Sacramento prodigy competes in ‘Child Genius’ reality show

Tanishq Abraham, his parents Bijou and Taji, and his sister Tiara.
Tanishq Abraham, his parents Bijou and Taji, and his sister Tiara. Lifetime Entertainment Services

Most 10-year-olds probably wouldn’t relish the prospect of competing against a roomful of child geniuses to answer math and geography questions. Tanishq Abraham viewed it as chance to hang out with kids like him.

The Sacramento boy started attending classes at American River College at age 7, the youngest person to attend since the school began keeping records. His newest venture is Lifetime Network’s unscripted reality television show “Child Genius,” in which 20 gifted children compete over eight weeks for the title of “Child Genius 2014” and a $100,000 college fund.

“My goal is to have my Ph.D. by the time I get my driver’s license,” Tanishq told the audience during the first episode of the show.

Tanishq and his family were approached by the producers of the show because Tanishq is well-known in the young gifted community after giving a TED Talk on education, and he received a lot of publicity when he graduated high school at 10. President Barack Obama even sent him a letter congratulating him on the achievement.

“The producers were persistent,” said Bijou Abraham, Tanishq’s father, “and we decided it would be a fun experience for him.”

The show is produced in conjunction with American Mensa, an organization for people whose IQs test in the top 2 percent of intelligence. Tanishq joined Mensa at age 4.

The host of “Child Genius” is Leland Melvin, a former NASA astronaut, who peppers the kids with questions from two of the show’s 16 categories each week, which include math, zoology and literature. Mensa helped chose the questions, and the organization’s Gifted Youth Ambassador participates in the show to give insights into the minds of gifted children and their families.

Because Tanishq and the other contestants are several grade levels beyond their peers, they often have trouble making friends. Most of Tanishq’s fellow college students are about a decade older than him. The show provided an opportunity to meet other kids in his age group with his abilities, which he said was his favorite part of the experience.

“The show was mainly an educational experience for me,” Tanishq said, “and an opportunity to meet other kids who were geniuses like me.”

John Hesling, one of the executive producers for the show, said this was one of the interesting things about his job.

“It was cool to see the kids in the holding room before the show,” Hesling said, “to see them come together and meet like-minded people in their peer group.”

Hesling, who has produced shows like “Atlanta Exes” and “Top Gear,” said finding the contestants was a little bit of a different process than for most reality television shows. “Child Genius” recruited at everything from robotics clubs to schools for gifted children.

“These aren’t the sort of people who want to be in a reality show,” Hesling said. “We had to approach the parents, who are the gate-keepers for the kids, and tell them that this was going to be a serious series about families raising gifted children.”

Tanishq’s mother Taji Abraham and father Bijou said they were concerned at first about a show pitting their son against other kids, but it ended up being a fun experience.

Tanishq is also a very busy kid, attending college, participating in the San Francisco Boys Chorus and working on coding projects.

“We talked about it a lot,” Bijou said, “and we had to turn down other opportunities to be a part of this.”

A significant portion of each week’s show is devoted to the family dynamics of each child and the preparation they and their parents do to be ready for each week’s competition. Tanishq said the hardest part for him was the mental math.

“There were some challenging things,” Tanishq said, “especially the math section. I’m not so good at doing mental math quickly.”

Math and geography were the first two categories and Tanishq passed through those rounds and will appear in the second episode. Five contestants were eliminated. The taping for the show was all done over the summer in order to accommodate the children’s academic schedules. While the Abrahams know who won in the end, the audience will have to wait.

“We told him ‘whatever happens, happens,’ ” said Bijou, “and he just did his best.”

The Abrahams also have a gifted daughter, Tiara, 9. The producers of the show are interested in having her compete in the second season of “Child Genius,” but Taji says the family will make that decision when the time comes.

“Child Genius” airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.

Call The Bee’s Ellen Garrison at (916) 321-1006.

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