John Dicker and Joel Peach wanted their inaugural Geek Bowl to be a gala event, so they packed it to the gills with entertainment: music, short films, comedy. But the legions of Geeks who trekked across the state last January for this quiz-a-thon didn't want entertainment. They just wanted trivia, lots of it, and the opportunity to prove themselves the best trivia experts in the state — earning a hefty cash prize in the process.
I was one of the unfortunate comics who'd signed on. At hour two of the six-hour affair, I watched a buddy who's a great comic perform, but he survived only by the skin of his teeth. The audience suffered through his act thoroughly unamused, if polite — but they were only mildly drunk at that point. By the time it was my turn to perform at hour four, the audience was shitfaced and raucous. All they wanted was trivia, not another comic. I knew I would have to bring it — so I went into bar-comic mode and came out swinging.
"Goddamn, you guys are a rowdy bunch!" I screamed, then singled out a team of trivia players in matching orange and white softball jerseys. "Look at these guys," I said. "Since when did Geeks Who Drink turn into Meatheads Who Date-Rape?"
The drunks cackled their approval, and I figured I'd come up with a funny line. But I later learned that I could not have picked a better team to mock. Unknowingly, I'd skewered the Slump Busters, one of the best — and consequently most reviled — teams in all of Geekdom.
To fully explore the world of trivia and see what it's like to be a bona fide Geeky badass, I decided I needed to play with the Slump Busters. So I join them one Tuesday evening in the basement of the Irish Snug.
Sliding into a booth, I'm greeted by Rob Knight, aka Evil Rob, and his fiancée, Shannon McEwen. We talk about the Geek Bowl and how they enjoyed my ribbing. In my honor, they decide that tonight we will be called Meatheads Who Date-Rape. Whatever's clever, pub nerds. Rob and Shannon (The Evils, as they're known on the circuit) met online and had their first date over trivia. They clicked immediately and after a quiz-laden courtship, Evil Rob surprised Shannon one night by guest-hosting a round with increasingly romantic questions. The final bonus query: Will you marry me? Shannon agreed, and a wedding is scheduled for May. Dicker and Peach will host a quiz as part of the reception.
It's obvious that the Evils take their quiz seriously (so seriously that Rob is a recently appointed Geeks Who Drink quizmaster at Greenfield's in Lakewood on Thursday nights). "I won the Tallahassee Democrat Big Bend Regional High School Brain Bowl in 1994," Evil Rob says with pride between sips of rum and Coke. "And I've been a big trivia fan my whole life. I played a bunch of other trivia nights before Geeks Who Drink were around, but this is by far my favorite. It's the most original trivia night out there."
Soon we are joined by other members of the Slump Busters: Shawn Hermosillo, Julio Trujillo and Russ Esposito. They are all clad in team jerseys, and Hermosillo hands me an extra jersey with the name "Sugar Pants" on the back. I don it proudly, then sit back and marvel at Esposito's shit-talking. He's prolific on the Geeks' blog, getting e-tough with anyone who takes on his squad, but he packs a punch in person, too.
"There was this one team, the Justice League in Fort Collins," Esposito explains. "They started challenging us, so we sort of surprised them one night and showed up at CooperSmith's Pub to take them on. Turns out, though, it was a quiz we had already done. But we figured, what's more important, the integrity of the quiz or fucking with someone we don't like? So we smoked those bitches."
While all of the rivalries are actually good-natured, there's no denying that being a Slump Buster carries a certain stigma. As I walk around the bar in my Sugar Pants jersey, everyone seems a little hostile toward me. A few friends who are playing on another team scoff openly at the fact that I associate myself with these Date-Raping Meatheads.
But I'm proud to be a Slump Buster. Because I'll be damned if they don't know their trivia. I've played trivia on many occasions, with Geeks Who Drink and elsewhere, and my team usually finishes pretty high. But these guys are on some next-level shit. Geography, movies, literature, obscure sitcoms — they just bat it out like they've memorized multiplication tables. At one point, the quizmaster asks for the members of Bon Jovi besides Jon Bon Jovi, and by the time I pummel my synapses into unearthing Ricky Sambora, Esposito and Evil Rob have already written down Sambora as well as Tico Torres, David Bryan and the no-longer-in-the-band Alec John Such.
We lead the pack for the entire game, but when the final scores come in, we're tied with another team for first place. We're now over two hours into the night, longer than the Geeks typically like to run, but we're not going anywhere. It's tie-breaker time, bitches.
"What else am I going to do?" Esposito queries to no one in particular. "Go home and watch more Smallville?"
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We're asked five questions, and once Dicker has tallied the final scores, the Slump Busters win again. By one point. You can feel everyone in the bar sighing. Dicker comes over and snaps a photo of the victorious team to post on tomorrow's blog. As the place empties, I give back my Sugar Pants jersey and feel reborn, like a snake shedding his old skin.
I ask Esposito where they got the name Slump Busters. He explains that back in the day, when he was in the middle of a lengthy, ugly slump, then-Chicago Cub Mark Grace was giving a particularly irreverent interview. Asked how he'd break out of his slump, he said he'd go to a bar and take home the fattest, ugliest woman he could find: a slumpbuster. A couple of weeks later, after Grace had turned things around, the same interviewer asked how he'd done it. Grace just looked at him and smiled.