A singing chemistry teacher from Langley is vying to be Canada’s Smartest Person.
Jason Vander-Hoek appeared Sunday as part of a group of four hopefuls on the CBC game show. He came away victorious and will be one of the seven people competing this Sunday in the two-hour finale.
Things started out looking rough for Vander-Hoek, a teacher at Johnston Heights Secondary in Surrey.
In the opening word game, he didn’t do well.
“I was surprised,” Vander-Hoek said. “I was definitely thrown off. It was all about the rally.”
He did rally, dominating in a physical intelligence challenge, then taking more points in a quick math game called Portfolio Pro.
The math challenge involved relatively simple equations – competitors had to subtract, multiply or calculate a percentage, then dump coins representing the number into a bin. But they had just 10 seconds to do the math and get the money counted.
“It’s all about how do you do it,” Vander-Hoek said.
At the halfway mark, Vander-Hoek was tied for the lead.
As a teacher who has composed songs about chemistry to help teach his students, Vander-Hoek’s next challenge, a karaoke contest, played to his strengths. He won and then handily defeated the other highest-scoring contestant in a head-to-head elimination involving a number of small challenges back-to-back.
Vander-Hoek watched the event with a large group of friends at a local pub on Sunday night, and he’s planning to get together with some people to watch the finale this coming weekend too.
He can’t talk about what happens in the final, but his participation has helped him connect with his students in a new way, he said.
“They’re all singing the song from the karoke challenge to me,” he said. He’s also getting some good-natured jokes about the wig he wore during the contest.
The Langley man, a TWU and SFU graduate, has only been working full-time as a teacher since October.
Before that, he spent years driving a cement mixer before following his dream and heading to higher education.
He went through some rough financial times while putting himself through school, even living in a tent for four months. He camped out in the woods behind TWU.
“I had enough money for tuition, or housing,” he said.
He used his car as a closet and showered on campus.
Vander-Hoek stumbled on an ad for the Smartest Person auditions while he was working on an inner city theatre campus program last summer.
The ad asked “Are you Canada’s Smartest Person?”
“My immediate response was ‘Yeah, so?’” Vander-Hoek recalled.
He applied in May and heard back from the producers, who ran him through a number of tests via Skype.
They included mental math problems and spatial and word puzzles, all timed.
The finale has already been filmed, but Vander-Hoek can’t reveal how he did until after it airs on Sunday.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had, easily,” he said of filming the show.
• Watch for an update next week on Vander-Hoek’s finale performance.