The crème de la crème of 6th form academia went head-to-head on our television sets in the 1981 final of It’s Academic. Three decades later, Otahuhu College team member Alan Perrott went in search of his teammates and rivals.
the year we didn't stop the tour,
Stars on 45
topped the charts and television quiz shows reached their height - if only because our three-person team from Otahuhu College won the Auckland final of
, a short-lived
-style quiz show for New Zealand high schools.
The fame might have gone to our heads if they weren't already so crammed with brains ... or if our victory hadn't been followed by the national final.
There we were, sitting at our usual table, munching Oddfellows and feeling invisible as our opponents compared blazers and chatted with Cheshire Cat television host (and current Speaker of the House) Lockwood Smith.
If there's an excuse for subsequent failure, I'll blame the shock of having trashed the Hooray Henrys of King's College the previous day - our schools shared a fence line and nothing else.
Regenerating that southside mongrel against Wellington champs Onslow College, and St Paul's of Dunedin, was a big ask too far.
Anyway, we trooped into the studio yet again - although not in our lucky top-row seats - squinted under the too-hot lights, and girded our loins as best we could. As it turned out, Onslow's captain could have shown up alone and still won in a canter. We coasted in a distant last.
I'll remember one answer, that oil- soap
featured the Southfork Ranch, until the day I die. If Smith had asked me my name I'd probably have drawn a blank on that, too.
But that was 30 years ago. We're mostly over it now and, although I've lost most of my prizes (the fancy pen and calculator), I still have the digital watch and now-obsolete
I didn't talk to our opponents at the time but, given we were all about the same age and had been selected for similar reasons, we should have had a fair bit in common. Or not. You can never tell with people, can you?
So, I know how I turned out, but I've always wondered what happened to everyone else? We're all in our mid-40s now but did we fulfil the potential you'd expect of contestants on a show called
? Who did we grow up to be?
As it turns out, all
of people ...
ONSLOW COLLEGE TEAM
Following school, Garrick chased a unique shark around the world with his father.
"We have two professors in our family. Dad was a zoologist and I joined him on a seven-month research trip. We travelled all over the place and wandered around the closed sections of the Smithsonian Institute and London Museum. I even met the current Emperor of Japan - he was interested in fish."
Having grown up around farm animals, he studied agricultural science at Massey only to drop out during his masters. "I basically wanted to figure out what I really wanted to do ... you could say I was finding myself."
Once found, Garrick moved to Hamilton and started a 13-year spell with SAITL, a dairy laboratory where he tested raw milk for everything and anything.
The money was good while the hours were long. Then came redundancy. "I had got a bit tired of it by then and you know how it is, you can just stick with stuff too long rather than have a go at something you really love ... it's just that I haven't really figured out what that is yet."
He was also dealing with a divorce.
So, it was time to revive his rugby career at Kereone, Don Clark's old club. In 2006, things were so bad the seniors were tossing shirts to spectators to make up the numbers.
Garrick was hellbent on playing again, until a training injury scuppered him. "So, I'm still not working, I want to get myself right first and I still want to play rugby, despite what the specialist says. It's frustrating, so I try to think of it as a learning experience. That's what life is about, isn't it? And of course, I realise I have to get my mojo back at some stage. I guess my philosophy now is that sometimes things don't work out as you'd like."
In the meantime he has taken to giving stuff away.
He started off donating blood plasma, about 100 times, he says, and counting. He then tried bone marrow and is about to give up a kidney after passing his medical and psychological tests.
His kidney comes out in April and will go to a recipient with a non-matching donor who will give their's to someone else.
"So it's two for the price of one as it were, something to be proud of ... Oh, I know giving an organ away to a complete stranger is a bit out-there, but I like to think I'm a bit different to your average bloke and I want to make a difference. I'll have that on my gravestone one day."
"A plan? Umm, that's not really ... it's more that I've never really found anything ... life just keeps getting in the way. So, no."
Let's just say that since being diagnosed as "extremely gifted" as a 10-year-old, Veltman's life has been somewhat eccentric.
He enjoyed studying Russian - "languages are like solving crossword puzzles" - so he completed a linguistics degree at Victoria.
He also played bass with a band, the Laundrettes, and taught a boy from Porirua how to play in exchange for Samoan lessons from his sister.
The exchange paid off when he came across a Samoan ad looking for teachers and he spent 1991 living in the islands.
"That was hard work and it was an insight into the difficulties those families face when they come over, nothing's quite the same here. I came home and found myself stepping out on to the road. I almost got bowled by a bus a few times."
As a Dutch speaker, he travelled to Europe and spent three years restructuring an engineering library and, as usual, himself out of a job, before returning to work at the University of Auckland. And to face his long-term fear of snakes.
winners, his team each won a set of encyclopedias and his father taped up every photo that featured snakes so he would use them.
However, a Buddhist book showed him a way to face this fear: "I drifted off, having this snake dream, in the Auckland library ... I gradually let it get closer and bigger and more toothy and more vicious. Then it opened its mouth really wide and there was this vivid light. Then I'm a 3-year-old standing next to a glass containing my mum's false teeth. That's all the fear was, it felt like quite an achievement."
His university contract finished in 1998 "and that's pretty much it, really. I was working with this fantastic bloke who said I should keep in touch, but I thought I'll get a job first and then get in touch. So I've never been in touch."
He had a go at Teachers' Training College. It didn't take, although he did meet his now-wife Trish and set up house in Waikanae. Then he provided end-of-life care for his mother and wrote a film script, which he sold to some Italians. "When I got the cheque, the guy said 'don't spend it all in the same pub'."
But other than that, he has become the go-to guy for people in trouble. Most recently, a cousin's ex was among those killed in the Pike River mine.
"I seem to have become the person you ring when the shit hits the fan, I'm a crisis manager ... if your roof has been blown off I go in and offer cuddles and a plan on how to fix the situation, people see me as a safe pair of hands." Right now, he's helping a non-profit group with budget problems.
"It's a satisfying life, and while it's taken me a long time to realise I'll probably never actually get a job. I'm slowly realising that as long as you're giving, you're living."
Jan Drga (Captain)
According to Onslow College, Jan committed suicide in 1985. On the day he graduated from university.
The eldest son of Polish immigrants, he is remembered as an intense, competitive student with a ready smile. He is also described as a devourer of knowledge, theory and minutiae - if not the ways in which they could be applied - and was a keen fan of science fiction, dungeons and dragons and Esperanto.
After being part of the school's winning 6th form maths quiz team, Drga went on to have a crack at
, only to lose to Nicholas Thompson's Otago team. I saw for myself how smart he was. If his buzzer hadn't been followed by the correct answer, I'd have assumed it was stuck.
ST PAUL'S HIGH SCOOL
Dr Nicolas Thompson (Captain)
After celebrating a well-earned second-place finish and his first feed of McDonalds, Thompson returned to Dunedin and awaited university.
"I remember the glamour of television. We got ham sandwiches for lunch ... very luxurious. My parents even bought a colour television so they could see our brand new school blazers properly."
Quiz fever was so addictive he joined Otago's 1984
team - and won. "I think
was more fun though, maybe because we never expected anything.
was a lot more nerve-racking." And rewarding. He added an electric typewriter and desk lamp to his haul of booty.
After completing a degree in English and Latin, Thompson got a scholarship to the University of British Columbia. The masters degree which followed left him pleased if not hugely employable, so 1990 was spent taking a library diploma at Victoria University before returning to Otago.
Four years later he started a Masters of Theology before getting another scholarship to do a PhD at Glasgow. He began lecturing in Aberdeen in 2001 and published his first book in 2004.
Eucharistic Sacrifice and Patristic Tradition in the Theology of Martin Bucer 1534-1546
is presently ranked 3,381,617th on Amazon.com.
"After that I'd reached, well, mid-life I guess, and wanted to be closer to my family. So I headed home."
By 2009 he'd got as far as the University of Auckland: "So yes, I'm not home yet but I am getting closer all the time ... I feel a bit like a hobbit trying to get back to Bag End."
His next book will be a commentary on another 16th century Latin text. "I used to get hassled about studying Latin, you know, 'it's dead, what good is it ever going to do?' Well, right now, it's putting bread on the table and keeping a roof over my head, so I'd say it's done okay."
There is one reminder of his quiz life that he's struggling with though: "Every time I watch the news and see Lockwood Smith presiding over Parliament I'm a bit surprised. I mean I know everyone is entitled to another career beyond television ... but, really?"
Dr Peter McIlroy
Fantastic 7th form marks got McIlroy an internship at Otago medical school. Six years later it was time to leave Dunedin and see the world.
He got a job in Nelson.
"Look, I'm a South Island boy. My family still lives in Dunedin. I've always tried to work as near by as I can ..."
Even that distance seems to have been too much for him, so after completing his house officer rotations in 1991, he moved to Christchurch and worked as a paediatric registrar.
While there, a flatmate introduced him to Janet, a lovely GP, and the pair shacked up, married and now have three kids.
They are now back in Nelson, where he works as a specialist paediatrician.
"I love what I do and I know medicine was right career choice for me. Of course every job has it's frustrations - for me it's bureaucracy, red tape and getting things done, standard issues when you're in the public service - but medicine is extremely enjoyable when you work out how to help people. I feel very lucky."
Not that his own children can expect special treatment. "My attitude is probably the opposite of what you'd expect. I'm always wondering if they are coming up with fictitious illnesses and things, so I'm afraid, if anything, I tend to ignore their complaints."
He still has the three-volume set of
dictionaries his team won for their second-place finish but they are now in a box, replaced by a single volume which he says is more practical for the family bouts of Scrabble.
"I don't recall much from back then - except for every question I got wrong - so I wouldn't say it had any particular influence on my life, but it was a hoot. We had known each other since standard three and we still keep in touch, so it was more about being with my mates, mixing with the bigger schools and then flying up to Auckland. We'd never been in a plane before. Then watching ourselves on television. We'd just got one, that was great fun ... for small-town boys it wasn't like anything we'd ever done or thought we'd do."
Peter "Stan" Olendzki
A scholarship to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire should have meant playing American football and chasing cheerleaders.
"Instead, I ended up at only the school in America without cheerleaders ... okay, fine, I could still play football."
Wrong again. The school had a new rugby team and wanted their pet New Zealander to lead it. "That was the only time I've ever felt like I was playing rugby for my country ..."
Back home he followed his mates to Otago University and started a triple-major: commerce, law and drinking. He did well enough for PricewaterhouseCoopers to offer a scholarship, which set him up for life in accountancy.
He moved to Auckland where he worked for PWC and backpacked while his girlfriend studied medicine.
Three years later he scored his dream job, with Dominion Breweries: "If you love sport, work for a brewery," he says.
His partner had a British passport, so the moment she qualified, in 1998, they packed two suitcases and flew to London. En route they added a South American walkabout to their travels through Asia and Papua New Guinea.
"It didn't feel like a big decision at the time," he says from London. "After all, we were only going for two years and I'm the kind of person who just goes with the flow. If there was a choice, I always took the nice option."
After a spell in Birmingham they settled in London and reconnected with their inner Kiwiness.
"I discovered my Maori roots here and our son is going to a kohanga reo. He's got this horrendous South London accent, but his te reo is perfect. All that stuff is very important to us now because it takes a real effort to maintain those connections when you're this far from home. Well, something like that ..."
Now working as an analyst for the London Underground, Olendzki says the free travel hasn't diminished his homesickness.
"Yeah, I am keen to return and I've been giving it the hard-sell. But my wife's a GP and the major breadwinner now ... all the same, the last time I was in Auckland I could run along the waterfront, have beers after playing touch and get to work in less than two hours . It's all that stuff and my crib in Naseby. No one's used it for two years ..."
As part compensation, the couple have bought a holiday home near Montpellier in France: "That'll keep me happy for a bit, but it isn't a major dilemma ... she'll come round eventually."
The only girl in the final did the unexpected.
"I left school. Why? I actually don't know for sure. I just don't think I was very happy there."
The school tried luring her back with the Head Girl badge, while her parents thought she'd be better off getting a job, possibly as a stewardess.
She went to university instead. "There's always been a part of me that doesn't want to follow the straight path or do what everyone else is doing. I wasn't being particularly rebellious, I just wanted to study things I was interested in - philosophy, political studies, whatever. And the fees were only $300. University was a real luxury then, wasn't it? You could get away with doing things like that in those days. It felt like freedom."
So free that she jacked it in and went backpacking for four years.
"Again, we could do more then. I travelled all over North Africa and Asia. I went through Pakistan and over into Afghanistan - there were already a lot of Taliban around then, but it could be done. I mean, if my children asked to do the same thing, well, one, they'd never get visas, and two, no."
When she got back, Neubert considered medical school but switched to physiotherapy when they recommended a year of science papers first. Once that was done, she left for England and another year of travelling with husband David White, another physio she'd met in the campus gym.
It wasn't long before they'd had two children, Romy and Nathan, and were living in Ramarama.
Neubert was working as clinical manager for a rehabilitation company when another light bulb went off. Why not write a book?
"It'd never been a life goal, but I'd met a like-minded woman at playgroup, we got talking and, let's just say I'd found that the world became a very different place when I introduced my own children into it.
"We had both got into the environment and sustainability and somehow found the time to write a book [
] over two years. I even got a very nice letter about it from [Green MP] Sue Kedgley. I think if I could live my life over again, that sort of thing would be my passion. But as I say, it didn't become real for me until I had this baby in my arms, so who knows? Maybe it's a woman thing."
Her family have recently moved to Silverdale where they plan to build a new home.
Laurie Kubiak (Captain)
Passion pushed him to study composition and conducting. Practicality saw him take an accountancy course. Only one was completed.
"So I finished the music degree in May 87. Come November, a woman was dragging me kicking and screaming to England.
"She ended up going home, I stayed ... I had conceived this sort of semi-plan to become an opera singer [he'd been a classical musician since his school days] and I say semi-plan because I'd say a lot of what looked like life choices aren't really choices at all."
As a semi-professional singer he needed part-time work, so he signed up with Bligh Recruitment. "They were run by Australians and New Zealanders and attracted Australians and New Zealanders ... we all went, I think. All sorts of people went from there to much bigger things."
He also married New Zealand soprano Jennifer Maybee and started a family. "With both of us singing, it got to the point where we had small kids and no one was ever home. Something had to give. My temp jobs then became permanent."
Among his employers was oil company Amoco. "I'd kept in touch and they said 'why not come here? How's tomorrow?"'
After starting in Amoco's financial department, Kubiak moved into financial projects and found himself administering the industrial mega-merger with BP.
"That was six months of sheer hell and once it was done I found I was on the wrong side. It wasn't a merger, it was a takeover, so I had to move on." He ended up at Shell, outsourcing IT contracts and running international infrastuctural projects, and was so successful he says it was inevitable they would shut the department down.
He then joined British Telecom just in time for a recruitment freeze. When that ended in December 2000 he became BT's director of regulatory affairs. Basically, he argues with governments. "It's my job to crash in and persuade them to let us into their countries ..." It helps that he can speak Italian, French, German, Russian, Polish and, at a pinch, Latin.
Otherwise, he's studying instrument-making at Cambridge and playing jazz violin or piano. His whole family plays, so their Epping Forest neighbours are often serenaded by impromptu jams.
"I don't hustle the way I used to. When you're starting out you'll take anything you can get. Hustling is beneath my dignity these days."
He's also feeling the tug of home. His children have tried out Australia but couldn't see themselves living there, "well, apart from number two son, he's like that ... But really, I never imagined I could last here as long as I have. So yes, I'd like to come home. I've got a semi-plan in mind ..."