There was sweating, hand wringing, leg crossing (and uncrossing), fidgeting, blank stares into space, stuttering, lots of praying and finally a winner.
The cause of this anguish was the Close Up Foundation's fifth annual Citizen Bee, which tests high school students' knowledge of American history, geography, economy, culture and current events with questions like this:
If you travel in a straight line from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Chicago, through which two states will you pass, and what major river will you cross at the Illinois border? (Answer: Nebraska and Iowa; Mississippi River.)
Don't feel bad if you were stumped by that question, because yesterday's winner, Jofi Joseph, couldn't answer it either. "Geography is not my best subject," said the 17-year-old Muskegon, Mich., native. But there was little else he was asked that he didn't know.
Joseph finished with a near-perfect score, missing only that question and one on the written part of the final, which was given before yesterday's oral round at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.
"This is a burden off my back," said Joseph, who collected $7,000 for his first-place finish. "Last year I blew an 11-point lead in the final round. I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't won."
Yesterday's finalists had to get past the written and oral competition held on Sunday in Alexandria, which whittled the qualifying field of 100 students to 15 by asking such questions as: List two similarities between a cartel and an oligopoly.
(Answer: Both control the price and supply of a product.)
While Colombia is often called the cocaine capital of the world, what two countries are the world's leading coca growers? (Answer: Peru and Bolivia.)
No wonder second-place winner Derek Baxter, a junior at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, was grateful when the questions ended. "I feel great. And I'm relieved it's over," Baxter said.
Baxter won $5,000. Gautam Dutta, of Irving, Tex., took third place and $3,000 in prize money.
The Citizen Bee, which features several rounds of written and oral questions on the school, state and regional level, had nearly 50,000 participants, spokesman Richard Horton said. The Close Up Foundation of Arlington, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation for citizen involvement in government.
Contest organizers are still trying to answer one question: Why aren't girls getting to the finals?
The 15 students in this year's finals were boys, as were 13 of last year's 15 finalists. Bert Cieslack, director of the Citizen Bee, attributes the low number of girls to peer high school pressure. He is initiating programs through history teachers nationwide to get more girls interested in competing.