WATERTOWN — “Whiz Quiz” has returned to WPBS-DT for its 40th season, showing its usual class and quizzing north country students on a variety of topics.
But long-time fans of the program may have been stumped themselves for an answer when they first tuned in this year and wondered about that new person at the lectern — the host of the show, which airs at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday on WPBS-DT through mid-December.
“The answer to this question is not water,” first-year “Whiz Quiz” host Joleene D. Moody told teams from Canton and South Jefferson central school districts during an Oct. 21 taping of the academic knowledge show at the WPBS studios on Arsenal Street. “What is stored in a camel’s hump”?
It was a “Whiz Quiz” question with a rare hint. Evelyn Bibbins, a senior from South Jefferson, quickly hit her buzzer.
“Fat?” she said.
Correct, with points to South Jefferson. Evelyn gave a noticeable sigh of relief and a smile, indicating that her educated guess was the right one.
The topics for questions at this match also ranged from the muscles of arthropods to the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto. Through it all, new host Ms. Moody kept her cool as she went from round to round, keeping track of the points the questions were worth, time limits, who to ask the questions, bonus points and making sure her questions and contestant names were pronounced correctly.
Later, Kraig Everard, director of advancement at WPBS-DT, said the station found the perfect fit in selecting Ms. Moody as the new “Whiz Quiz” host to replace Glenn H. Gough, who stepped down from the duties last year.
“We were looking for someone with vibrance, someone who could articulate all of the questions,” Mr. Everard said. “We quickly learned, ‘Holy cow, we can’t believe how Glenn held it together all those years.’ They’ve got to have the ability to be on camera and juggle everything else that goes along with it, which Joleene is learning.”
“You have to think on your feet, and that’s what Joleene does,” said Tracy Duflo, WPBS-DT director of production.
Ms. Moody brings more than 15 years’ experience in television news, production and filmmaking. She started her on-camera career as television reporter at WWTI in Watertown and later as a reporter and anchor at Spectrum News (formerly News 10 Now) in Syracuse. She’s also the writer and producer of an original television pilot, “Sticks,” that was filmed in Pulaski, where she lives.
“I thought this would be fun,” Ms. Moody said. “It’s something different with an opportunity to interact with the community, and frankly, to educate myself.”
A CHANCE TO SHINE
Taping for the 2019 “Whiz Quiz” season began Oct. 17. Matches, three recorded per day, were recorded over 10 days for a total of 30 shows.
The Canton vs. South Jefferson match will air at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“The way I describe this show to people in the community is that I think it’s one of the best things we do,” Mr. Everard said. “It involves over 30 school districts, and it’s a platform, as we say in the show, for academic excellence. For a lot of the students who participate, this is their Friday night lights, their opening night at the drama show. It’s their chance to shine. Quite often, some of those kids don’t have those opportunities.”
The annual matches usually feature schools from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, and in some years, teams from Canada. Mr. Everard said that this year, producers were happy to welcome a team from Oswego County (Pulaski High School) and Oneida County (Adirondack Central), for a total representation of five counties.
Mr. Everard said it takes the entire staff of about 20 people at WPBS-DT to produce “Whiz Quiz.” On the day of the Oct. 21 taping, the station’s office manager was the scorekeeper, a sales executive was the timer and a chief engineer acted as one of the two camera persons, while the station’s membership manager was in production control.
“This isn’t our full-time job,” Mr. Everard said. “But we all come together and everything else pretty much stops to make this happen. Show us some forgiveness if the camera is a little out of focus. We’re doing our best and I think we’re doing a pretty darn good job.”
To prepare herself for the tapings, Ms. Moody spent about four hours each evening going over the quizzes for the next day.
“I go through the questions and add pronouncers so that I can say them accurately,” Ms. Moody said. “And sometimes there have been misspellings and wrong answers and things like that so that we can come in in the morning, we can talk about that. Then, I feel comfortable. If I’m comfortable with that, I can jockey the rest.”
Before recording the shows for the day, Ms. Moody sits down with its judges to review the questions. Judges are retired teachers who put the questions together during summers. Taping starts at 9:30 a.m., with the recording of the three shows wrapping up around 1 p.m.
“We’re always looking for new judges,” Mr. Everard said. “Especially in math. We have to have a math judge for every quiz.”
A MINI “JEOPARDY!”
In addition to academic bragging rights, “Whiz Quiz” awards more than $3,500 in scholarship funding each year. The scholarships are awarded at an annual banquet in January at the Watertown Elks Lodge.
The matches are single elimination and each team has four members, with alternate members in the wings.
David Dufrane has been advising Canton’s “Whiz Quiz” team for 12 years.
“Students enjoy it,” he said following the Oct. 21 taping. “They like the intellectual stimulation and the competition. It helps to sharpen their wits a little bit and make them think a bit more precisely about historical and scientific concepts, literary devices and so forth.”
Gabe Schmid-Doyle, a senior at Canton Central, has competed in “Whiz Quiz” for four years.
“It’s a great way to flesh out your knowledge in a way that you don’t get as much,” he said. “It really is a mini ‘Jeopardy!’ and the fact that it’s going on TV, I think also gets you a little more pumped up.”
The Canton team also consists of juniors Leopold Crouse, Samuel Moses and senior Rorie Newman, with Brooke Larrabee as an alternate.
The South Jefferson team they competed against, in addition to Evelyn Bibbins, consists of sophomore Trevor Benware and juniors Josh Bliss and Kyle Cain. Alternates include Zachary Sullivan, Audrey Bibbins, Sidney Wheeler III and Jaeden Moscarelli.