-night show “UNITE” on ESPNU.

Each round, three students answer questions about professional sports, pop culture, college sports and social media. After Wednesday night’s semifinals victory over contestants from Temple and Texas, Smyth found himself the winner of a trip to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. to tape the finals, broadcast on May 22.

“I can’t let Terp Nation down,” Smyth said. “You know the passion that’s going on here. We can’t lose to anything. Probably not the studying my parents wanted me to do, but I’m so excited. I didn’t know that going into the semifinal round. I figured the finals would just be the same as the other two rounds. When they said, ‘Oh the winner of this goes to Bristol,’ I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ I’ve always wanted to go there and visit.”

Smyth, who works for Maryland’s sports information department, was suggested to the show by Jodi Fick, an associate director of media relations. After the show notified Smyth of his acceptance, he Skyped into ESPN from his dorm room late one night. Unable to see his fellow contestants, he just stared into the laptop’s webcam. Fearful of cheating accusations – everyone operated on the honor system – Smyth plastered his hands to the desk throughout the short taping, right beside the stacks of books, spare change cup and small bottle of Tabasco sauce.

Curiously, Smyth separated himself in both the ACC battle – against students from Virginia and Clemson – and semifinals during the pop culture portion. First, he named American Idol winners. Then it was the highest-grossing football movies since 1975, even though he missed “Friday Night Lights,” which later turned into his favorite television show on NBC.

Smyth remembers watching “Stump The Schwab” while growing up, and has somehow developed an encyclopedic knowledge of Olympic gymnastics. He’s not banking on “The Schwab” broaching his wheelhouse: Olympics, MMA and boxing.

“When I talk about Olympic gymnastics,” Symth said, “that’s when people tell me to get a life.”

He’s still strong in NBA and NFL trivia, thanks in large part to hours spent on Sporcle. Before calling, he missed two (148 out of 150) on that starting lineups quiz.

“Come on,” Smyth said, “I didn’t know P.J. Tucker started for the Phoenix Suns this season.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | May 8, 2013