September 24, 2020

BY WHITNEY SOUTH

Sitting in a dark bar in downtown Kitchener, Andrew Rader seems like just another guy nursing a beer on a cold Monday night. But just one look into his bright blue eyes makes clear the determination and intensity that made this young aerospace engineer Canada’s Greatest Know-It-All.

The series, which just finished its second season on Discovery Channel, pits 10 competitors claiming to be “know-it-alls” against each other in a series of mind-bending challenges. Contestants are required to draw on practical knowledge of physics, mathematics and engineering.

After eluding elimination, which sent home nine of his fellow competitors, Rader, of Cambridge, was declared the season two winner after beating out fellow finalist Carla Davidson.

“I couldn’t believe it, the whole thing was so much fun,” he said, describing his first thoughts after the win. “I knew I was going to miss the experience and everyone I had met along the way. But also, I was so tired and ready to just sit back and relax.”

Despite being crowned Canada’s Greatest Know-It-All, becoming a reality TV star was something Rader wasn’t sure he wanted to do.

“I got a call (after sending in the application) and actually
declined a few times before I finally accepted,” he said. “It took some convincing.”

In a field of diverse competitors that included an artist, a trivia buff and even a Canadian Jeopardy champion, Rader stood out immediately as one of the top contenders after his initial test scores put him on the higher ranked team.

“I feel like it definitely set the tone for the entire show. I very much liked and respected all the competitors, but, for whatever reason, I always had a sense that Carla, Owen, Scott and myself were the top four and less likely to be eliminated,” he said.

“It was a very interesting psychological experiment. We were given the conclusion first, these people are at the top, and then I think we looked for rationale to support that conclusion. It’s actually pretty much how our brains work. We jump to conclusions first and then look for evidence to support those conclusions, not the other way around as it should be.”

Each episode contained three challenges, ranging from a high school-style egg drop to skydiving while trying to memorize a series of numbers strewn across the field below.

All competitors compete in the first two challenges, sometimes in teams. At the end of each challenge, one competitor is sent to the Danger Zone for the poorest performance. The Danger Zone is the last challenge, during which one competitor succeeds and stays in the competition while the other is eliminated.

For Rader, it was a challenge that involved riding a number of roller-coasters at Canada’s Wonderland that almost did him in.

“I just hate the sensation and don’t feel there’s any positive compensation for doing that,” he said. “I would have preferred doing the exact same maneuvers in an actual aircraft.”

Ryan Consell, a local author, artist and engineering researcher, first met Rader by chance at a pub during a gingerbread house-making event almost two years ago. Along with friend Charlotte Armstrong, the group diverged from a traditional design, choosing instead to build an All Terrain Scout Transport from Star Wars.

Consell said though he originally found Rader’s decision to appear on reality TV surprising, everything made sense to him after hearing the name of the show.

“It was stressful to watch the show, I had to skip forward through the really dramatic bits,” he said. “The last episode was very tense and they did a good job of making it unclear who was going to be the winner until the very end.”

After meeting Rader for the first time at a Star Wars documentary screening in 2011, Charlotte Armstrong says she instantly knew the pair would be friends after he showed her a picture of his homemade Darth Vader costume.

“There was an instant kinship and he quickly became like family to me,” she said. “He helped give me the courage to accomplish my goals and his encouragement and advice made the community events I have co-ordinated even more awesome.”

When Rader first told her he had sent in an application, Armstrong said that although she knew he could easily win, she worried he would give someone else the chance because of his humility.

“Not only is Andrew one of the smartest people I know, but he also has such a great personality. I wanted the world to see just how awesome he is.”

After the show wrapped up filming, it was another nine months before Rader’s friends and the rest of Canada would know who would hold the title. When the announcement came Armstrong said she was impressed at her friend’s ability to keep such a big secret under wraps for so long.

“Not only was I happy for Andrew’s triumph, I was also happy that since Andrew is an advocate for space science, there would be more opportunity now to talk about the importance of the Canadian space science and human space flight to the public,” she said.

“Andrew is such an engaging and inspiring speaker and I was very excited about the opportunities he would now have with such a title.”

With the contest over and the cameras off, Rader said his overall experience taught him a lot about himself and the importance of keeping a level head during tense situations.

“Humans always learn more from failure than success,” he said. “We need to embrace failure as a learning experience, and move on without loss of composure.”

“It’s like the Kobayashi Maru scenario from Star Trek, when Captain Kirk had to face an unwinnable scenario just to see how he would handle it. These kinds of situations teach us about how to deal with adversity.”

Given the opportunity to do it all again, Rader said he would jump at the chance.

“When can we start? What’s the challenge?”

So, what’s next for Rader?

Hopefully, a trip to space.

“Going to Mars is my lifelong dream,” he said. “My long-term goal is to apply for Mars One, the project where they send you one way to Mars for the rest of your life, but the first step is to get up there.”

As one of the top 20 candidates for a competition to fly 103 kilometres up to space with space tourism company SXC, Rader’s dream may be closer then even he realizes.

To vote to help send Andrew Rader to space, visit www.voteandrewtospace.com.