Channel 4’s Child Genius: why the losers are the real winners

Winner of Channel 4 Child Genius 2013 Shrinidi PrakashCongratulations to Shrinidi Prakash, who won the final of the Child Genius 2013 competition run by Mensa and broadcast on Channel 4 last night. She is a worthy winner, excelling at mental arithmetic, reasoning, spelling, memory tasks and (last night) debating. Even more impressively, she is the daughter of Indian immigrant parents whose first language is not English. All the other competitors had English parents. Shrinidi was already an under-12 international scrabble champ. Her extraordinary command of English must surely be down to her love of books (which she enjoys sniffing as well as reading!).

Congratulations also to the losers for learning a precious lesson: you won’t always be the best, you are fallible, you are human after all. I suspect for the majority of the contestants this will have been their first experience of “failure”. It’s just as well to learn this lesson while you’re still young. No matter how smart you are, it’s difficult or even impossible to make friends, form relationships and work with colleagues without a degree of humility, and without good friends, partners and colleagues, life is going to be a challenge. That’s a lesson worth a hundred trophies.

The stand-out memory of the competition for me came after one kid, who had been particularly insufferable in earlier sequences of his home life (he wasn’t alone in that regard), realised that he had been knocked out of the competition. As it sunk in, he stood motionless on the podium under the bright TV lights with his eyes squeezed shut and the bright diamonds of tears appearing between his eyelashes. When he got back to his seat with the other competitors, the boy sitting next to him – a chess prodigy called Oscar – leaned towards him and whispered something. There was genuine concern on his face. The mics didn’t pick up what he said but as with all reality TV, lip readers had been employed by the show and his words flashed up in a subtitle.

“It doesn’t matter.”

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