Carmel Valley student shines on 'Genius Junior'

Carmel Valley 11-year-old Michi Synn is showing off her smarts as one of the “wise whippersnappers” on the new NBC show “Genius Junior.” The new show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, shines a light on America’s brightest, quick-witted youngsters.

“Their brilliance is inspiring,” said Harris on the show.

A fifth grader at Solana Pacific Elementary School, Michi made her debut on the season’s fourth episode on April 15, showcasing her amazing ability to spell words backward and her math prowess, not to mention her bubbly personality and infectious smile. Harris called her “a big brain in a little package.”

Michi’s team Geeks on Fleek won their heat moving them on to the semifinals. The team also won $40,000 in the “Cortex,” the game’s final and toughest test of genius.Their semi-final match will air on Sunday, May 6 at 9 p.m.

“I want to win very badly because then America will see that we are very smart and don’t crack under pressure and it’s a lot of money at stake,” said Michi.

Michi’s favorite subject is math and she participates in advanced math and computer science programs with San Diego Math Circle on Saturdays.

She has also taken after her mother, Stella Sung, who works in biotech, by showing a keen interest in science. As shown on “Genius Junior,” Michi works as an intern at a San Diego biotech company and is by far the smallest scientist in the lab.

“We are working to attack tumor cells and cure cancer with immunology,” said Michi, who has goals to be a pediatrician when she grows up. “Finding a cure for cancer is so important. We can’t afford not to research it, we’ve lost so many.”

In addition to being very skilled at science and math, Michi is also very verbal—Sung said Michi was speaking in full sentences before she was 14-months- old. She is a gifted poet and is also a voracious reader.

“I mostly read fantasy, which usually has a lot of descriptions. That’s where I got my very developed vocabulary,” said Michi, who also loves music and takes violin and voice lessons.

Michi was contacted by “Genius Junior” after placing first in the national math competition Math Kangaroo. She filled out questionnaires and had multiple Skype interviews with the show, completing a test devised by a panel of experts and went to final casting in Los Angeles. She was selected as one of 36 kids, divided into 12 teams of three to compete on the show.

Michi was paired with Geeks on Fleek teammates Jackson, a 12-year-old sports history expert from North Carolina, and Ugochi, an 11-year-old from Georgia who has the Gettysburg Address and the Periodic Table committed to memory.

In the April 6 match-up, Geeks on Fleek went head-to-head against team Genius Schmenius.

Geeks on Fleek rolled through the memory and math challenges. Prior to the game, the teams were shown a road map of the 2,612 streets in San Francisco and the kids were then asked to identify missing streets on the map in a series of questions. They also had to memorize three randomly shuffled decks of cards—the team went through the order of the 52 cards flawlessly. Michi said she memorizes a shuffled deck every day, associating each card with a person.

In the math challenge, the teammates could not see the numbers and had to complete calculations in their heads. Michi solved the equation “340 plus 660 divided by 4 minus 35” on the spot.

“Correct on the Mich!” exclaimed a playful Harris of Michi’s correct answers.

In the game, teams can choose the order in which they answer questions or elect one team member to compete alone as a “Super Brain.” Geeks on Fleek chose Michi as a “Super Brain” for the spelling challenge.

It’s not your average spelling challenge as the contestants are asked to spell as many words as they can, backward in 90 seconds.

Michi correctly spelled 13 of 14 words backward in 90 seconds: burrito, dogmatic, babysitting, stagnant, halcyon, dromedary, irreverent, unabridged, kinesiology, theatricality, outrageousness, deactivate and crescendo.

By winning their match, Geeks on Fleek moved on to challenge 99 Problems but Brains Ain’t One, a team that includes another local genius Christopher, a 11-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe with an IQ of over 150.

“One of the best parts of the experience was making friends,” said Michi, who has become close friends with Christopher since she has returned home.

Christopher has gotten Michi into the sport of fencing and together, the two Geniuses have since formed a debate team with Christopher’s older brother Conner. Additionally on her spring break to Washington DC, her family made a stop in Atlanta to visit with her Geeks on Fleek teammate Ugochi.

Michi said she had a great time in her TV debut—host Neil Patrick Harris was nice and made her laugh and even autographed her American Girl Doll Z’s t-shirt. She brought Z for good luck and got an extra boost from her family sitting in the audience, especially her younger brother Sammy.

“He’s so sweet and smart,” said Michi of the potential future Genius. “He was cheering and he is loud!”

Michi cannot reveal how far she and Geeks on Fleek made it on the show but she encourages people to stay tuned on Sunday nights—or DVR it as it is a school night.

Episodes are also available online at nbc.com

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