National Geographic Bee winner Sathwik Karnik (left) and moderator Alex Trebek
Rebecca Hale/National Geographic/AP
When Sathwik Karnik of Plainville, Mass., was about 6, his mother began challenging him and his older brother, Karthik, to her own version of hide-and-seek – using an atlas. The boys would comb through the book, trying to be the first to find a city or landmark.
The games paid off when Karthik, now 15, made the finals of the National Geographic Bee in 2011 and 2012. But it was Sathwik who finished the job, calmly answering questions about obscure island chains, bodies of water, global trade and culture.
The result? Sathwik, at 12 years old, won the 25th annual geography bee Wednesday – thanks to the correct answer to the question, "Because Earth bulges at the equator, the point that is farthest from Earth's center is the summit of a peak in Ecuador. Name this peak."
Sathwik nailed it: Chimborazo.
Runner-up Conrad Oberhaus, 13, of Lincolnshire, Ill., knew the answer as well, but Sathwik got all five questions right in their one-on-one duel.
Sathwik won a $25,000 scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. The finals will be televised Thursday night on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD.
Sathwik and his brother said the victory was a team effort.
"It feels like I just finished something that he wanted to finish, so I sort of in a way completed his unfinished business," said Sathwik, an aspiring doctor who stands 4'11" and has the fuzzy outline of a mustache on his upper lip.
Said Karthik: "I'm kind of elated now. What we started so many years ago has finally paid off."
The boys' mother, Rathma, and her husband, Vishwanath, who both work in the software industry, emigrated from near Mangalore, India, in 2002. Indian-American children have dominated both the National Geographic Bee and the Scripps National Spelling Bee in recent years. Vishwanath said the trend can be attributed to coming from a country of 1.2 billion people.
"That brought us the competitive spirit," he said. "If we don't work hard and put forth our best effort, we can't succeed in this world."