As my friends know, I’m a little competitive. They also know that I come by it honestly as I was raised alongside five competitive brothers (and yes, me the only girl). So, when I inevitably find myself at a trivia night, those competitive juices kick in. In fact, it starts as soon as I begin to consider the other seven people who will join me at the table.
Trivia nights come in many forms – bar trivia and fundraising trivia nights are the most popular. In the Midwest, we have both types, but charity trivia nights have been raised to an art form. These nights are typically filled with 10 rounds of trivia (10 questions each) and often include silent auctions, between-round games, theme table contests, and loads of fun food and beverages.
After years of attending school, charity, and athletic team trivia night fundraisers, I’ve come to understand there is a strategy to building a winning trivia team. I’ve been on many-a-winning team, but I think my strength lies as much with table recruitment as it does with obscure TV and Olympic sports questions! And now I’m ready to share my not-so-secret secrets.
3 tips for constructing a winning team
1. Multi-generation members
The most valuable tip I can share is to ensure your team (typically eight people) is represented by a wide range of ages. Having a group that has a grasp of current music/literature/pop culture as well as those who can reach back to at least the ‘60s can be very helpful. Having players in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond around your table is worth the effort when making calls to friends and family.
2. Topic experts
Think about the popular board game Trivial Pursuit – the pieces of the “pie” each represent a specialized topic. Think the same way as you’re assessing the knowledge base of potential tablemates. Do you have folks who have expertise in geography, entertainment/pop culture, history, arts and literature, science and nature, and sports and leisure? Some trivia nights organizers get pretty creative and throw in some crazy theme rounds like “guess this spice, cereal, herb, etc.” Having a player with skills in the domestic arts can come in handy!
3. Similar competitive nature
Competition can energize the group, but some people just don’t have the same competitive nature as others – And. That’s. Okay. My recommendation for a cohesive table is to be upfront with your recruits that your table is out to win. Having a similar mindset will translate into a table of players who are mindful about time management, voice volume, and, well, I’ll say it – alcohol consumption, ha!
Frequent trivia table mate and long-time friend Dan concurs on these tips.
“It’s important to have a cross-section of ages and areas of interests. You need coverage in sports, history, music (various genres), TV, movies, etc.,” Dan said. “You also need people who aren’t insistent on always being right; no one is right all the time. It also helps to have someone with decent handwriting.”
A friend, former colleague and trivia night organizer/writer, Theresa, has seen a lot of winning tables.
“Get a good diverse team!” she stressed. “Also, make sure you listen to everyone and not just the player who yells the loudest.”
Bonus success strategies
While table composition is the foundation for a high-scoring trivia table, here are a few bonus tips that can set you up for success:
Appoint a calm tablemate with good handwriting (as Dan said) to manage your answer sheets – using a pencil with an eraser. They can also help with watching the time.
Have another person keeping track of questions you are struggling with in the round so you can circle back before you have to turn in your answer sheet.
Bring paper and pen for each member to jot down their answers instead of saying them out loud (this practice will keep your answers away from prying ears at nearby tables, ha).
Bring cash for mulligans (mulligans count as a correct answer for questions you just can’t get). Buy as many mulligans as your trivia organizers allow.
Don’t forget the fun!
Yes, I want the “W,” but I also want it to be a fun night for me and my team. Of course, there are a lot of ways to achieve this goal, but here are just a few I’ve seen in action:
Consider a theme table and/or costumes. It can be anything from an all-out Star Wars table (costumes, props, food) to everyone coming in Hawaiian shirts. Get creative!
Speaking of food, tasty treats are essential. Chips, dips, pizzas, popcorn, sub sandwiches, brownies, – even veggie trays – whatever delights your group will add to the evening’s festivities. Typically, fundraising trivia organizers provide free beverages.
Bring some dollar, dollar bills, y’all! Frequently these charity fundraisers will include a silent auction to bid on unique items and gift baskets. Your dollars will also come in handy for in-between games like the Birthday Game, Alive or Dead, or Heads and Tails.
“What’s better than an evening of spirited competition with good friends and good (but no one said healthy) food?” Dan shared.
Money and manners
A decision you’ll want to make as a group before the games begin – especially if you think you’ve been successful in building a winning team – is whether the group is open to returning any winnings to the charity. Occasionally you’ll hear chants at the end of the game – “give it back, give it back!” – encouraging the winning team to donate any cash winnings back to the organizing charity. Deciding on your team’s willingness to answer such a call will save some awkward moments while in the throes of victory.
Finally, a competitive spirit does not have to be in conflict with a kind heart. Be sure to bring your big girl/boy pants and be a gracious winner (or loser). Graciousness will serve your team and the other teams well as you wrap up the evening. But if you do win (and I hope you do!) – celebrate, indeed. Just do it with a little class.
Have you been on a winning team (or the runner up)? What tips do you have? And, if you don’t have any strategies to share, just leave your favorite trivia night treat in the comments.
Now go out there and grab your piece of the trivia pie!
If you are in the St. Louis metro area, here’s a list of a few of upcoming trivia nights to consider as you recruit your winning team:
3rd Annual Trick-Or-Trivia brought to you by the Carney's Kids Foundation and The Greater St. Louis Restaurant Association, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022
Contemporary Art Museum Trivia Night, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022
Dirks Fund 16th Annual Trivia Night, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022
For a list of more metro-area trivia nights, visit trivianights.net.