As the host of SBS’s new documentary-slash-competition-series, Susan Carland has her work cut out for her. Not only does she have to match wits with Australia’s youngest and brightest in Child Genius, but she also has to be the one to tell them when they get the answers wrong.
Thankfully, as we discovered when we talked to her, she has some help in that department…
What can we regular, adult mortals at home expect from a viewing of Child Genius?
I think it’s safe to say that everyone watching will feel pretty dopey – so I already do! You’ll come away feeling a bit stupid but also, it’s a really charming show. There’s so much horrible stuff on TV, whether it's depressing news or people just screaming at each other, there is none of that here. This is just a nice show that everyone can feel good about.
How strong is the competitive element?
There are winners and losers, of course, and losing is disappointing but it's also a part of life, and the kids handle it pretty gracefully for little kids. They’re disappointed, but they’re resilient kids as well, and there's lots of support for them. As I keep trying to say to them, “You got here. No matter what else happens, you got through that audition process and the hundreds of other kids applying, and you are here, and no matter where you come in this competition that's an amazing achievement.”
What attracted you to the hosting role?
I love kids and think that helps. I genuinely enjoy being in their company, and I find them interesting and funny. But I also loved the idea of the show. Especially where it feels like so many of the heroes that are lauded to children are about how you look or how you perform on social media – I love that this was a celebration for kids about something academic and being smart, and that that's being valorised. This is a nice antidote to a lot of the superficial stuff that's encouraged with kids at the moment.
Has your relationship with the kids changed as filming has gone on?
Maybe just getting to know them slightly better, it's even more enjoyable because I start to know their personalities. That's nice because I feel like I'm getting better at building a rapport with them, knowing little bits and pieces about their lives. I'm learning a lot, too – I now know a lot about dinosaurs and Australian history. More than I did before, that's for sure!
Have you found they’re good across the board, or are there definite strengths and weaknesses?
They've all got their interests. You can see some kids might be stronger than others but they've all got areas where they really shine. That's really nice to see as well because I guess that's like all humans: we have our areas of passion. But these kids, because of getting through the audition process, even their weaknesses would probably be most other kids’ strengths.
There’s a definite bond – they’re very supportive, high-fiving each other and so on.
It's lovely. That's been one of the nicest things about this show. It’s not just that the kids are smart, which is great, but I actually don't think it's necessarily the highest achievement for a person. I said to their parents, “It's wonderful that they're smart, but your kids are nice, and that's actually what matters and will probably serve them far better into the future.” That's something that is chosen: you choose to be a nice person.
Often your intellect, you work on it and you do homework and you study, but often it's what you're born with. But these kids work on just being lovely people, and they're so fun and funny to be around, and of course, they’re cheeky like kids are but that's delightful as well. Kids are meant to be a little bit cheeky.
How does it feel to tell them they’ve got something wrong? It must be brutal.
Well, I actually have an independent adjudicator next to me, Jane Allen, who decides: will we accept this answer or not? It's good to have her because I'm a big softie – I'd let everyone through. I'd be like, “That's good enough. You're cute. Okay, 10 points.” I merely ask the questions, so in that sense, Jane’s job is much tougher than mine.
Sounds like a solid good cop/bad cop situation.
She's such a pro. She runs the International Quizzing Association, so she runs competitions like this for kids and adults all around the world. She's told me stories about times she's had to adjudicate and grown men have cried at her decision. So, she can handle this.
A new six-part SBS series Child Genius hosted by Dr Susan Carland follows the lives of Australia’s brightest children and their families and will see them testing their abilities in maths, general knowledge, memory and language.
The quiz show will be broadcast over two weeks starting November 12. Episodes will be aired Monday to Wednesday at 7.30pm.
After they air, episodes will stream at SBS On Demand: