I’ve seen some truly stomach-churning things in my years as an investigative journalist, but nothing could have ever prepared me for what I witnessed when researching IMSA’s Quizbowl team. These seemingly benign students, who cram their brains full of useless information they’ve learned just to beat other nerds to tossups, are far more sinister under the surface. They have bizarre, frightening rituals where they sacrifice themselves, day in and day out, to win the approval of their true leader–a sinister blue creature by the infamous name of “Blahaj.” They say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. I didn’t believe them until now.
I began my process of going undercover to learn more about Quizbowl by posing as a student interested in studying literature and physics, and they took me in as one of their own. I quickly got to know the top brass there – Nathaniel Huang ‘24, the kind, knowledgeable geography, fine arts, and bio player with a …heart… the size of Borneo. His co-captain was Stephen Walsh ‘24, an eccentric fellow who seemed to be having the Quizbowl nerd’s equivalent of a midlife crisis, jumping back and forth between studying math, history, philosophy and social science, literature, and physics. The coach in charge of this motley crew was Dr. Kopff, leading them through their highs (like Stephen getting 6 powers in one game) and lows (like Stephen getting 6 negs in one game.) We were having fun reading through packets and studying random topics. In one day, however, the illusion was shattered.
I walked into Quizbowl practice that frigid November afternoon ready for another laidback day, but something was different. The lights were turned off in A155, with only somber candles illuminating the dark room. The regular crowd was all there, but they wore mysterious robes. I stood perplexed in the doorway, frozen in this horrifying moment in time. At the front desk–where Dr. Kopff would read from every week–sat a small stuffed shark, its dark eyes staring into the very essence of my being. Several other new players arrived as well, equally confused.
“BRETHREN!” Stephen called out at once, “JOIN US ON THIS HISTORIC OCCASION AND DECLARE YOUR TRUE ALLEGIANCE TO THIS CLUB. Advayth, you may give them their garments.”
Advayth Pashupati ‘25, the technical-sophomore who was always rolling around like his happy-go-lucky self, walked forward silently and stoically and brought me a cloak, which I draped over my shoulders. Somehow, it fit me perfectly. When we all had the robes, the next chant began:
“IT’S IN THE CARDS! IT’S IN THE CARDS! IT’S IN THE CARDS!”
This chant continued until Nathaniel stopped us at once. “Now, we shall honor those no longer with us, our dearly departed players,” he proclaimed. I then saw the picture of the former team in the corner. ]
“GO, SAMUEL! DEPARTED TO WILLIAMS! MAY HIS GEO KNOWLEDGE BLESS US STILL!”
“DONTARAJU, SAKETH! DEPARTED TO NYU! MAY HIS HISTORY KNOWLEDGE BLESS US STILL!”
With each name spoken, from Qin to Hunding to Nakiganda, I saw the people gradually disappear from the picture until one being remained. The shark.
Stephen stepped forward once more, bringing out his iconic 450-page study binder, written in an arcane script unreadable by all but him. He took the book and bowed before the shark.
“Almighty Blahaj, incarnate of Quizbowl knowledge and spirit of all learning, we shall strive to be worthy of you.”
“BLAHAJ!” the team shouted.
“For it was with your stitching that was formed the new and eternal covenant of never-ending study in your glory.”
My mind was racing, and I didn’t know what to do. I hoped that something like a club announcement, maybe a generic Zuyu love poem for Student Council would snap me out of it, but nothing came.
“And now, almighty BLAHAJ, I offer you my greatest sacrifice.”
Stephen fell to the floor, and his knowledge began to be sucked up by the shark. The names flew past like a whirlwind: Jacobi, Eco, Dos Passos, Boris Gudanov. Until one remained: Stephen Walsh.
And then, opening its gaping jaws, the shark consumed Stephen’s soul, or whatever was left of it after two years at IMSA. Blahaj rose from the table, suspended in midair, with everyone merely looking on.
“THE OTHER SACRED TEXTS!” the creature bellowed. “BRING THEM FORWARD!”
]One by one, the quizbowlers gave Blahaj their nerdy books. Annabelle Zhang ‘24 brought forth Campbell’s biology textbook. Nathaniel had a book on African poetry. For Dylan Xianto ‘25, it was “How to restore Yugoslavia in three easy steps–guaranteed results!” This continued until Blahaj suddenly turned to me.
“NEWCOMER! WHAT HAVE YOU TO OFFER?”
I gave Blahaj my terrible chem notes, all I had in my pocket. He took one look down and began to shake with cartilaginous rage.
“THIS OFFERING… IS… UNACCEPTABLE. YOU CANNOT HIDE FROM ME… IN YOUR MIND!”
I tried to run, but the surprisingly quick sophomores stopped me at once. My head was racing as Blahaj opened his jaw once more, and I knew my soul was his to devour. There was no escape.
To be continued in part II.