WASHINGTON (AP) — A first-time contender from Texas won the annual National Geographic Bee Thursday in Washington, claiming the top prize in a contest that started with local competitions among about 4 million students around the country.
Rahul Nagvekar, 14, of Sugar Land, Texas, will receive a $25,000 college scholarship for his win, along with a trip to the Galapagos Islands. He beat Vansh Jain, 13, of Minocqua, Wis., on the fourth tie-breaking question.
Much of the bee tested the 10 finalists' knowledge of history, world cultures and landmarks used as clues for geography-based questions.
Rahul won by correctly naming Regensburg as the Bavarian city located on the Danube River that was a legislative seat of the Holy Roman Empire from 1663 to 1806.
"It was a guess, a 50-50 chance," Nagvekar said after the competition. "It just happened to be a good guess."
Next year, he will head to high school, and he is keeping his options open on what to study in college. Maps have fascinated him for years, though. He said he started preparing for the geography bee in fourth grade and has gone to the state bee every year, placing higher each time.
"I think it's very important for people to know more about the world," he said. "That helps with world conflict. It helps people understand others better. It helps people understand why problems happen and how to solve those problems."
President Barack Obama asked one question this year by video, quizzing the young contenders on their knowledge of recent events. Obama asked what Asian capital city on the Han River hosted a gathering of world leaders in March for a Nuclear Security Summit.
The answer: Seoul.
Obama said studying geography is "about more than just memorizing places on a map.
"It's about understanding the complexity of our world, appreciating the diversity of cultures that exist across continents, and, in the end, it's about using all that knowledge to help bridge divides and bring people together."
The contest will be televised Thursday night on the National Geographic Channel and later on public broadcast stations. "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek hosted the finals.
Jain, the runner-up, was making his third trip to the national geography bee and will take home a $15,000 scholarship. The third-place winner, 13-year-old Varun Mahadevan of Fremont, Calif., wins a $10,000 scholarship.
In total, 54 contestants representing each state and four U.S. territories competed in Washington. The 10 who progressed to the final rounds represented Arizona, California, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering at Google, which sponsored the national bee, said it is the nation's best academic competition. Still, it's often overshadowed by the National Spelling Bee.
"You 50 or 54 are the smartest people I know," he told the contenders.
National Geographic Bee: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/geobee/