Divine quiz

High-energy game show tests third-graders on knowledge of Catholicism

The Rev. Robert Reed, president of the Watertown-based CatholicTV Network, serves as host of “WOW,’’ a religious-themed game show. The Rev. Robert Reed, president of the Watertown-based CatholicTV Network, serves as host of “WOW,’’ a religious-themed game show. (Photos By Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Evan Allen
Globe Correspondent / June 5, 2011

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Inside a studio in Watertown, the third-graders from St. John the Baptist School in Peabody are nervous but ready to compete in the game show “WOW: The CatholicTV Challenge.’’

To help him think, one student holds up a little green action figure with a question mark on its forehead, and in his pocket is a silver cross on a delicate chain. A girl twists her Pandora bracelet, sparkling with charms.

They’re excited. They couldn’t sleep last night. And they’re worried about hitting the buzzer the fastest.

“I just made my hands promise they’d be quick,’’ says Anya Tseitlin, 8, dressed in a bright purple dress and fuchsia tights.

“WOW’’ is CatholicTV Network’s answer to “Jeopardy!’’ — but for the younger set. Instead of queries about geography and science, the contestants answer questions about the Holy Spirit, Lent, and eternal happiness. Seven Catholic elementary schools are competing this season, including St. Jude in Waltham and St. Bernadette in Northborough. The show, in its seventh season, has expanded its reach as far away as Pelham, N.H.

Watertown-based CatholicTV broadcasts to 10.2 million viewers in 16 states and the Virgin Islands, but this is the network’s first program produced in-house in high-definition.

On the set, the contestants stand at glowing lecterns and race to answer questions about Catholicism as quickly as they can, slamming their palms down on bright red buzzers.

“I’ve always wanted to be on a game show,’’ says Madison Csogi, 8. “My whole dream was to be on TV.’’

She’s not nervous, she says, but she was up until almost 1 a.m. because she was too excited to sleep. Csogi is the first student called to the podium for the first round of the show, which will air sometime after Sept. 5. She’s missing a front tooth, and her white high heels click as she walks down to the stage.

“It’s like ‘Family Feud,’ except, for religion!’’ she says.

Some of the children mug for the camera, pumping their fists, dancing and flashing peace signs. Others are serious, eyes narrowed to slits, shoulders tensed, determined to be fastest to answer.

The show’s cartoon mascot, Nosey the Know-it-All Dog, pops up periodically on a TV screen in 3-D to ask Super Challenge questions in an accent that’s a little bit of St. Petersburg and a little bit of Paris.

Three students compete in each round, and after three rounds, the winners face off for a chance to win a small camcorder.

But the point isn’t the prize.

“This is not as much about winning as it is about being teachers and helping people,’’ said the Rev. Robert Reed, host of “WOW’’ and president of the CatholicTV Network. The children’s knowledge helps to educate the audience, he said.

“Normally they’re the students, but today they’re the teachers,’’ said Reed.

The children get the questions a month ahead of time so they can study. When the children from St. John the Baptist School first received their questions, they were a bit hazy on some of the biblical references.

Sister Ruth Creedon, the school’s religion coordinator, remembers asking one student what Mary wrapped Jesus in after his birth.

“We’ve heard over and over again, ‘swaddling clothes.’ Well this fella says ‘straw.’ Straw! We all had a good laugh about it,’’ she says. Another child guessed that Jesus had been baptized in the Mississippi River.

“WOW’’ covers a range of material about Catholicism. Some are simple things the children learned in first grade (Question: On which day each year do we celebrate the Resurrection? Answer: Easter).

Other questions are harder, and require diligent memorization (Question: What does ecce lignum crucis mean? Answer: Behold the wood of the cross). By the time the children finish studying, they can rattle off biblical phrases in Latin and Greek.

The quiz show “helps people know that our faith is radical, and it’s alive, and exciting, and can be fun,’’ said Bonnie Rodgers, marketing and programming manager for CatholicTV.

A faith experience, she contends, can’t only be about learning the ins and outs of the doctrine. “It has to be a celebration.’’

The children, for their part, scream “Wow!’’ every time their classmates answer a question correctly.

They fist-bump Reed and high-five each other at the beginning and end of each round. They get overexcited and pound the buzzer before the question is asked, and murmur praise to their classmates when they win.

After a particularly speedy round, one boy nods appreciatively at the victor, and remarks to no one in particular that “he was as fast as a motorcycle’’ with his answers.

By the time “WOW’’ finishes taping for the day, the children are worn out and happy, and already asking Rodgers when they’ll be able to get their copies of the show. All the children are beaming.

“It was really fun, a lotta action,’’ says Aidan Wilkinson, 9. “It can be a memory you can never forget.’’