When faced with sabotage, Raffles Institution (RI) turned it into the edge it needed. For the second year, its team yesterday became champion of The Big Quiz, winning $5,000 and a trophy.
In the final of The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz, Nanyang Junior College (NYJC) directed its 30-point question to RI, playing its "Sabo King" card.
A wrong answer would have made RI lose points.
But it knew the answer to "Who is the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize twice?" - Hilary Mantel.
Those points earned out of turn were a lead it held onto, eventually scoring 210 points to beat Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) to first place.
HCI won $3,000, while River Valley High School, in third place, won $1,000. NYJC was fourth, winning $500.
During the one-hour showdown at the grand ballroom of the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, teams had to think on their feet. For instance, in the segment Make Your Point, teams had to spin an argument in 90 seconds on a topic they had randomly chosen just 20 seconds earlier.
RI team member Kuek Jia Yao, 17, told The Straits Times later: "It was a very hard fight."
Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law, was the guest of honour. To the 200-strong audience of students and teachers, she said: "Current affairs is extremely important. I want to urge you to see that news is not only about entertainment, but also about watching events unfold before your very eyes."
Some questions stumped the teams, such as: "Who is the United States' director of national intelligence?"
(Answer: James Clapper) and "Which country is the biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas to the United States and the world's top exporter of methanol and ammonia?" (Answer: Trinidad and Tobago)
The teams were backed up by enthusiastic supporters, who prepared school cheers and turned up with self-made banners and, in the case of NYJC, 150 helium-filled balloons. NYJC principal Kwek Hiok Chuang, 58, said: "We wanted to show our support and add some colour to the place." The college took the Most Supportive School award.
The Big Quiz is open to first-year pre-university and Integrated Programme Year 5 students. It is sponsored by Singapore Press Holdings Foundation and innovation partner Shell.
Ms Ginney Lim, general manager of SPH Foundation, said: "Through this event, we hope to promote students' interest in current affairs beyond their pursuit of academic excellence."
The quiz rounds followed a series of 12 primers about topics such as the economy and national identity, four campus talks and a contest where students submitted essays related to the primers.
Ms Serene Goh, editor of The Straits Times' schools publications and one of the judges, said: "It was a racier final this year, because the teams were all so quick. It's really gratifying that they were all so well prepared, and this is despite the questions being tougher this year."
Speaking to The Straits Times after the event, Ms Indranee, who also handed out the prizes, said: "This competition is a good way of getting the participants to read up. But the competition is not just about knowledge, it is also about strategy."
For RI, there was more to it. When asked what helped them defend their title, team member Kuek Jia Yao had just one word: "Grit."
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