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Winner’s blog: St. John’s student Katy Warren engineers her way to a win in Episode 4

Here’s a long-standing inside joke of my life so far: Starting when I was 12 and placed second in the provincial spelling bee, my friends and I have quipped that I’m living with “The Second-Place Curse.” I’ve always called myself a dabbler, in that I do a lot of different things, but one thing has stayed consistent — in any competitions, from animation to robotics to improv, I have gotten pretty darn good at placing second. I don’t see it as a bad thing — I honestly love placing second! I think it’s totally underrated, and still means you did a pretty great job. That being said, I came to Canada’s Smartest Person to win, so I was a little nervous that the Second-Place Curse would be at play again.

We started off with the linguistic challenge, which I thought was going to be awesome. As mentioned before, I had competed in spelling bees, so I thought for sure I’d have an edge on defining weird words. Not so much, as it turned out. Apart from one or two words I recognized through a series of educated guesses, I only beat out Petros for the second-place spot because I was a hair faster. So here I was, starting out in second place as usual, and with a sneaking suspicion that the curse was back in action.

Turns out I was (sort of) right! Next up was the Human Lie Detector challenge, with special guest Alan Thicke. We all went three for three, which either shows that all four of us have out-of-control social smarts or that Mr. Thicke is a terrible liar (ha!). Petros pulled off a perfect score, which meant my hard-hitting investigation won me another second place.

Next up was logical intelligence. You might have thought the engineering student had that one in the bag, right? Don’t get me wrong, I did all right with it! But Andrew was like lightning on the Pipe Fitter, and though I wasn’t too far behind, it was more evidence for me that I’d continue to accumulate my points in groups of three. I found myself once again lamenting the Second-Place Curse.

Thankfully, the curse got distracted for a second while we tested our visual smarts in Stack-O-Shapes. I was pretty surprised by that one, since I don’t think of visual intelligence as being my strongest suit, but I was able to take a logical approach to the challenge by looking at the corners at the edge of the stack rather than the centre to identify the shapes being used. It felt great to get 5 out of 5 on one of these challenges, and gave me the confidence boost I needed to carry me into the dreaded Step Squad.

Another running joke of my life is that I’m the world’s shortest lanky person. Due to an unfortunate series of late-teens growth spurts, I’ve turned out to be all limbs. It’s definitely been an asset in improv and comedy, but I wasn’t so sure how well that would translate into dancing, especially with a famous choreographer like Sean (not to mention all of Canada!) watching my every move. When we found out that we’d have to throw a chair in the middle of the routine, ol’ Spaghetti-For-Arms here was literally shaking with nerves. I’m about as good at catching things as I am at reaching things left on top of fridges or dunking basketballs.

I knew I had to do well to make it to the final round, so I decided to approach it like I would an improv set — act like I knew what I was doing, pay attention to what was going on around me, and at the very least have the most fun with it. And I’ll admit, the encouragement coming from the audience and my friends on stage made it a blast! I somehow managed to catch the chair both times, which I’m calling a miracle of TV magic, and snagged yet another second place. Not complaining about that one, though, as that sent me through to The Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet itself is kind of a blur. I remember getting stuck on that physical challenge for what seemed like forever, and it turned out that I was right about musical intelligence not being the hottest one for me after basically brute-forcing my way through that challenge, but I feel lucky that my logical intelligence got me through the last leg of the course just fast enough to edge out the win ahead of Petros.

Finally, with a wink and a smile, I had broken the Second-Place Curse right when it counted the most! It’s still hard for me to believe, since I had convinced myself at every stage of this crazy adventure, from the initial application through to casting and right to the end, that I wouldn’t be able to do it. The Queen of Second Place has finally shaken the curse, and I’m feeling on top of the world — especially considering the seriously badass competitors I faced to get here.

Huge shout-outs and hugs to my brilliant new friends (or, as we prefer to be called, Canada’s Smartest Dance Crew) for being so much fun throughout. All the competitors went through the show with so much excitement and such contagious positivity that it was impossible for me to stop smiling all night long. As I go onto to the finale, I’m hoping I can harness all of that awesome energy and come at whatever lies ahead with a big smile and a new kind of confidence. For the first time, I really feel like a winner.

So bring it on, finale! A beast from out east is comin’ atcha!

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