Nebraska 6th-Grader Is Geography Whiz Kid

Akshay Rajagopal, 11, of Lincoln, Neb., holds up his prizes after winning the National Geographic Bee geography competition in Washington on May 21, 2008. The sixth grader, who was the youngest of the top ten finalists, won the 20th annual bee by getting no answers wrong.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Quick: Cochabamba is the third-largest conurbation in what country?

Your answer might be, "Huh?" But 11-year-old Akshay Rajagopal answered "Bolivia" to clinch the 20th annual National Geographic Bee on Wednesday.

A conurbation is a large, densely populated urban area - and Cochabamba is the third-largest one in the South American country.

Akshay's correct answer capped a two-day event in which he got every question right. A sixth-grader at Lux Middle School in Lincoln, Neb., he won a $25,000 scholarship.

Along the way, Akshay answered questions that included the westernmost Asian national capital (Ankara in Turkey), the country where Makossa is a popular type of music (Cameroon), and the location of Tillya Tepe (it's in Afghanistan).

"Some of them were hard but others were OK," Akshay said as he held an oversized check. "I think I was just lucky."

As he blitzed the competition, his family looked on from the front of the auditorium at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington. He boned up for several months by studying geography DVDs and textbooks.

"He's been interested in geography since he was 5," said his mother, Suchitra Srinivas.

"It was just sheer elation," Vijay Rajagopal, told CBS New correspondent Thalia Assuras about how he was feeling after his son's triumph. "Pure joy, I guess... being very proud."

One student from every U.S. state and territory, along with a student from a military family, took part in the competition run by National Geographic. Akshay was the youngest of the 10 finalists, all boys.

"Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who has moderated the bee for all 20 years, called it the "national annual humiliation," exposing that a group of middle schoolers has vastly more knowledge of geography than most of the nation.

"The kids never cease to amaze us," Trebek said.

And they give him a sense of optimism for the future as well. He calls their accomplishments "good news" for the country.

"These young people understand that if you're going to get along in the world, it helps if you know something of the other countries and other peoples of the world," Trebek told Assuras.

The runner-up was 13-year-old Hunter Bledsoe, 13, a student at Hewitt Trussville Middle School, Trussville, Ala.

Akshay, whose hobbies include collecting coins, is considering some kind of career that involves geography, but he has plenty of time to make up his mind. For now, he just likes to study the globe.

"I get to learn about the world and how it works, which is cool," he said.

The eight other finalists, and their schools, are: Nikhil Desai, 13, Challenger School, Newark, Calif.; Benjamin Geyer, 14, British School of Washington, Washington; Erik Troske, 14, Barker Middle School, Michigan City, Ind.; William Lee, 13, Joyce Middle School, Woburn, Mass.; Isaac Pasley, 14, West Junior High School, Columbia, Mo.; Joseph Perea, 13, home schooled, Eureka, Mont.; Milan Sandhu, 13, Ross A. Lurgio Middle School, Bedford, N.H.; and Taylor Morris, 13, Charles D. Owen Middle School, Swannanoa, N.C.