A trio of Indian American students emerged as the top three finalists in the 31st annual National Geographic GeoBee held in Washington, D.C., May 22, with Nihar Janga outdueling Atreya Mallanna and Rishi Kumar to claim the national prize.

Janga, an eighth grader at Canyon Ridge Middle School in Austin, Texas, correctly answered “Finnmark” to the question, “One-third of Norway’s northernmost country is in what plateau?”

The correct answer in the 10th question of the championship round against Mallanna, a sixth grader at William Diamond Middle School in Lexington, Massachusetts, gave him the national crown.

Host Mo Rocca, a journalist and humorist, declared Janga the winner as the Indian American geography whiz kid dropped to his knees in disbelief, with Mallanna, as the second-place winner, showing great sportsmanship by applauding the victor.

As the 2019 GeoBee National Champion, Janga will receive a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll. Mallana, as the second-place winner and Kumar, as the third-place winner, will receive a $10,000 and $5,000 college scholarship, respectively.

The championship round was set to be five questions with the remaining two finalists – Mallanna and Janga – writing down their answers with 12 seconds to deliberate.

The two got the first question correct in the round, which wiped out the scoreboard to give each a clean slate.

They then separated after the second question which Mallanna answered correctly. Janga quickly erased the deficit by answering the third question correctly while Mallanna was incorrect.

Neither Mallanna nor Janga answered the fourth question leaving the final question a sudden death.

The fifth question was answered correctly by both, sending the championship round to a single-elimination question round. Neither answered right in the sixth question. In the seventh and eighth questions, both answered correctly, with the ninth question being answered incorrectly by both, setting up the pivotal 10th and final question.

Kumar, an eighth grader from Ellicott Mills Middle School in Ellicott City, Maryland, had bowed out after the map-maker round.

The top 10–scoring students will each receive $1,000 in cash.

Kumar, Mallanna and Janga were among 10 semifinalists who came from a field of 54 state and territory champions who took part in the preliminaries.

A total of nine Indian Americans were named semifinalists, including California-based Jishnu Nayak, Florida-based Kaylan Patel, Illinois’ Omkar Gadewar, Michigan-based Aarush Tutiki, New Mexico’s Lakshay Avi Sood, and North Carolina-based Vaibhav Hariram.

Several finalists returned from previous years of the competition, among them Janga, Mallanna, Patel and Sood from the 2018 GeoBee.

Sood also competed in the GeoBee national competitions in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Kumar is a returning competitor from 2016.

In addition to the GeoBee, there was also the first-ever national GeoChallenge competition, with several teams participating for the national title, though none included Indian American kids.

The Geo Championships are part of National Geographic’s goal to teach students about the world and how it works, ultimately empowering the next generation of geographers, scientists, conservationists and educators.

Developed by the National Geographic Society in 1988 to promote geographic knowledge among young people in the United States, the National Geographic GeoBee is an academic competition for public schools, private schools and homeschools in the United States and its territories, as well as the Department of Defense Dependents Schools.

Students in grades four through eight from nearly 10,000 schools participate annually for a chance to win college scholarships and the glory of being the National Geographic GeoBee Champion.

Over more than three decades, 120 million students have learned about the world by participating in the GeoBee.

Last year, Indian Americans also swept the top three prizes: Venkat Ranjan of California took home the top prize, while Anoushka Buddhikot of New Jersey came in second place, and Vishal Sareddy Georgia took third place. (See earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2VXrJHx)

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