Sunday, February 17, 2008

Not so useless information

In the summer of 2001, my family went on an Alaskan cruise. The ship docked at certain ports where we could disembark and go on land tours. On one such tour, our guide (who was also the driver of our bus, talking into a headset microphone), in an effort to keep us entertained on the long drive, rattled off trivia questions about Alaska, asking everyone in the bus to guess the answers. He started by asking what Alaska's capital is. Many voices correctly chorused, "Juneau!", although "Anchorage" was also heard being said. He then asked what the state fish is, and a few piped up with "salmon!" Next, our guide asked for the state flower. A lot of guesses were thrown back at him, but he shook his head and rejected all of them. In the briefest pause that followed, I quietly called out, "Forget-me-not," to which the guide exclaimed delightedly, "Hey, that's it!" Then he asked, in a mischievous this-is-a-trick-question tone, what the state sport is. "Hockey" and "skiing" and "figure skating" were volunteered, but our driver nixed each. Since no one was getting it, I cleared my throat and called out, "Dog-sledding." I saw our guide look up into the rear-view mirror, startled, and he blurted out in an amazed, amused way, "WHO is back there?!" My parents turned around in their seats to stare at me and asked how I knew the answers. I just shrugged and gave what I now know to be a very Henry response: "It's just something I know."

Apart from impressing Alaskan tour guides and winning the odd contest in high school, having a head for trivia doesn't seem to have much practical use. Sure, when I watch game shows like Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire, or play 1 vs 100 on, I do pretty well, but I don't get to walk away with a bundle of cash, do I? It's also not something that tends to impress prospective employers when written on a resume, and it certainly doesn't increase one's value on the dating market. There are times when I feel that trivia seems truly, well, trivial.

But not while I was watching the finale of The Amazing Race Asia 2 last Thursday night, and I was pummeling a throw pillow in frantic frustration when Rovilson-- lovable, witty Rovilson-- couldn't identify the flags of all the countries they had gone to in the race. I'm fairly confident I could have been able to complete the task far more quickly (and I know several people who could have done it even faster than me: Sir Tirol for one, John Tan for another). I totally sympathized with Marc-- darling, gorgeous Marc-- standing on the sidelines unable to do anything but watch helplessly, when he himself recognized the correct flags but could not coach his partner. And because Rovilson took too long on that challenge, it cost Team Philippines the entire race. Adrian, the hearing-impaired guy from Team Singapore, zipped through the task "like a ninja", in Rovilson's own words, and Vanessa, the usually more disoriented Malaysian sister, even finished ahead of her rumored sweetheart. Ultimately, the Singaporean guys won the race, with the Malaysian sisters coming in second, and Marc and Rovilson a disappointing third. It was definitely not the conclusion expected for the team who dominated throughout the race... and all because Rovilson didn't know his flags. Moral lesson of the story: in the end, it's still brains over brawn. Well, brains, then beauty, THEN brawn.

And that's when it dawned on me: the wonderful thing about trivia is, you never know when it will come in handy. So someday, some of this hodgepodge information in my head is bound to be useful for something, though I have no clue what. I know I won't be joining the Amazing Race anytime soon, and I don't think I'll ever be a contestant on a TV game show playing for a 7-digit cash prize, but hey, in the meantime I can still kick ass in Christmas party games and board game tournaments. Trivial Pursuit, anyone?


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