West Van youth finishes strong on Canada's Smartest Person Junior

He may not have won the title but he most certainly won the crowd.

After more than a month of competition, 10-year-old Collingwood School student Matthew Yu finished in the top three on CBC’s Canada’s Smartest Person Junior, a spinoff version of the popular adult TV show that, in this youthful iteration, saw a dozen kids from across the country face off in competition as they used their smarts, skills and creative intelligence across six varied categories.

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“You were the youngest competitor and you did more than hold your own,” show host Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, of Kim’s Convenience fame, told Matthew during the sixth and final episode which aired on Dec. 19.

“The season finale was really intense and there was just do-or-die challenges,” Yu told the North Shore News following the conclusion of the series. “I was really nervous.”

After weeks of competition – which saw him and his high-smarts cohort of students from around the country compete in everything from the Cake Mix Challenge, where they had to replicate a cake design using visual skills and logic, and the Tower of Intelligence, where participants had to use blocks and rope to balance a perpetually unbalanced platform – Yu might have wished for a higher placing but ultimately enjoyed the whole ride.

“I feel that it was a really good journey. I thought that it was an awesome experience and I learned a lot,” he said. “The hardest part of the competition was to see my friends get eliminated – because they’re my friends!”

In the final episode, Yu was bested by the Concession Conundrum event, placing third behind 11-year-old Mateus from Toronto and 12-year-old Alexia from Calgary.

In Concession Conundrum, the three remaining competitors had to step into a giant concession machine filled with a number of yellow “popcorn” foam balls along with a few coloured balls. An underground fan propelled the foam balls airborne and the competitors were tasked with trying to grab the coloured balls out of the air and then placing them onto a puzzle board making sure the balls were arranged so that no two of the same colour were adjacent to each other.

“In reality, when you’re on stage it’s way harder than it looks,” explained Yu.

Although Canada’s Smartest Person Junior started airing in November, the show was actually filmed during the summer and Yu had to make sure he didn’t let slip the results before the finale aired last month.

“Every day at school … people just came running to me and asked, ‘Did you win? Did you win?’ and always I’d say, ‘Just watch,’” he said.

Canada’s Smartest Person Junior is inspired by the theory of multiple intelligences which suggests that humans contain multitudes and shouldn’t necessarily be judged merely by a single dominant ability. Participants were challenged in a number of diverse categories, including physical, musical, social, linguistic, logical and visual intelligences.

“A lot of people now in the world think that ‘smart’ is only sitting there at the desk and doing math problems all day – math is the main thing when people hear of smarts,” said Yu. “But I learned that smart comes in a lot of ways, and even if you’re good at sports that’s considered smart.”

Asked what his favourite challenge was during the duration of the series, Yu pointed to the Pipe Fitters challenge from the fourth episode.

“You have to connect pipes in a certain way and then at the end you have to pump water through them so the little cup at the end is filled,” he said.

“I thought it was a pretty fun logic challenge.”

Although Yu’s Canada’s Smartest Person Junior journey has now come to an end he said he was grateful for the experience and the friends he made along the way. He even got a shout out from West Vancouver district council recently, who granted him a Certificate of Recognition during its Dec. 12 meeting.

“I was there mainly to have fun, I wasn’t there to really get a place or something – I know that would be awesome, but I was mainly there to have fun,” said Yu. “I would like thank all my friends, all my family, my coaches, my debate coach, and my parents, the West Vancouver mayor and, of course, my school for supporting me.”

His advice for other would-be young competitors: don’t be afraid to apply for the show in the future.

“I actually never even thought I would get in with the 12 kids. I never thought I would, but I actually just wanted to try it out and push myself through.”

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