A Talk with Matt Ottinger
2:40 pm
Wed September 4, 2013

QuizBusters Host Reflects on 25 Years

WKAR’s weekly series QuizBusters kicks off its 25th season with a Special Edition airing in prime time on Wednesday, October 2, at 9 and 9:30 p.m. The Special Edition will feature local personalities who play for bragging rights in the academic game show.

Matt Ottinger
Matt Ottinger

On Saturday, October 12, the 25th season of weekly high school competition will begin. Host Matt Ottinger will welcome teams from 64 mid-Michigan high schools who will compete for scholarships to Michigan State University.

Matt Ottinger during QB's early days.
Matt Ottinger during QB's early days.

Throughout the course of the show, three WKAR staff served as producer and the set has undergone a number of changes. But three things have remained consistent from Day One. One is the series’ prime underwriter, Consumers Energy.

The second is Tim Zeko, who auditioned talent and hired Matt and also served in such roles as studio director and associate producer, then producer and now executive producer.

The third is the series host. Matt Ottinger has been with the show since it started. He’s noticed changes over the years, not only in the format (QuizBusters now includes video questions from guest presenters) but in the game itself.

Changes

“What’s been exciting to see in the time we’ve been doing the show is the dramatic increase in the opportunity for schools to play this sort of game all year long,” he says. “When we started, our show was unusual, something of a novelty.  Few schools had organized quiz bowl clubs the way they do now.  Nowadays, there are regular tournaments and even leagues that mirror those of the school sports teams.  What that means for us is that more teams every year are familiar with our kind of game, and are more competitive because of it.”

Ottinger with producer Mike Mihalus at the conclusion of the 2011 championships.
Ottinger with producer Mike Mihalus at the conclusion of the 2011 championships.

Ottinger explains that as time has passed, choosing a quiz team has evolved. “Schools can’t just get four smart students together and call them a quiz bowl team, just like they can’t get five tall students together and call them a basketball team,” he says. “It’s a skill, and students are constantly getting better at it.”

"...a player's eyes light up with that ah-ha look!"

Ottenger – a television game show fanatic and avid board game collector – says that although he has the role of moderator, he also approaches doing the show as a fan, one who loves the competition.

Executive producer Tim Zeko with Matt at the East Lansing Art Festival.
Executive producer Tim Zeko with Matt at the East Lansing Art Festival.
Ottinger with a prize from his board game collection.
Ottinger with a prize from his board game collection.

“I truly enjoy when a team figures out a particularly tricky bonus question, or when a player’s eyes light up with that “ah-ha!” look when they figure out a Pop Quiz clue.  I’ve always thought that if I’m having fun and the players are having fun, then that’s probably coming across to the audience,” he says.

A Lifelong Dream

Hosting QuizBusters is fulfilling a lifelong dream for Ottinger. “I’ve often said that I wanted to host a game show since I was eight years old,” he explains. “That’s wrong, though.  I’m pretty sure it was even earlier than that. Being a fan of these kinds of games has probably helped me avoid some of the clichés that are associated with “acting” like a game show host.  In fact,” he adds, “it’s hard for me to act like anything but myself.  I’ve always said that my one notable skill set is the ability to read aloud.  Everything else is just me being me.”

Talking shop with director Ken Merley prior to the 2011 championships.
Talking shop with director Ken Merley prior to the 2011 championships.

Ottinger says he is routinely approached by former plays who tell him how memorable their experience was. “Remarkably, no matter how long ago they played, they’ll often quote back to me questions that were used on their shows!”

He also says that whenever he is approached, he’s eager to learn about their career path. “It fascinates me that the career choices have been as diverse as the players themselves.”

Someday...

With Sparty at the QuizBusters Special Edition, 2012.
With Sparty at the QuizBusters Special Edition, 2012.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, Ottinger says “I still expect at some point to have a student on our show whose mother or father played QuizBusters.  It may in fact have already happened, but no one’s ever said so to me!”

With his self-deprecating sense of humor, Matt Ottinger knows a challenge and knows what’s fun. And in his words, “The most challenging thing is not to mess up.  The most fun thing is when I don’t mess up.”

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