Ryan Vickers has always loved game shows and this month he is touring the Atlantic provinces recruiting high school contestants for the quiz show he now hosts — Reach for the Top.
The Mount Allison University alumnus is back in New Brunswick with his "professional game show buzzers," which he sets up during his visits.
"I played Reach for the Top when I was in high school and then I helped coach teams over the years," he said of his path to becoming the national host. "I am a game show nut."
On this visit to Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton, he reads out questions as the teams of four face off.
"Twenty-point special — name all four railroads on a standard Monopoly board," Vickers says in his friendly but firm game show-host voice. No one gets that one (the answer is Pennsylvania, B&O, Short Line and Reading) so he moves on.
WATCH | Moncton students buzz in to win:
The next category is speed math. "What is the volume of a cube with side lengths of six units?"
The red side buzzes in and when Vickers calls on "player number three," she gives the correct answer of 216. She is met with an emphatic, "Well done you — that's correct," from Vickers, and murmurs of approval from the onlooking students and teachers.
'Athletics for the Mind'
Vickers's love of game shows began as a child and grew when he was old enough to compete.
"It started with Wheel of Fortune in 1997 which helped to pay the bulk of my Mount Allison education, which I'm very proud of," Vickers said.
He has also competed on Let's Make A Deal and The Price Is Right and laughs about being a Canadian contestant and winning — of all things — a hockey table.
Vickers is a teacher in Ontario, but has been taking a break from the classroom to work on Family Feud Canada in the audience department, and to promote Canada's high school quiz show, which has expanded to also include middle school competitions.
He says he loves how Reach for the Top celebrates teamwork.
"It's fun — I call it athletics for the mind," he said. "I pinch myself so many times — the fact that I get to work now in the game show industry."
At Bernice MacNaughton High School students take turns sitting across from one another with their hands hovering above the buzzers, while their classmates cheer them on.
Grade 11 student Charlotte Upright joined the team at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton this year.
She loves trivia and is happy to finally have an outlet for her skills. Upright has discovered her specialty is "quick math" and "fast-naming gods from mythology."
"I've always been privy to an ensemble of random facts," she said. "I really enjoy being able to come and just provide what once was useless to something that actually is beneficial."
This is Spencer Bell's second year playing Reach for the Top for his school. The Grade 10 student is already a bit of a legend after correctly answering a 40-point question in a tournament last year — before the question was even read.
"I accidentally pressed the buzzer because it was my first tournament and I just said a random name — I said William Shakespeare, and I got it right."
Sarah Hackett, who is in Grade 10, is a veteran of the game. She's already been playing for four years thanks to a close connection with high school teacher and coach Natasha LeBlanc, who is also her mom.
"I love trivia," she said. "I've watched Jeopardy for a long time which most people call me a grandma for," she laughed.
A chance to show off what you know
LeBlanc beams with pride when she talks about the students she has coached over the past 20 years. She hopes the visit from Vickers will bring even more interest.
"We've got students coming in in Grade 9 who already know everything about the periodic table, we've got students that will say, 'Ms. LeBlanc … I don't think I know anything.'"
She says one student who didn't think she would get a single question correct, ended up winning a big game thanks to her knowledge of fencing.
It allows the students who may not have found their niche otherwise — they might not join a sports team or they may not get on student council — but they can come to Reach for the Top. - Natasha LeBlanc, teacher and coach
"And what was the last question to win that tournament? It was a fencing question and she got to be the hero."
LeBlanc says the categories range from fencing to Pokémon to world history. She says it's fulfilling to see every student get the opportunity to show off what they know.
"It allows the students who may not have found their niche otherwise, they might not join a sports team or they may not get on student council — but they can come to Reach for the Top."
Right now Bernice MacNaughton has the only high school team in Moncton, and LeBlanc hopes Vickers will be successful in recruiting some new schools.
"We do it for fun … it's not high pressure," she said. "And yet my team routinely wins their category or comes in second place. We've been to nationals three times just working on fun."
When quizzed about their goal for the season, the students say that's an easy one: to win as much as possible, and to have as much fun as possible.