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Maine Public’s “High School Quiz Show Maine”

LEWISTON – Maine high school students now have a place to flash their brainpower, thanks to Maine Public’s newest program “High School Quiz Show Maine,” airing over the next five weeks on Maine Public Television.

Each episode will air twice weekly – Thursday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m.

Hosted by veteran Maine journalist Shannon Moss, the show pits four-person teams pulled from eight high schools (out of the nearly 30 schools that applied to participate) against each other in a battle of wits. The winning school will receive $1,000 toward their Project Graduation as well as – far more importantly – bragging rights.

As The Maine Edge goes to press, only one episode of the show has aired. That single episode told me everything that I needed to know, which is this:

“High School Quiz Show Maine” is awesome.

Here’s how the game is played - each match is divided into four rounds:

Round 1: The host asks a bunch of questions and the teams can ring in if they know the answer. Correct answers are worth 10 points and there is no penalty for incorrect answers, though the other team is given the opportunity to answer.

Round 2: The kids move to a “Family Feud”-style buzzer setup. It’s a series of head-to-head questions; the contestants cycle through. Correct answers are worth 20 points, but incorrect answers carry a 20-point penalty.

Round 3: This is a themed-category round, with six categories containing five questions. The value of these questions starts at 10 and advances by five; the final question is worth 30 points. Students can confer, but the one who buzzes in must be the one who answers. Correct answers control the board; point penalties apply.

Round 4: This – the final round - is the lightning round. The teams have 90 seconds to ring in and answer as many questions as possible. These are worth 20 points each; penalties for incorrect answers still apply.

(Full disclosure: Teenaged Allen would have moved heaven and earth in an effort to take part in this show. I honestly can’t think of something he would have enjoyed more than the opportunity to stand in front of a camera with a buzzer and answer questions.)

Everything about this show is sublime. There are the production values, which are at a fairly high level while also feeling just a touch dated (in the best possible way, mind you). There’s the game play, which veers from standard group behind a podium stuff to individuals racing in and out of the light during the head-to-head contest and back again. The quality and relative difficulty of the questions surprised me a bit – some good work from their writers.

Shannon Moss is a nice fit as the host; obviously, there’s a learning curve for something like this, but even her moments of befuddlement are charming. She’s clearly a trooper and has the potential to find that perfect balance of hip/not hip that a show like this needs from its host.

And the kids. Oh man, the kids. I know these kids. I WAS these kids. Watching the delighted intensity that these two teams – one from Oxford Hills, the other from Cape Elizabeth – displayed was top-shelf TV. That epitomical teenage emotional combo of thrilled, self-conscious and a tiny bit mortified was front and center. But these kids battled through it and put forth some excellent performances, with every one of them making real contributions to the relative success of their respective teams.

(A personal highlight for me was the fact that during a stretch where team conferral was allowed, a microphone was inadvertently picking up the voice of one young lady as she contributed her answers – almost all correct, by the way, though I’m unclear on how many of those her team actually wound up getting. Again – how can you not love this?)

We can only hope that “High School Quiz Show Maine” delivers on the promise shown by this first episode. Anything that helps smart kids be proud of being smart is a welcome development; for it to happen in such a fun and engaging way is even better. Granted, it would be nice if the northern part of the state was better represented. If the show succeeds, hopefully we’ll see a wider spread in 2018.

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