The world is his oyster: Idaho boy a finalist in national geography bee — again

Nicholas Monahan of Idaho answers a question during the 2017 National Geographic Bee preliminary round held in Washington, D.C., on May 15.
Nicholas Monahan of Idaho answers a question during the 2017 National Geographic Bee preliminary round held in Washington, D.C., on May 15. National Geographic

For many of us, the allure of maps is long past now that GPS apps have taken over most of our navigational needs. But not for 14-year-old Nicholas Monahan, a McCall teen whose expertise is all over the map — literally.

Monahan, an eighth-grader at Payette Lakes Middle School, just made it to the finals of the National Geographic Bee and will compete Wednesday against nine others to take the contest’s top spot.

By now, Monahan is an old pro at the geography bee circuit. He started competing in fourth grade, making this is fifth year as a contestant. Two years ago he earned his top spot to date: seventh in the nation out of a field of 54, the best of each state, along with Washington, D.C., the Atlantic and Pacific Territories and Department of Defense.

“I’ve had more time to prepare,” Monahan said, though he doesn’t think his previous experience has earned him much of a competitive edge.

The geography bee is a bit more complex than the more well-known spelling bee. Questions can come from different categories (like economic geography, physical geography or geographic comparisons) and be presented in different formats, like multiple choice. Monahan said one category he found particularly challenging required competitors to explain why they chose their answer.

“There’s no specific right or wrong answer,” he said.

So what trips the geography genius up? The islands of the Pacific can be especially tricky, Monahan said, but he’s been studying them. He doesn’t have a particular study technique, mostly reading from Wikipedia articles, perusing different maps and leafing through the various atlases he’s won in past competitions. He especially enjoys learning about the northwestern U.S., he said.

One of his favorite things about his vast knowledge of the world, Monahan said, is reflecting on the places he’s traveled to. His favorite? Well, it’s not too far from home: Yellowstone National Park. In fact, Monahan said learning about national parks is one of his favorite parts of studying geography, along with researching sites tied to historical events.

The teenager said he’s not sure he’ll continue to compete in geography competitions as he gets older. The National Geographic Bee is open only to kids in fourth through eighth grades, making this Monahan’s last year to compete.

“I’m feeling nervous,” he said on Tuesday. “It would be fun to have the experience again, but I’d like to win tomorrow.”

Watch Nicholas compete

You can catch the final and championship rounds Friday, May 19, on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Nicholas will compete against nine other kids in the finals:

  • Ahilan Eraniyan- California
  • Rohan Kanchana- Delaware
  • Max Garon- District of Columbia
  • Lucas Eggers- Minnesota
  • Abhinav Govindaraju- New Hampshire
  • Veda Bhattaram- New Jersey
  • Pranay Varada- Texas
  • Anish Susarla- Virginia
  • Thomas Wright- Wisconsin