'I felt intimidated!': Dr Susan Carland on quizzing child geniuses

Gillian Wolski
Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
Dr Susan Carland is set to reprise her role as quizmaster on season two of Child Genius. Photo: Getty Images.

By all accounts, Dr Susan Carland is pretty darn smart. She’s an academic, with a PhD from Monash University’s School of Social Sciences where she is the director of the Bachelor of Global Studies.

The 39-year-old mum-of-two is also an author, social commentator and highly-sought-after TV personality, and she’s spoken at the United Nations.

We can’t imagine the intellectual dinner table conversation that goes on at home, either, considering she’s married to lawyer, The Project host and fellow Monash University staffer, Waleed Aly.

Despite all that, Susan admits in an exclusive chat with Yahoo Lifestyle that she very recently felt like the ‘dumbest person’ in a room filled with eight to 12-year-old kids.

Dr Carland with season one's Child Genius contestants. Photo: SBS.

‘I felt intimidated every day!’

Susan recalls that ‘humbling’ experience ahead of the premiere of season two of Child Genius, a four-part TV series that sees sixteen of the country’s brightest youngsters battle it out in the quest to be crowned ‘Child Genius Australia 2019’.

Under the watchful eye of Australian Mensa, quizmaster Susan will challenge the gifted kids on tricky topics like maths, general knowledge, spelling, history, science and memory, with many of the curly questions leaving most adults - herself included - totally stumped.

“I felt intimidated every day! Not only are these kids phenomenally talented, they’re up there knowing everything and I would be struggling to simply ask them the question,” Susan laughs.

One subject area that left her particularly bamboozled were spelling and a category called ‘Creatures of the deep,’ both of which involved a lot of complex Latin terminology.

“I would be practising just the spelling, I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce the words,” she admits before revealing her clever study hack.

“For days before we filmed I would have three different sound files in three different accents, I think British, American and Canadian or Australian and I would just be listening to those words again and again,” she explains.

Some of the questions left Susan herself stumped. Photo: SBS.

Susan’s ‘jaw-dropping’ moment

This season sees the return of a curly question that proved so difficult, not a single one of the super brainy season one contestants could get right. When she saw it on her question card again this year, Susan says she was tempted to have the ‘time-wasting’ head-scratcher scrapped altogether.

“I thought, why do we even bother to ask this, no one last year ever managed to answer it correctly, no one is going to be able to answer it this year. Maybe I should speak to the producers and say, ‘look should we just cut it out, it’s a bit of a time-waster, it’s so difficult’,” she says.

Sure enough, one mastermind member of this year’s cohort was up to the challenge, leaving Susan stunned.

“This year to my utter amazement one kid answered it correctly and I know people say it as hyperbole but I actually think my jaw was on the floor,” she says.

Future leaders

At the end of the day, Susan tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her stint on Child Genius was ‘incredibly humbling in a lovely way’.

“It’s a nice thing not to be the smartest person in the room. Normally [that happens] because you’re with other adults so it’s quite unusual to realise that, wow, I’m in a room of seven to 12-year-olds and I’m the dumbest person in the room,” she laughs.

Apart from feeling like ‘a big dope’ during the shoot, Susan says it’s made her ‘really excited about the future’ which will see these child geniuses grow into adults.

“I look at these kids and I’m like, we are in such good hands. Not only are they obviously smart but they’re such lovely kids, they’re funny, cheeky and interesting. Just normal kids,” she says.

She mentions one ‘ridiculously intelligent’ youngster in particular, eight-year-old Zachary, who wants to be an astrophysicist when he grows up and plans to take his pet hamster with him to space.

So, how does it feel to have rubbed shoulders with the bright minds that might end up saving the world one day?

“I hope when they are saving the world they remember that I was really nice to them when I asked them questions and they’ll take me along with them. Pack me and the hamster!” she laughs.

Child Genius Australia season two premieres at 8.30 pm Wednesday, November 20 on SBS.

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