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Final moments of an episode of the Montreal version of Reach for the Top, as aired on CBMT-6 in the late 1970s.

Reach for the Top is a Canadian game show in which teams of high school students participate in local, provincial and eventually national trivia tournaments. The non-televised tournaments held at high schools throughout Canada during the year are known as Schoolreach; both are commonly referred to simply as "Reach".

Some districts also have "Intermediate" level competitions, where the questions are written with a lower level of difficulty to provide experience to new, younger players. Intermediate level champions do not move on to national finals.

In Canadian universities, Quiz Bowl is the dominant form of trivia competition, often played by those who participated in Schoolreach and Reach for the Top in high school.



The televised Reach for the Top series was first shown on CBC Television affiliate CBUT in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1961, based on the BBC series Top of the Form. The first national Reach for the Top tournament took place in 1965, and was won by Vincent Massey Collegiate Institute from Etobicoke, Ontario. The series was filmed at locations across Canada with the national championships held in Montreal, Quebec. In 1968 a short-lived Trans-World Top Team series was created by the CBC and BBC, in which teams from the United Kingdom played teams from Canada.

Alex Trebek hosted the Toronto version for several years. Shelagh Rogers, later a host for CBC Radio, was a contestant on the original broadcasts of the show. Bill Guest hosted the National Finals on CBC from 1969 to 1985.

The CBC stopped airing Reach for the Top in 1985, but it continues to be shown under the aegis of Reach for the Top Inc. From 2000-2008, the national finals were aired by the now defunct CLT hosted by Graham Neil of CFRN-TV in Edmonton. In 2009, the national finals were not aired except for the final game which was filmed in the TVOntario studio. It is unknown whether or not TVO will air the 2010 national finals in its entirety. Until 2009, games at the provincial level were broadcast on stations unique to their respective provinces, among them Ontario on TVOntario with Nicole Stamp of TVOKids (and produced and directed by Sidney M. Cohen), British Columbia with Tamara Stanners on Knowledge, and Alberta with Graham Neil on Access. However, only Ontario provincial level games are now aired (by TVO).

In 1985, Reach for the Top Inc., a private company, was established by Sandy Stewart, on agreement with CBC. Mr. Stewart then joined with his wife, Patricia Stewart, in partnership with Robert Jeffrey and Paul Russell of Paulus Productions Inc. to create Schoolreach, an in-school version of Reach for the Top available across Canada by subscription[1]. Schoolreach is organized among the different school boards in Canada, and monthly tournaments are played, culminating in a district final each spring. The winner in each district participates in the provincial finals (which are televised in Ontario), and the provincial winner competes in the national championship.

Reach for the Top Inc. produced a season of programming out of Toronto in 1986 and 1987. The Reach for the Top National Finals were revived in 1988. In 1995, Sandy and Pat Stewart retired from Reach For The Top. Reach for the Top and Schoolreach were then taken over by Paulus Productions Inc. under the direction of Paul Russell and Robert Jeffrey.

CBC revived the format in the program Smart Ask which was cancelled in 2004. From 1973 to 1997 the CBC's French language network, Radio-Canada, aired a program called Génies en herbe ("Budding Geniuses"), which was the French language equivalent of Reach for the Top. Competitions continued after the cancellation of the program, and teams from other francophone countries around the world often participated.


The game is similar to Quiz Bowl, the high school and university trivia game played in the United States, but with some significant differences. Reach questions include "snappers," the same as "tossups" in Quiz Bowl, which can be answered by any of the four players on either team. There are also "Who am I?" or "What am I?" questions and "shootout" questions, also open to any player. "Relay" questions are directed at only one of the teams, and "assigned" questions are directed to a single player. Questions are typically worth ten points, but can be worth up to forty points. Points are not deducted for a wrong answer.

Every game lasts for three rounds, with one minute breaks in between. Each game consists of 96 questions (80 questions in Intermediate games), plus four sudden-death tiebreakers in the case of a tie game after regulation. Contestants may answer a question before the reading of it is completed; however, a correct, anticipated guess does not earn extra points.

The tournament is divided into three different levels. At the regional level, local high school teams compete against each other to determine who goes on to the provincial level. The winners of the provincial championships then go on to the National Reach for the Top tournament. The winner is then declared the national champions.

Types of questions

  • Snappers: Snappers begin and end every round, and are called "snapstarts" and "snapouts" respectively. They are usually found in sets of four (10 points each, for a total of 40 points); however, at the end of every game, there is a snapout consisting of 8-12 questions. (If there is any time left in the game, more snappers are asked.)
  • Open Questions: These types of questions are open to both teams. Open questions are found in sets of two, three or four. Each correct answer is worth 10 points. Audio and visual questions follow the same rules. Under the rules of the 2007 and 2008 National tournaments, incorrect answers given before questions in this category are finished resulted in a five-point penalty (a 'neg 5').
  • Team Questions: A Team Question is actually a set of questions, worth a possible total of 40 points. When a team question is announced, both teams have an opportunity to answer the first question, called a "scramble". The team that answers the scramble first will have an opportunity to answer the remaining three questions, whereas the opponent will not. In the event that neither team answers the scramble, the remaining questions are open to both teams. In some leagues, the team question is forfeited completely.
  • Who/What/Where/What Word am I? Questions: The purpose of a Who/What/Where/What Word am I? question is to guess a person/place/thing. Clues are provided by the reader, and are read, one at a time. Between clues, both teams have an opportunity to guess the person/place/thing. If both teams provide incorrect guesses, the next clue will be read. This continues until the fourth and final clue is read. If neither team can provide a correct answer, the answer will be revealed, and no points will be awarded. What Word am I? questions provide up to four quotes with a missing word common to each. If a team provides the correct answer after being provided with one clue, that team will earn 40 points. Each subsequent clue reduces the question's value by 10 points.
  • Chain Snappers: Chain snappers are similar to snappers, but each question is somehow related to the preceding answer.
  • Assigned questions: Assigned questions are found in sets of eight--four questions per team. A question is assigned to each person; if the person cannot answer the question correctly, his/her opponent (sitting directly across from him/her) will have an opportunity to answer. Players may not consult with their teammates when they are assigned a question.
  • Relay questions: Each team is presented with four questions, one team at a time. The first three questions are worth 10 points each, while the last question is worth 20. If a team provides an incorrect answer at any point in the relay, the remaining questions assigned to that team are forfeited. Consultation is allowed.
  • 20-point special: A correct attempt at a 20-point special will earn 20 points. Some 20-point specials require more than one answer while others are a bit more difficult than the regular 10-point questions.
  • Shootout questions: Shootouts consist of 12 snappers, and are open to both teams. If a participant provides a correct answer, he/she will not be able to answer any further questions in the shootout. A team will be awarded 40 points if they provide four correct answers before their opponents do. This will end the shootout. If neither team provides four correct responses before the end of the shootout, no points are awarded. Prompting and consultation amongst the players is forbidden.
  • List questions: List questions are open to both teams, and are worth a possible 50 points. The reader will introduce the theme of the question, and ask for five items relating to that theme. For example, if the theme were "Chemical elements", the reader could ask for the first five elements of the periodic table. Teams alternate responses; if one team provides an incorrect response or repeats an answer, then the other team shall have an opportunity to name the remaining items in the list unless they too make a mistake in giving a wrong answer or repeating.


Participants must be "continuously enrolled in a secondary school" to be eligible for participation in Reach for the Top.[2] The age limit restricts participants to those who are 19 or younger at the beginning of the school year. There are no rules about the language of instruction in a school or that a school must be in Canada, but the vast majority of teams come from anglophone schools in provinces with established leagues.

CEGEPs, post-secondary institutions in Quebec, by definition do not fit eligibility requirements. However, given that first-year CEGEP is effectively equivalent to Grade 12 in other Canadian provinces, the participation of CEGEP-1 students has been allowed in practice.

Notable teams

In 1978, Vincent Massey Collegiate Institute became the first high school to win the National Championship twice. They played their first game in March 1978 against Richview Collegiate Institute and current Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper in the first game of the Etobicoke, Ontario flight. Vincent Massey Collegiate easily won by a score of 445-160, with Mr. Harper scoring 80 points for Richview Collegiate in his first and only appearance on the show. Interestingly, Nicole Stamp, who has been the host of Reach For The Top's Ontario Championships since 2004, is also an alumna of Richview Collegiate.

In 2003, the University of Toronto Schools, based in Toronto, Ontario, became the first school in Reach for the Top history to win back-to-back national titles. Other schools to win the championship twice include Cobequid Educational Centre in Truro, Nova Scotia (1981 and 2005), St. George's School in Vancouver, British Columbia (1991 and 2004), Saunders Secondary School in London, Ontario (1992 and 1996), Gloucester High School in Ottawa, Ontario (1998 and 2001), and London Central Secondary School in London, Ontario (2007 and 2009).

In 1990, the champions from Memorial High School in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia defeated the National Academic Championship team from Collegiate School of Richmond, Virginia 305-280.[3]

Lorne Jenken High School in Barrhead, Alberta, which won in 1973 and made six other nationals appearances in the 1970s under the direction of current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta Ken Kowalski, was considered "the series' most successful competitors" in the 1985 edition of the Canadian Encyclopedia.[4]

St. George's High School in Vancouver, British Columbia, qualified for the national finals every year from 1989-2007. In 2004, they were the national champions.

National champions

Between 1984-85 and 1988-89, no national tournament was held.

See also


  1. ^ "Lives Lived" by Wallace Immen in The Globe and Mail, 14 August 1998, page A16
  2. ^ Reach for the Top national rules
  3. ^ "They came, stayed and stayed, and conquered" (Factiva link) by Leeanne Morris in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, 16 June 1990, page 21
  4. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia entry on "Reach for the Top" from 1985

External links



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