TV show gets high marks for making adults look dumb

March 12, 2007|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun columnist

Looking for something on TV the whole family can enjoy - only to feel humiliated and depressed afterward?

Got just the ticket: the new hit Fox show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

We'll get to the humiliating and depressing part in a minute.

If you haven't seen it, Are You Smarter? is a quiz show where adults get asked questions supposedly found in elementary school textbooks.

Naturally, these loser adults stumble and sweat over the answers, while a bunch of cute fifth-graders on the set smirk and offer help.

And when the loser adult washes out of the game, he or she has to look into the camera and sheepishly declare to the American people: "I am not smarter than a fifth-grader."

Great.

How'd you like to put that on your resume?

Or how'd you like to have people whispering when you go to the coffee machine at work: "There goes O'Brien. I saw him on TV. He's dumber than a fifth-grader"?

Anyway, the show has been a ratings home run, attracting 26.5 million viewers on opening night, the most successful Fox debut ever for a series.

One reason Are You Smarter? has done so well is that it followed American Idol, the monster Fox hit of all time.

(Starting next week, though, Are You Smarter? moves to an earlier time, which means no more Idol lead-in, which means the ratings could drop like a pickup truck pushed off a cliff.)

The other reason the show is so popular is its not-so-subtle theme: ritual humiliation.

If you haven't noticed, ritual humiliation is all the rage these days with TV audiences.

American Idol, of course, has made an art of it, with one horrible performer after another screeching through a song, then enduring a withering review from the evil Simon Cowell and the other hooting judges before slinking off the stage to presumably throw themselves in front of a speeding train.

Now with Are You Smarter? you have adults being ritually humiliated by cute little kids!

Because the adults are so dumb!

See, they're dumber than fifth-graders!

Is that ratings heaven, or what?

By the way, can somebody please explain why Jeff Foxworthy is hosting this show?

Isn't this a show with an academic bent?

Look, I'm not saying you have to get Stephen Hawking or the editor of the Yale Law Review.

But Jeff Foxworthy?

The redneck comedian guy?

Sure, he's rich and famous and successful.

But has any parent ever said to their kid: "Study hard, Jimmy, and one day you'll be as smart as that redneck comic guy, Jeff Foxworthy"?

Anyway, I watched Are You Smarter? the other night to find out what kind of questions they ask these dumb loser adults.

The first contestant, a young housewife named Susan, was getting beauties like this one, supposedly from third-grade astronomy: "True or false: Stratus clouds are typically higher than cirrus clouds?"

She also got this baby: "Of the following, what kind of star is hottest?"

a) Blue giant

b) Red dwarf

c) Regular star

"I'm freaking out!" Susan exclaimed at one point.

I was right there with her. The correct answers were: false and a.

Then they hit her with this lulu from fourth-grade math: "How many sides does a rhombus have?"

Susan said 10.

Susan was a goner.

The answer was four.

They lobbed a couple of softballs at the next contestant, a 29-year-old accountant named Phillip. (True or false: komodo dragons are extinct" and "In the northern hemisphere, summer ends in which month?")

But eventually he, too, stumbled. He quit - opting to take the loot he'd won, rather than risk humiliating himself as a dope - on this question from fifth-grade earth science: "What geologic era are we in right now?"

The answer was Cenozoic.

I know, I know ... you would have nailed it, no problem.

Anyway, the show's a big hit and the questions can be tricky if you've been out of school for decades. And the kids on stage seem to delight when an adult looks dumb, which is nothing new.

But if I were a contestant and washed out, I'd march up to the kids and say: "Oh, yeah? Well I got one for YOU, kids. If you walked into a bar and ordered a Guinness or a Budweiser, which one would have the higher alcohol by volume?"

Little brats. Let's see how smart they'd be then.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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