December 20th, 2018
Last night was the finale of the CBC’s Canada’s Smartest Person Junior, a new six-episode smarty-pants smackdown that culminated with the crowning of the country’s most clever kid. The winner was 12-year-old Mateus Soto from Toronto, who spoke with Toronto Life about his big victory, his unabashed nerdiness and why there is no such thing as a normal kid.
Congratulations, Mateus! What does it feel like to be Canada’s smartest kid?
I’m still sort of getting used to it. When I hit the “finish” button for the final challenge, I just kind of went nuts. I think I may have actually teared up.
Do you still have confetti in your hair?
Probably. My hair traps everything.
On the finale, you described yourself as a “proud nerd.” What did you mean by that?
I do a lot of things that would be considered “nerdy,” like programming and coding, and playing Dungeons and Dragons. There use to be distain that came with that label, but I think nowadays it’s a great thing to be called.
How did you get involved with the show?
I was sitting on the couch minding my own business one night when my mom came in and told me about it. She had seen something about the show in an advertisement. We went through the application online and made a 45-second video. Then there were two Skype interviews. One was an intelligence test—a math game that was sort of like a Sudoku, and a dancing game that tested how you follow instructions. The other was more of a personal interview.
Did you have a particular competitive edge?
I’d say one of my strengths is music, and there was a musical category in the finale, where we had to identify whether two clips were identical or different. I started playing the piano and the recorder when I was seven and now, I’m learning how to play the flute in the band at school.
Which category was the hardest?
The social one. There was a challenge called “Mixed Emotions” where they showed you a set of eyes and you had to choose the right mouth to go with it. That was hard for me. I think I need to learn to stop overthinking and just go with my instincts.
The show really looked at intelligence from a lot of different perspectives.
I really liked that it’s not Jeopardy! for kids. It was more skills based than knowledge based. A lot of people have compared it to Survivor, but I’ve never watched that show.
What’s the prize for winning?
The prize is a beautiful trophy and serious bragging rights. But the biggest prize was meeting all of the other contestants. We are still in touch. I just got a Christmas card from one of them and a postcard from another.
Is relating to your fellow students hard sometimes?
Sometimes it is. They aren’t into astrophysics and the other kinds of things that I like. I started playing video games around Grade 1 or 2 because it gave me something to talk about with my friends.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I think I’d like to be a robotics engineer. I like the idea of making something that can change things.
As a child genius, how do you cut loose? Do you have any “normal kid” interests?
I thing gaming is a good outlet for my generation. I wouldn’t label it “normal,” though. That’s a term I have grown to resent. What does that even mean?
You are 100 per cent right. I retract the question. What’s the last thing you did that didn’t require an above average IQ?
I love to go swimming, and I’ve been to Sky Zone for a bunch of birthday parties. It’s kind of a go-to for kids my age.
Any plans for the holiday?
We do a family gift-giving ceremony, but I think this year I’m pretty content. A random fact about me: I kind of resent jeans. They’re so uncomfortable. Last year I got about 15 pairs of sweatpants. That was great.