Ed Berthiaume column: Weekend of trivia is serious business
The Appleton Post-Crescent, Jan 24, 2008.
Meet James Eric Prichard. The mild-mannered senior from Northfield, Minn., is celebrity du jour on the Lawrence University campus this weekend.
He carries the title of Grand Trivia Master as he takes charge of one of LU's most prized traditions, the 43rd annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest. With it comes three days of notoriety and a wee bit of pressure as he oversees a team of 12 trivia masters who need to keep the sometimes wacky and often irrepressible contest on track for 50 grueling hours.
"This is the culmination of 12 months of work," Prichard said as he counts down to the opening of the contest at precisely 10:00.37 p.m. Friday. "There is a lot of anticipation."
The student-run trivia contest, drawing a mix of campus and non-campus teams, will be webcast on WLFM, the LU radio station, at www.lawrence.edu/sorg/trivia. The webcast, launched three years ago, has expanded the range of participants, allowing teams to be spread all over the globe.
Questions are asked in three-minute intervals and teams call their answers into phone lines operated by the trivia masters in the WLFM studios on campus.
John Brogan will be among those playing the game. But playing might be too casual of a term. Brogan, a Kaukauna native who is now an attorney in the Twin Cities, has become a bit of a legend in this game. He has led the team — Bank of Kaukauna — that has won the off-campus portion of the contest each of the past seven years and nine of the past 11.
"We want it, and we fight for it," Brogan said. "That's why we do so well."
Brogan first set up shop in his parents' house in Kaukauna 11 years ago, gathering about 10 friends for the weekend. It quickly grew into a major operation each January. Nearly 50 people now take part, working from a bank of more than three dozen computers and an array of other technology, all the while eating gourmet food and reconnecting with friends from high school, college, law school and elsewhere.
"Win or lose, I know it's really more about the people," Brogan said. "But I can't give up that moment of sort of really wanting to win."
This may be the group's swan song. Brogan said he'll discuss with the team this weekend the idea of pulling the plug. His career is making it increasingly difficult to dedicate enough time to make the trivia weekend happen.
"It's a huge production," he said. "… It's hard to lose a week of your life to do it."
Just showing up isn't good enough. If he plays, Brogan said, he's playing to win. Therein lies the dilemma.
"You don't want to go out and not perform at the top level," he said. "You want to do it the right way. But if you push that hard, it gets exhausting. At some point, I don't know if I can do that."
Exhaustion will be just as evident on the other end, where Prichard and his fellow trivia masters will navigate the trivia marathon for 50 hours.
Chosen for his leadership role by last year's outgoing grand master, Prichard had the task of selecting his 12 trivia masters. Some are holdovers from last year. The newcomers went through an application and interview process.
"You need to get a feel for who they are, how responsible they are, how humorous they are and how they are at dealing with stress," Prichard said. "The one thing you have to have is a real love for trivia, and a lot of enthusiasm. We have to know you're really looking forward to this weekend."
The team then works long and hard putting the contest together, selecting questions and handling logistics.
Last year's contest drew 78 teams, 66 off campus and 12 on campus. It's difficult to tell how many people are actually taking part because some teams include just a handful of people while others number in the dozens.
The contest ends at midnight Sunday.
"The weekend gets here and you had planned so hard for it, and then it's over so fast," Prichard said. "That's the hardest part."
If you play
What: Great Midwest Trivia Contest
Where: Based at the WLFM studios at Lawrence University in Appleton
Broadcast: Via webcast at www.lawrence.edu/sorg/trivia
When: Opens at 10:00.37 p.m. Friday and closes at midnight Sunday
Trivial: In its 43rd year, the contest is billed as the longest running trivia contest in the world. Why? Last year’s final question is this year’s first question. So it never really ends.