Nilai Sarda had only 12 seconds to figure out the name of the country where people speak Quechua and which has the Tunguruhua Volcano. First he wrote down Bolivia, then scratched it out and put Peru, but finally realized the correct answer was Equador. As he sought to change his answer, the bell went off. The poor timing determined his second-place finish at the 2011 National Geographic Bee, held May 25 in Washington, D.C.
“I’m already getting ready for the next competition that I want to win, Math Count, for which I came 12th in Georgia last year,” the 11-year-old told News India Times enthusiastically the day after the bee, when he was home in Marietta, Ga. About his performance, Nilai said, “I was a little bummed out, but I thought, no matter what, I get $15,000!” and he bounced back in seconds.
When the final question was posed to his competitor, Nilai knew his fate was sealed. “Because I knew the answer to that final question, and I knew that he would get it right,” he said.
The winning question was: Thousands of mountain climbers and trekkers rely on Sherpas to aid their ascent of Mount Everest. The southern part of Mount Everest is located in which Nepalese national park? Answer: Sagarmatha National Park. The 2011 National Geographic Bee was won by Tine Valencic, 13, a seventh-grader at Colleyville Middle School in Colleyville, a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas.
He won a $25,000 college scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip for two to the Galápagos Islands.
Third place and a $10,000 college scholarship went to Kansas' Stefan Petrović, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at South Junior High School in Lawrence.
This year, 10 states in the country were represented by Indian-American students at the National Geographic Bee. Considering that Indians make up barely 2 percent to 3 percent of the total population in this United States, the 10 out of 54 finalists was a whopping representation.
“I am in seventh heaven,” Nilai’s mother, Sonal, told News India Times. “All 54 of them had put such a lot of work and I feel all were at an equal level. I don’t know how one can be better than the other.”
Manish Sarda, Nilai's father, called the win “a great achievement” for which the 11-year-old had been working for three years. And his mentor and teacher Paula Watson told News India Times she was hardly surprised. “He turns 12 on May 29, and is a young man who is so gifted but so humble and willing to share the spotlight. I am so proud of Nilai. He is a self-motivated young man.”
Nilai is a seventh-grader at The Westminster School in Atlanta. He is on the school’s Quiz Bowl team and led it to a second-place finish in the state. He takes part in debates, plays chess and enjoys reading and playing cricket. Even at his tender age, Nilai knows where he would love to work – at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN.
The 2010 National Geographic Bee champion was Florida's Aadith Moorthy, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Palm Harbor Middle School in Palm Harbor, Fla. The winning question was: The largest city in northern Haiti was renamed following Haiti's independence from France. What is the present-day name of this city? Answer: Cap-Haïtien.
Fifty-four contestants from across the nation participated in the preliminary rounds of the bee May 24. The top 10 finishers in the prelims competed May 25 in the final round. Apart from Nilai, another Indian-American student, Karthik Karnik , 13, from Massachusetts, made it to the finals. The event was moderated by "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek.
National Geographic Channel will air the bee as well as the journey of the finalists from the state competitions through the finals over four nights beginning June 13 at 6:30 p.m.
As the top 10 finishers, Nilai and Karthik have the opportunity to be selected for the three-person U.S. team at the National Geographic World Championship to be held at various locales in the San Francisco area in July, with the finals taking place at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Nearly 5 million students from more than 12,000 schools took part in the 2011 National Geographic Bee, which was sponsored by Google.
On April 1, about 100 fourth- to eighth-graders in each of the 50 states, D.C., U.S. territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools faced off at the National Geographic state-level bees. From these competitions, 54 emerged for the national finals in D.C. The 10 Indian-Americans who qualified were:
Nilai Sarda, seventh grade, The Westminster School, Atlanta.
Nivedita Khandkar, eighth grade, Meyzeek Middle School, Louisville.
Neel Lakhanpal, seventh grade, Severn School, Severna Park.
Karthik Karnik, seventh grade, King Philip Middle School, Norfolk.
Narayan Sundararajan, eighth grade, Shaker Heights Middle School, Shaker Heights.
Harish Palani, fifth grade, Findley Elementary, Portland.
Krish Patel, fifth grade, Pinewood Preparatory School, Summerville.
Arunabh Singh, eighth grade, Schilling Farms Middle School, Collierville.
Sparsh Bhardwaj, seventh grade, Fredrick H. Tuttle Middle School, South Burlington.
Arjun Kumar, seventh grade, Beaver Lake Middle School, Issaquah.