- Final Round
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It’s the last round of the fourteenth annual Presbyterian United Bible Quiz, and Freddy Hansook Chung of Glendale, California, is in the lead with 7,300 points—2,100 ahead of second place. Staring into the dark auditorium where his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Young Min Chung, are sitting with their well-worn Bibles and sending telepathic cheers to their Young American Hope, Freddy takes a deep breath and locks his fingers over the rubber buzzer pod, which by now is as hot and pliant as a woman’s breast, or what he imagines a woman’s breast must feel like. The buzzer even has a nipple, a Phillips-head screw working a dent into his palm with each push, and twice [End Page 11] Freddy has given it a gentle squeeze for good luck. The buzzer works perfectly, like an extension of his hand. There is almost no delay between the moment of depression and the electronic brring of his bell, unlike some of the homemade buzzers he’s had to endure in his long quest to qualify for PUBQ XIV, the “Super Bowl of Bible Quizzes,” as printed on the event’s program. Tonight eleven-year-old Freddy has been vicious and relentless. He buzzes before questions are finished, stating curtly and emphatically the number of palm trees present in Elim when the Israelites arrived there after escaping Egypt (seventy) and reciting obscure, multiline Bible verses without stopping to think or even punctuate.
But in the moments before the first question of this notoriously difficult final round, in which all answers are worth double and triple points, Freddy, the clear favorite to win, is suddenly nervous. He knows that each of the four contestants, even Kyle Peterson with his hapless –800 on the board, has a shot at winning the grand prize: a two-year college scholarship, a $2,000 cash purse and a top-seeded spot in the Interdenominational Bible Quiz Tournament to be held this winter in Houston. He is aware that the questions in this round were written by an external committee of professors, not the church volunteers of PUBQ, to ensure maximum difficulty. But none of this is what is making him nervous.
The 347 audience members sit up in their seats as the emcee, a portly quipster in a vintage tuxedo, explains just how nail-bitingly intense these next sixteen minutes will be, calling for complete silence and, of course, no flash photography. The four Access-TV cameras home in on the anxious teens onstage, and the volunteer orchestra begins its chilling, if slightly off-key, score, cueing the host of the final round, Reverend Richard Sterling of Tallahassee, to step to the podium for Question Number One.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” the reverend booms in a voice like a prewar radio announcer’s. “Thank you kindly for your patience. We begin round one with biblical terminology. . . .”
Freddy’s stomach is bothering him. Aside from the diminishing wad of notebook paper he’s been chewing between rounds, the boy has not eaten in eleven hours. Even the miyukgook his mother made him this morning in the hotel kitchenette only stayed down until after registration. Seaweed soup is not his favorite, but his mother had insisted that it was what you ate for good luck. Freddy always knows what days his father is going to a job interview or to meet someone important because the scent of seaweed, anchovy broth and garlic will fill every corner of their two-bedroom apartment. Even three [End Page 12] thousand miles from home, in alien Manhattan, his mother made sure last night to stop by a Korean grocery store to buy the ingredients, dragging the family off the sightseeing bus at sunset to get there before it closed. “For someone so religious,” his father grumbled as the three of them hustled into a subway car, “you sure take your folklore seriously.”
The reverend picks out a crisp index card from the center of the box, raising it to his face with a flourish of wrist.
“Question one, from the Book...