No, you didn’t read that wrong: This isn’t about THAT sitcom, but something with much bigger real-world application. The Big Bang Theory: Pure Genius (TBBT:PG) is a Discovery Channel show where some of the top engineering minds in the US gathered to solve “geeky” engineering challenges – and then turn those ideas into physical solutions – to win the top prize of US$50,000 and a job with WET, a water feature design firm “behind some of the world’s most innovative water-based designed environments and experiences”, such as The Fountains Of Bellagio and The Mirage Volcano in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thanks to the Discovery Channel we managed to get a quick email Q&A with one of the contestants, Mr Andrew Stroup – so read on as we pick the big, big brain of the contestant.
Touted as “the world-class gamer”, it’s clear that while Andrew Stroup’s just one of ten contestants (and thus big brains) in TBBT:PG, he’s definitely a huge geek, having been part of one of the top 50 guilds in World of Warcraft. And at 27, he’s already led multi-million dollar projects, from UAVs to roller coasters. He’s also led the “Design, Build, Fly” team from his college, the Oklahoma State University, to a first place win – over other universities like MIT (you need to check out his audition video below just to see that his margin of victory was amazing). Discovery Channel also wrote that “Andrew likes to joke about his high IQ and brags that he developed a specialised monitoring device used to identify contamination in aerospace platforms”. Do I understand what that means? Sure – but don’t ask me to design one.
But putting Andrew into the mix doesn’t spell instant success – he’s also surrounded by tons of other amazing talent, from a Lockheed Martin engineer to those who work with NASA. It’s an amazing, varied group of engineers who have to hunker down and design things from a system that can stop explosive packages from exploding on impact to portable shelters for firefighters that can shield them from wind, fire and water. It might be reality TV, sure, but in the best Discovery Channel fashion what’s really cool is not just the emotional meltdowns – but watching engineering come to life with practical solutions.
Q: With an IQ of 132, you’re easily in the top 3% of the smartest people in the world – and not to mention easily the smartest in any room. What did it feel like to be surrounded by so many other brilliant people in The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius and have to work with them yet stand out?
A: It definitely required a different approach. It was a great opportunity to work with and compete against other really intelligent engineers and innovators. I think something unique about The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius is you’ll see different aspects of a “competition” because you have so many smart people in the room, but each of us had our own unique skill sets, which allowed us to shine in our own way.
Q: No spoilers here, but how was the experience on The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius for you?
A: Competing on the show was a once in a lifetime opportunity, putting my engineering skills to the test and pushing me to grow both technically and as a person. If anything, I’d call this an engineering bootcamp because sunrise to sun down, engineering was our focus.
Q: You once were a huge WoW gamer in a top 50 guild. Do you still game, or has that addiction been totally replaced by something else?
A: Haha, I get asked that a lot. I don’t game nearly as much but I have been poking around on the ESO beta, which I’ve really enjoyed. A lot of my time has been spent on CommonKey, a tech startup I founded last year, and road cycling when I have the time.
Q: You definitely bust a lot of the stereotypes – you’re an over-achieving Asian gaming geek who’s really into engineering and hard numbers – but yet you’re a taekwondo champion who loves the outdoors. Maybe it’s really just that you’re Asian, but yet growing up on a farm in Oklahoma, you didn’t quite receive the “tiger-mom” experience many Asian kids got. What do you think is your origin story – that inspired you to get to where you are today?
A: I think the environment I grew up in definitely shaped who I am today. You’re definitely on to something though, I always had inherited Asian “characteristics,” but also found my own path as an individual.
Q: Any words for the aspiring engineer out there?
A: Go out and make things, nothing better than getting your hands dirty and building stuff. It’s ok to fail, do that fast and often, as long as you learn from those experiences to succeed in the future.
Q: Finally, I’ve really got to end with this – I saw on your website that you helped with California Screamin’ in California Adventure? I love that ride! What was it like working with the Imagineers especially on the more technical aspects of the ride?
A: It was a blast! Working with some of the most creative engineers on the planet. Few people get to see what goes into making the magic happen and working with the Imagineering team was a great experience.
And how did he get the place in the competition? Check out his audition video below – have to admit, he’s pretty darn cool.
The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius premieres this Friday, Sept 13, on the Discovery Channel (StarHub channel 422) at 9pm.