PQB Interview: Graham Wilson

Political organizer Graham Wilson has worked on campaigns on nearly every level. From state legislatures to U.S. Senate races and even a presidential campaign, Graham has established himself as an expert in field operations for elections of any size. He is now the national field director for a campaign committee based in Washington, DC. Before getting into politics, Graham played quiz bowl. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Graham about his experiences with the game and the impact it had on his education, friendships and more.

Play Quiz Bowl – How did you get involved in quiz bowl?

Graham Wilson – I started playing Quiz Bowl at the end of my sophmore (maybe junior) year of high school. One of my best friends had joined the team and encouraged me to do so.

PQB – Tell us a bit about your playing career. What were some of your career highlights?

GW – We competed in a number of tournaments across the state and in Nationals during my senior year. At the time, I had a very deep and narrow set of quiz bowl knowledge. If it was one of the couple topics I knew well, I’d be able to get the answer really quickly. In terms of competitions, my enduring memory is finishing just outside of where we should have been. Coming in third when we should have been top 2, coming in 4th when my team outscored the third place team but fell victim to a bad ruling of the judge. The most enduring quiz bowl memory I have is our team doing very well for most of a tournament and then having a correct answer ruled incorrect. It kept us out of a top 3 finish, and because they couldn’t give us trophies, they gave our team multiple cans of soda. I still have that can 15 years after the fact. Opening it now would probably be a bad idea.

PQB – You competed at a national championship tournament in 2001. What are your best memories of that experience?

GW – Oh, Nationals 2001. It was good to be a part of that tournament, but the best memories of that experience are all about spending time with my friends at the tournament. There was a late night Risk game that lead to a running joke for years after the fact. I think we finished around 70th, but it was all about the strengthening the friendships with teammates rather than the actual results.

PQB – In general, what was your favorite thing about playing quiz bowl?

GW – The highlights that really stand out from my time in Quiz Bowl were never about the actual competitions. We answered questions, sometimes I did well other times my teammates carried me. The best memories I have are always about the camaraderie. Making jokes, chatting, talking about life with your Quiz Bowl teammates. Some of the people who were my friends then are my closest friends now. 15 years later, my Quiz Bowl career is more about the friendships I made as a part of Quiz Bowl then the actual competition.

PQB – How did quiz bowl help you excel as a student?

GW – It’s two sided. On the one hand quiz bowl helped with remembering knowledge quickly, which is useful as a student. However being a student made me much better at quiz bowl. Actively learning about history, literature, science, mathematics etc in detail and retaining that information makes it much easier to buzz in early in a question and get the information correct. There’s a lot more that goes into being a good quiz bowl player than detailed knowledge, but it forms a great base that you can improve on.

PQB – Since your quiz bowl days ended, you’ve built a career in politics. Have any quiz bowl skills or facts helped in your professional endeavors?

GW – In politics, and really any professional setting where you talk with a lot of different people, knowledge retention of previous conversations is very useful. Quiz Bowl is about knowledge retention, rapidly being able to access that knowledge and learning the context clues to determine what piece of knowledge is the correct one to bring up. You can and should do all of those same things when talking with people, both in a personal and professional setting. The key is learning the context of these questions, not buzzing too early and missing the question being asked in quiz bowl is similar to choosing how to approach telling a candidate for office that they need to make a dramatic change in their strategy if they’re going to win their election.

PQB – What advice would you give to a new quiz bowl player who wants to get better?

GW – Study. Pick an area of knowledge that both interests you and you have a solid base of knowledge in. Develop that knowledge, and then expand into related areas. Also, learn your teammates knowledge. If you’re fine to good at mathematics, but one of your teammates is excellent you should give them the ability to use that knowledge and score points for your team.

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