By LAURIE KAWAKAMI
LOS ANGELES – After nearly $18,000 was raised, 11 scholarships were awarded and three new teams were added to this year’s AAJA-LA Trivia Bowl, the question remains: What is the name of the Hello Kitty character that Sanrio Co. describes as a “mischievous little penguin”?
Even emcee David Ono had to think twice.
“Badtz Maru?” the KABC 7 anchorman said, as he looked quizzically into the audience.
“Yes, it’s Badtz Maru.”
In a night full of intense competition, customary trash talking, ostentatious showmanship and the occasional booing of other teams, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center emerged Oct. 7 as the winner of the coveted Rice Cup, proving that even Sanrio characters were no match for the team’s depth and breadth of knowledge.
“It feels superb,” said Dan Huang, a first-time member of the legal center’s Trivia Bowl team, as he celebrated the organization’s second win in the 11 years of the event. “Our team had to work through some big obstacles and some inter- and intra-competitiveness, but we made sure that everyone was on the same page.”
Twenty-two registered teams battled it out at this year’s competition and fundraiser. More than 300 journalists and community leaders attended the sold-out event at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, enjoying a buffet dinner by Wahoo’s Fish Taco and an evening of exciting, dynamic competition.
New teams to the Trivia Bowl mix were KPCC-FM, the Riverside Press-Enterprise and a combination of two community groups, Asian Pacific Exchange and Project by Project. But no team matched the legal center’s impressive showing. The team answered 73 of the 100 questions to capture the top spot.
Close on the legal center’s heels was the Asian Business League with 70 points. Los Angeles Times Team 2 and The Orange County Register tied for third place with 64 points each. For another year, the last-place prize of Top Ramen went to KTLA Channel 5, which scored 39 points, ranking in the bottom during four of five rounds in the competition.
Teams were quizzed in the categories of news and current events, history and geography, arts and entertainment, science and literature, sports and California living. With questions including “Name all four original members of the punk rock band the Ramones” and “How many California missions are there?” some participants struggled under the intense pressure to produce quick answers.
“I’d say I got seven out of what … 3,000?” said Ellyn Pak, a member of the Register team. “I did know that batty Sanrio character question: Badtz Maru – yeah, baby.”
But Pak said her performance had much to do with her lack of knowledge about the region.
“It didn’t help that a lot of the questions had to do with California landmarks,” she said. “I just moved here, dang it.”
Lois Pitter Bruce, president of the Black Journalists Association of Southern California, said this year’s Trivia Bowl competition was easier than those in years past.
“I thought this year’s questions were not as obscure as last year, so I thought that was an improvement,” said Bruce, a senior writer and producer at CBS Channel 2/KCAL Channel 9.
She said her group always generated an enthusiastic response to requests for players, as her team focused on recruiting members with knowledge in a broad range of subjects.
“We could have used more expertise in the science area,” she said, adding that the event was well organized and enjoyable – except for the legal center’s showing.
“I always hate the legal team winning,” Bruce said.
For Cynthia Furey of the Register, this Trivia Bowl was her first time as a participant. In previous years, the UC Irvine graduate volunteered at the event, in 2004 writing the competition wrap-up for AAJA-LA.org.
“Last year, as a volunteer, I could count on one hand how many questions I got right,” she said. “This year, I could count my right answers on two. They’re either getting easier, or I’m getting smarter.”
Other newcomers to Trivia Bowl had difficulty with the intensity and pace of the rounds. Reporter David Pierson of the Los Angeles Times knew the U.S. state in which the movie “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” took place (answer: New Jersey). But he generally found the going difficult.
“If it left me with a lasting impression, it was that I needed to go back to school – high school,” he said. “The sad thing is I went in pretty cocky, thinking my years of Trivial Pursuit and Yahoo online quizzes prepared me for the event. But aside from my general ineptitude, the event was a blast.”
El Camino High School’s academic decathlon team, sponsored by the Asian Business Association Online, made its third appearance at Trivia Bowl, and the high schoolers were greeted by the a round of good-natured ribbing and boos as they were introduced by emcee Ono.
In its showing last year, El Camino garnered an unprecedented 20 out of 20 in the arts and entertainment round, the same year the team won the national academic decathlon. This year, however, with all new team members, the high schoolers barely survived, placing 20th – or third from last – by night’s end.
“Oh yeah, they’re frustrated,” said David Iwata, president of ABA Valley Online. “Each year, new students come to the event, and they’re definitely struggling through this one.”
Between rounds, Susan Hirasuna, the chapter’s vice president for broadcast, offered up several raffle and auction prizes, including a pair of JetBlue round-trip tickets (with a total value of $1,500), a Comcast cable package ($1,200), Staples Center luxury box seats to a Laker game ($750) and an Eagles concert ($500), and lunch for four at the Fox commissary dining room and goodie bag ($300).
Eleven scholarship winners were announced at this year’s Trivia Bowl; the chapter awarded a total of $10,000 to local students. One of top awards was the Peter Imamura Memorial Scholarship, recently revived by the chapter. The scholarship memorializes a reporter at the Riverside Press-Enterprise who died in 1993 at age 38. In the early 1980s, Imamura was an active member of the then newly formed AAJA Los Angeles Chapter.
“AAJA did a lot for Peter,” said Imamura’s widow, Ann Slocum. “It really helped to put him back on the right track.”
Although Trivia Bowl started the year after Imamura died, Slocum said, he would have enjoyed the spirit of the event.
“Peter was very casual, mellowed out,” she said. “He would have loved this because it is so much fun.”
As usual, there were questions that every team answered correctly, as well as a few in each round that stumped all but a handful of teams. This year, only one question stumped everyone: Although “The Phantom Tollbooth” is a children’s classic, no one could name the two warring kingdoms featured in the book: Dictionopolis and Digitopolis.
After the legal center’s win, other teams from the area’s media organizations couldn’t help but wonder what happened. Again. In 2001 and 2002, the Japanese American Bar Association took top honors, each time besting a second-place Los Angeles Times team. The top spot returned to journalists with the Register’s win in 2003 and KNBC 4’s win last year. However, the return of the lawyers in 2005 didn’t sit well.
Lisa Fung, captain of the Los Angeles Times team that closely trailed the legal center after each round, said she couldn’t believe that the lawyers had managed to pull off a win again.
“We made a few stupid errors during one of the rounds, which may or may not have made a difference in the end,” she said. “But we’ll get them next year!”
After the event, Pak, a reporter at the Register, was adamant about strategizing ways to beat the legal center next year.
“I really can’t believe a group of attorneys beat us. It’s disheartening, actually,” she said. “I think the Register team needs to powwow before the event and brush up on facts and trivia. We cannot let them beat us next year. Cannot.”
Others believed that the win by a prominent legal organization was to be expected.
“Seeing APALC take the prize was no shock,” said Pierson of the Times. “I mean, if I were smart, I would have gone to law school.”
For the legal center, victory was sweet, especially because it came against some of the largest media organizations in the region.
“We like to kick them when they’re down,” joked Huang, a policy advocate at the center. “Our strategy? Just do it.”
View our photo gallery from the event.
Laurie Kawakami, a graduate student at USC, was the winner of this year’s Peter Imamura Memorial Scholarship. The judges were so impressed by her clips that they asked her to write this article about Trivia Bowl.�