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TV Review: ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?’

March 2, 2007

After writing about FOX’s new game show “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” early in February, I originally thought we were going to see the next “Rich List” — a game show that’s yanked from the air after just one airing.

The “Smarter” cast (FOX)But the ratings are inJeff Foxworthy and his class of mighty mites are not going anywhere.

The show just finished up its initial three-night run with the biggest series debut ratings in network history (getting the post-American Idol boost), which helped FOX wins the February sweeps period — it’s the first time the network not hosting the Super Bowl broadcast has won the month.

The show falls into its regular time slot next Thursday, where it will get one more post-Idol boost before seeing how well it stacks up on its own the following week.

And according to the Washington Post’s Lisa de Moraes, the show will be on until April 19, getting an extension past its original six-episode trial run. Wikipedia has a notation saying the show is currently being developed for Australian and Brazilian TV as well.

In my opinion, it’s well deserved.

I’m a huge fan of game shows, and I have been ever since I was four, when I watched them religiously with my grandmother. I learned to count by watching the old game shows Bullseye and Card Sharks (unfortunately, only in $25 increments). Allegedly, my first words weren’t “Mommy” or “Daddy”, but “Come on Down!” (I highly doubt this legend…)

So after watching all three episodes off my DVR last night, I have a few thoughts about the show to share with you, mostly positive ones.

Also, after the jump, I have a list of the first three shows’ questions, so you can privately test yourself and your co-workers, to see if you are, in fact, smarter than an elementary-school student.


I’m going to break it down to the show’s components:

First, here’s the show’s promo commercial from YouTube:

THE SHOW OPEN: Good theme music (sounds like kids singing, the tune is catchy) as Jeff Foxworthy enters the massive classroom-themed set. The students then come in, drop of their bookbags in their cubby holes and take their seats at the set desks. Cute.
The audience is seated behind the contestant’s podium and up above the set. It’s one of the better game show sets I’ve seen in a while — rustic and familiar-feeling, instead of shiny and polished.

THE HOST: Foxworthy is the best part of the show. He uses just the right amount of chiding when contestants struggle.
He has a very good repore with the student cast. Maybe that’s because Foxworthy’s image is just as everyday and familiar as the set is — he is the everyday guy, and many times, his remarks to the contestants are shared by the viewers.

THE KIDS: Many of the comments on my previous two posts about the show (here and here) complain that the “cockiness” of the kids put them off.
Think about it though … if a 5th grader DID actually know an answer over you, shouldn’t they have the right to gloat a little? Remember, according to reports, these kids are all card-carrying actors, so keep that in mind as they try to mug for the camera a bit during their time in the spotlight.
But all in all, I’m digging the kid cast. They all have that “spunk” you’d expect from kid geniuses. And I don’t think they’ve missed a question yet.

THE CONTESTANTS: Ugh.
I hope it’s a case that American adults just forget little unused details from school that aren’t often used or recalled, and not the fact that they never learned the knowledge they are lacking.
Last night, a contestant named Larry (a college grad) had trouble counting the letter “e” in a phrase, he didn’t know how many teaspoons in a tablespoon (which I didn’t get right either…it’s 3, not 2), almost choked on multiplying 2 times 5, and he bragged that he wanted to buy a camouflage Lamborghini. (“Great. You want a $400,000 car, with a paint job so no one can see it.” Foxworthy joked. Perfect comedic timing.)
If the producers were in fact aiming to feature the beautiful, yet brainless, they have succeeded in spades.

THE GAME: Too slow! This is my biggest complaint. They need to spend about 3 minutes less per question, and move at a pace that “1 vs. 100” uses.
And some of the questions labeled as first- and second-grade level difficulty are way harder … like the question about teaspoons/tablespoons above, which I didn’t learn until Home Economics/Cooking/Sewing/”Make your wife/girlfriend happy you’re domesticated/housebroken” class in 8th grade.
First-grade science was a question about “which bear species is the biggest?” … most kids in first grade would know more about Care Bears than polar bears (the correct answer).

Here are the questions from the first three episodes. Test yourself, and I’ll post the answers in the comments section below:

  1. First Grade Social Studies: In what month do we observe Columbus Day?
  2. 4th grade math: If a triangle has a base of eight inches, and an area of 16 square inches, what is the height of the triangle?
  3. 4th grade U.S. History: Who was the first US President to be impeached?
  4. 2nd Grade History: Name the ship the pilgrims sailed from Plymouth, England to the Plymouth colony in America in 1620.
  5. 4th grade Science: When talking about sleep, REM stands for what in “an REM cycle?”
  6. 1st Grade Art: If you mix equal amounts of red and yellow paint, what color do you get?
  7. 1st Grade Astronomy: What is the closest star to the Earth?
  8. 2nd Grade Geography: What country has the longest shared border with the United States?
  9. 4th grade geometry: How many sides are on a trapezoid?
  10. 3rd grade reading: True or False?, fiction books are not assigned numbers in the Dewey Decimal system. (how is this a reading question?)
  11. 3rd grade measurements: How many decades in two millennia?
  12. First grade spelling: How many “E’s” are there in the phrase “Pledge of Allegiance”? (ok, not as hard when it’s in front of you!)
  13. 1st Grade Animal Science: True or False? Walruses are native to the Arctic.
  14. 2nd Grade Astronomy: What constellation is the Big Dipper located in?
  15. 2nd Grade Grammar: What is the suffix in the word “undoubtedly”?
  16. 3rd Grade Measurements: How many teaspoons are in 5 tablespoons?
  17. 3rd Grade Health: What is the largest bone in the body?
  18. 2nd Grade World Geography: What percentage of the world is covered by oceans? A) 70, b) 80, or C) 90?
  19. 1st Grade Animal Science: Which species of bear is the largest?
  20. 2nd grade geography: How many U.S. states border the Pacific Ocean?

OVERALL: The show needs a little tweak here and there, but I’m enjoying it greatly. If it picks up the pace a bit, it could be much more entertaining. Grade: B+

[UPDATE: Saw this piece about the show at The Essential Blog:

But the larger issue is the light this casts on education in general. The show is made for its entertainment value, but it casts a rather negative shadow on education in the media. There’s an almost mocking undertone due to the superficial nature of displaying knowledge. Should we really be teaching students that the reason they should learn is to be smarter than their parents on a game show?

I wouldn’t say that programs like “Are You Smarter than Your Fifth Grader?” are offensive to students (most would probably get a kick out of it), but it’s certainly disrespectful to them and their learning, and the work of teachers.

I disagree with this entirely. Knowledge is in no way superficial. Look at the media praise of Ken Jennings on Jeopardy! in 2005 as he ran off his long $2 million winning streak.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t get how the show is disrespectful to today’s kids. It should serve as a very powerful lesson to them: Never stop learning, or look what happens … you’ll get picked for a show that’ll give you $100,000 to embarrass yourself on national TV.

Hmmm….that’s just about the right price for me…

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25 Comments
  1. March 2, 2007 11:29 am

    1. October
    2. Four (4×8=32, then 32/2=16)
    3. Andrew Johnson (Bill Clinton was the second, neither were convicted by the Senate.)
    4. The Mayflower
    5. Rapid Eye Movement
    6. Orange
    7. The Sun
    8. Canada
    9. Four (two parallel sides, two not parallel)
    10. False
    11. 200 (2000 years/10 = 200)
    12. Four
    13. True
    14. Ursa Major
    15. “-ly”
    16. 15 (3 teaspoons x 5 = 15)
    17. The femur (thigh bone)
    18. A) 70 percent
    19. Polar Bear
    20. Five (Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington)

  2. March 2, 2007 3:27 pm

    I like the show but the pacing is very, very slow.

    My other problem with it is that it’s a clear criticism of the way we educate children in the U.S. through rote knowledge which actually has no bearing on how we conduct ourselves as adults. We should be teaching our kids how to find out what the largest bear is, instead of having to memorize it.

  3. March 2, 2007 3:30 pm

    Brian, sometimes you need to memorize details. Though, if I’m attacked by a charging polar bear, I bet my first thought will be “dang, that IS the biggest bear I’ve ever seen!” And will be the last thing I see most likely…:-)

  4. March 2, 2007 4:49 pm

    I often wonder about the ratings for this type of show that just happens to follow American Idol which runs until 9:30 leaving television viewers with very little choice at that point since other programming may already be at the half way point if it was an hour long show that began at 9:0o. Are the ratings high because people just leave it on, waiting for the 10:00 shows?

    I watched it the first night and hated it. It seemed like it took them 30 minutes to get through about 4 questions. It horrifies me to think people are really that stupid. I also dislike the cliff-hanger technique of waiting for a ridiculous amount of time for an answer.

    When it comes to game shows, I’ll stick with Jeopardy.

  5. March 2, 2007 7:43 pm

    This is a portion of my post about this gameshow.

    “If all I had to worry about in any given day was who I was going to play with on the school yard during recess and which species of bear is the largest in the world, my life would be pretty golden and I’m guessing I could remember things like how many states border the Pacific Ocean and how many teaspoons fit into five tablespoons. As soon as a fifth grader can answer all questions relating to juggling the world of jobs and careers, voting, paying taxes, caring for sick, aging parents, buying and taking care of a home, raising children, paying bills, saving for retirement and college tuition, navigating the very difficult world of adult relationships and marriage, then we’ll talk.

    You’ll have to excuse me if I had to erase some of that all-important fifth grade trivia I learned to get my masters degree or become a specialist in my career field. Incidentally, not once, in any job interview I’ve had, has any interviewer asked me if I could correctly name the boat on which the pilgrims sailed to get to America.”

    That is half of my problem with the show – the other half is what it teaches children about how to talk to and treat adults.

  6. Dave permalink
    March 5, 2007 3:30 am

    The show is interested but its just too slow to watch. I cant sit there for 30 min while 4-5 questions are asked… its a good show but come on pick up the pace.

  7. Renee Cambra permalink
    March 6, 2007 2:36 pm

    I just love the show. I do however, have to agree that the pace is a bit slow. As for some of the comments you need to all relax. It’s not a matter of how kids treat adults, remember they are actors as well as kids and I think the way the treat the adults is justified. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

  8. March 8, 2007 9:33 pm

    I am a fifth grader at st.peter’s school in canada these question’s are easy !if any question’s email mackie_royals_27@hotmail.com thank you mackie!

  9. Dawn permalink
    March 10, 2007 11:06 pm

    I tutor 5th graders and they could not sit still for the slow pace of this show which is racking up money with endless commercials but losing the audience’s interest.
    This show’s premise is right on because it does refresh our memories. HOWEVER, I will give the show up if they continue to have a commercial after every 2 questions. And you all are right about the cliffhangers. When commercials come on I change the channel. None of us are so stupid as to let them waste our time. I am so glad for the opportunity to vent. I hope the message my fellow writers have written gets to them.

  10. Kay permalink
    March 12, 2007 6:33 pm

    It’s just a tv show!! Either you find it entertaining or you don’t. No reason for anyone to get upset. If you like it watch it if not don’t.

  11. Marty permalink
    March 15, 2007 7:58 pm

    Was just watching tonight’s episode with my 7th grader. It seems that the producers/adjudicators of the show do not know that “articles”, like a, an, and the, are also adjectives (one of thee eight parts of speech), so the answer that they gave was absolutely wrong!!!
    It seems that no one there is smarter than fifth grader! Sad.

  12. flora whitaker permalink
    March 15, 2007 9:19 pm

    The fifth graders might be a little dumber after this 3/15/07 episode. The answer to the number of adjectives in the sentence, “After playing in the hot sun, I drank four glasses of cold water.” was supposedly 3. There are 4:hot, four, cold, and last time I checked the was an adjective as well, making it 4. It is an adjective, similar to an and a, AKA labeled as articles.

  13. Holly permalink
    March 23, 2007 1:20 am

    Since when are “a, an, or the” adjectives? How do they describe the subject? Boy, I guess they’ve changed grammar rules since I was in school.

  14. Holly permalink
    March 23, 2007 1:22 am

    And “four”? An adjective? Oh my, I am behind! Now if it had said “four tall glasses” then there would be an adjective in there.

  15. Robert permalink
    March 25, 2007 6:58 pm

    Uhh, I didn’t know the Big Dipper question. Fully confess to that. I suck at astronomy. Well, anyway, I suck at second grade astronomy. The astronomy I learned in college didn’t teach me the constellations. It taught me about the theory of gravity and curvature of space time; it taught me about special relativity and stuff, but not a word about the constellations. I lived in a city with lots of light pollution and could hardly see the stars, muchless constellations of them!!!

    So, I guess I’m dumber than a second grader.

    Well, at least I can still beat up a second grader.

  16. March 27, 2007 5:41 am

    I remember as a child how hard it was not to be chosen for the team at school. How are the children selected to answer the questions with the contestants. I noticed on your last show that the little Black girl was selected last and she was the only child that the Caucasian lady did not ask her assist her with any question. Also, your show never let this child give her final answer.How do you keep from hurting 5th graders feeling???

  17. March 29, 2007 11:31 pm

    I absolutely refuse to watch one more second of this show until you can spend more time on the show and less time on commercials. IT RUINS THE WHOLE PROGRAM TO HAVE ONE QUESTION AND ONE ANSWER, THEN A STINKING COMMERCIAL BREAK THAT LASTS longer than all of the questions and answers put together.

    IT’S BACK TO UGLY BETTY FOR ME.

  18. March 29, 2007 11:37 pm

    TOO MANY LONG LONG COMMERCIAL BREAKS. REDICULOUS, IT RUINS THE WHOLE SHOW.

    IF I HAD PATIENCE TO WAIT FOR COMMERCIALS TO END I MIGHT BE ABLE TO SEE IF THE SHOW IS WORTH WATCHING.

    I LOVE JEFF FOXWORTHY, IT’S A SHAME YOU HAVE TO RUIN IT.

    IT’S BACK TO UGLY BETTY FOR ME…

  19. y. kelley permalink
    April 20, 2007 1:11 pm

    I like the show. I have four grandchildren, ages 6 -10, and they like the show. The kids on the show are very cute (and smart) and Jeff F. does a good job. The only thing I DO NOT like is when they have contestants that are ANNOYING!!

  20. April 26, 2007 8:41 pm

    would like to know how show ended up on April 26
    weather forcasting prevented us from seeing climax –did he go for $1,000,000 or quit at $500,000
    Thank you for informing us of this

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