Trivia Weekend surfs into 50th year
By Joe Bachman
“I just tried to make the contest really popular. It was popular to begin with, but it exponentially grew after that.” – Trivia organizer Jim “Trivia Oz” Oliva
STEVENS POINT — Little did Tim Donovan know that when he took over trivia in the fall of 1969 that it would turn into the world’s largest trivia contest.
On the weekend of April 12-14, the famed weekend will celebrate 50 years of trivia, which will be themed after the popular 1968 TV show Hawaii Five-O.
However, it was 50 years ago that the idea of a trivia contest started as a simple plan to gain more listeners to the WSUS campus station (later named WWSP). With a reach of only 10 watts, the contest started with only 16 teams over 16 hours, but after trivia founder Tim Donovan took over in the fall of 1969, this would expand to 51 hours for the next contest. Donovan served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Wisconsin National Guard, and while he left this earth in 2017, he would leave behind a trivia legacy like no other.
It could have been an omen for just how big the contest would become, as in the very first year, phone lines were jammed during the contest, resulting in over 90 second wait times before being able to access a dial tone. It didn’t take long for trivia craze to catch on, as in 1974 the annual affair overtook Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia contest as the largest trivia gathering in the world. That same year, the contest would solidify its 54-hour run time with 8 questions per hour.
In 1978, Donovan would leave the contest and the job of writing questions and handling the rulebook would go to Jim Oliva, otherwise known as the “Trivia Oz”. After much success, only a year later he took over as the contest organizer. For Oliva, his brain is nothing short of an ongoing carnival, contemplating new questions and ideas for the annual trivia party.
“It’s always clicking and thinking of new ways, and trying to come up with stuff,” he said.
Oliva would go on to introduce the Trivia Stone scavenger hunt and pre-registration, as well as implementing important rule changes, such as allowing only one answer or guess per team, per question. In 1985, the first Trivia Parade was held.
Through 50 years, the weekend is not short on memories, which continue to be made to this day. Oliva recalls getting his car stuck in a bed of snow last year’s record-setting April snowfall. After deciding to stay at the station after getting un-stuck, Oliva realized that he only had one change of socks to last the entire weekend. After having to move the cars every 8-hours with no boots to keep dry, his socks would continue to stay damp.
“My feet were wet all weekend.” said Oliva. “On Sunday morning I’m sitting there and I said ‘I really want my feet dry’ — so I put on my socks, and I said ‘oh man, this feels so good’ — three minutes later Eck (John Eckendorf) comes walking in and he says ‘hey we need to go move our cars.”
“That was crazier than anything — you can’t write that kind of stuff,” he said. “It was just amazing.”
This is a weekend that unites over 375 teams with over 10,000 players to one shared passion of trivia.
“The Mutated Members Captain has said to me several times ‘if somebody offered me a trip around the world, all expenses paid; as long as I want to and as many countries and locations — and it happened over trivia weekend, I wouldn’t take it.'” said Oliva.
As trivia weekend approaches, don’t forget to toast the Trivia Oz, as he is humble in how much pressure is put on him during this beloved tradition. When asked about the pressure of such a responsibility, predictably, he responds with humor.
“If I say no, would you believe me?” Oliva joked.