The Scholar (2005)

The Scholar is a one-time reality television show that appeared on ABC. Filmed at the University of Southern California, 10 high-achieving high school seniors competed for a full scholarship to the university of their choice (five contestants who made it to the semi-final round earned $50,000 each toward their education). The competition tested the contestants’ skills in academics, leadership, school spirit, and community service. 

Most vivid memory:

That’s a hard question — I have so many! The most vivid I’d say was during the final challenge of the third episode, which determined who would become a semifinalist and win a $50,000 scholarship. The questions were asked Jeopardy!-style and the topic was on African geography. I’ll never forget the suspense and electricity that rushed through my body as I waited for Rob Nelson, the host, to reveal whether I had answered my final question correctly. After what seemed like an eternity of holding his poker face, Rob finally grinned and confirmed that Krueger National Park was, in fact in South Africa — and that I had become a finalist on the show. I remember feeling elated, but also in a dazed state of disbelief — two words had secured me over a year’s worth of tuition. It was pretty sweet. 

Getting on The Scholar vs. getting into Princeton:

We filmed the show in January of my senior year of high school — so while I had not yet been accepted to Princeton, I already had submitted my application. 

To start, the Princeton application process did not include lunch with Steve Martin. Besides Steve, who was one of the executive producers of the show, I had the privilege of meeting Jaye Pace, the creator of the show. It was incredible to have a meaningful conversation with the person who turned a fantasy of hers into a reality for 10 hopeful high school students. Without that conversation, I doubt I would have agreed to be on the show. At the time, and I would say even now, reality shows did not have the best reputation — shows like Who’s Your Daddy? and other gems were getting surprisingly high ratings. I did not want to be on a reality show unless I really believed in the cause. Thanks to Jaye’s sincerity, and her own moving story, I was convinced that this show needed to happen to help prioritize higher education in the U.S. and hopefully to add some substance to the drama-filled reality shows out there. Also, there were no essays for this application process — just lights, camera, and countless hours of interviews. 

Life after Princeton:

I am currently in my first year at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and I could really use another $50,000 scholarship. Any ideas?

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