Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Kansas teen who compiled a 432-page book about foreign countries and admires the golfing prowess of Tiger Woods yesterday won the 16th annual National Geographic Bee.

“It’s beyond my dreams,” said 14-year-old winner Andrew Wojtanik, who answered the winning question from “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek.

“Peshawar, a city in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, has had strategic importance for centuries because of its location near what historic pass?” Mr. Trebek asked in his iconic “Jeopardy!” voice.

“Khyber Pass,” responded Andrew, also a finalist in the 2003 competition.

“He worked hard this year, but it’s not over yet” Andrew’s teacher, Jennifer Tavernan, said with a grin. “He’s got three days of school left and has to take all his finals yet.”

The lanky, blue-eyed eighth-grader said he also enjoys track and baseball. He has already visited 10 national parks and hopes to see the remaining ones.

For his victory over nine other finalists yesterday, Andrew received $500, a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a week-long trip to one of Seaworld/Busch Gardens’ Adventure Camps.

The runner-up, Matthew Wells, an eighth-grader from Bozeman, Mont., received $500 and a $15,000 scholarship.

Matthew, 13, said going into the ninth grade, which makes him ineligible for next year’s competition, was more disappointing than not winning. “I can’t come back,” he said.

Third-place finisher Eric Liaw was also a finalist in 2003. But the 12-year-old from Honolulu is only in sixth grade and hopes to make the finals again next year.

The 10 students in yesterday’s final at National Geographic’s Grosvenor Auditorium on 17th Street NW, defeated 45 other semifinalists Tuesday and came from a field of 5 million initial competitors.

To reach the semifinals and win a trip to Washington, the students had to win the title in his or her home state, the District, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the U.S. Pacific territories or in Department of Defense Dependents schools.

Yesterday’s final also included some theater not seen on “Jeopardy!” or during most bees.

Two Magellanic penguins were brought on stage when Mr. Trebek said: “These penguins breed on a group of islands 300 miles east of the Strait of Magellan. Name this group of islands, which has Stanley as its capital.”

The finalists each gave the correct answer: “Falkland Islands.”

Later, a light-tan, two-toed sloth from an international park arrived on a young woman’s shoulder.

Mr. Trebek asked: “La Amistad International Park, in the Cordillera de Talamanca, is located in which two countries?”

Three contestants failed to give the correct answer of Costa Rica and Panama.

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