Inside Geek Bowl V
It's hard to understand the magnitude of Geek Bowl unless you go. The numbers are readily available: 129 teams, 64 questions, $7,000 in prize money. But none of that gets you to what this thing is like. There's a temptation to imagine a boozier Knowledge Bowl, an almost standardized-testing type atmosphere. That's if you can conceive it at all. Pub quizzes are not a standard part of the American cultural understanding in general, and a pub quiz so large it must be held in a venue who will next host George Clinton just doesn't even make sense. For the second year in a row, I was a Geek Bowl volunteer, and Geek Bowl V was at least twice as ridiculous as Geek Bowl IV.
My official role as a sorter had me both in the auditorium itself and down in the Fillmore's green rooms. First of all: the Fillmore has ridiculous backstage accommodations. At least three dressing rooms, all with showers and couches, and a large lounge room. I'm guessing a lot of drugs have been consumed in front of those vanity mirrors, but none on the night of Geek Bowl.
Last year at the Gothic, backstage was a little chaotic -- one cramped room and too many things happening at once. This year, with OCD levels of organization and a single-family home's worth of space, the two-dozen or so sorters, scorers and data enterers churned through color-coded answer sheets like it was our jobs. Which it wasn't -- Geek Bowl depends on volunteers. It seems like something on this scale would be a big money-maker for Geeks Who Drink, but actually it loses money every year. Especially now that it's being held at the Fillmore, which has a ludicrously high rental fee. The typical concert held at the largest venue of this type in Denver makes money by not doing a lot of things Geek Bowl does: Filling the floor with tables, thereby cutting capacity into a fraction of the standing-room usual; incurring a whole bunch of one-time production expenses like clerical robes for an entire chorus of Quizmasters; and, of course, giving away $7,000.
The production involved is another thing you kind of have to be there for. It's all a lot more effective if you go to a Geeks Who Drink quiz regularly and are therefore versed on the many in-jokes and references ("Fuck Philly"). Geeks Who Drink is very much a culture, and while there are plenty of teams who play casually and sporadically in its various venues, the ones who show up at Geek Bowl are typically neither casual nor sporadic.
Even if you did happen to wander in off the streets (and, with the much larger capacity at the Fillmore, at least some of those teams had to have no idea what they were getting themselves in for), there was plenty to keep you entertained. The whole thing opens every year with an elaborate song and dance number involving the willful abandonment of dignity by lots of people affiliated with GWD. The music round at Geek Bowl is performed by live musicians -- this year a proper mariachi band whose covers included "Unchained Melody" and "Ob-la-di Ob-la-da". There was, as always, an intermission comedy set from Adam Cayton-Holland, and that would be one of a few surprises from this year -- he got booed off the stage! I guess his baby-killing, Mexican-cartel-violence jokes were misinterpreted as a lecture on baby-killing and Mexican cartel violence.
Geeks Bowl has been expanding steadily since it started five years ago, but this was the biggest leap yet. There's probably no space in Denver capable of accommodating an even larger Bowl. And things like this have to level out at some point, right? You can't experience exponential growth forever. Maybe this was Geek Bowl's peak. Or maybe not -- we'll find out next year.