• Xavier Spano sea kayaking in Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine on the 2019 Canadian Geographic Challenge finalists prize trip. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Can Geo)

  • Xavier Spano at the northern gannet colony on Ile-Bonaventure on the 2019 Canadian Geographic Challenge finalists prize trip. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Can Geo)

Finishing fourth in the 2019 national finals of the Canadian Geographic Challenge wasn’t enough for Xavier Spano, a Grade 9 student from Burlington, Ont. 

He wanted to win.

And on Sunday, May 31, that’s exactly what Spano did, competing in the 25th Annual Can Geo Challenge virtually from his living room. 

“I definitely studied a little bit more this year than last year,” says Spano. “Other than that, the experience was pretty similar. [The Education team] did a great job of making sure things were close to the same.”

Faced with a new kind of challenge this year under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the top 20 finalists in the national geography competition were asked to complete a virtual round of field work in order to determine the top five who would go on to compete in the live final. To make it to the top 20, students had previously completed online quizzes and tasks for the provincial and territorial rounds. 

The Canadian Geographic Education team worked tirelessly throughout the weekend, marking quizzes and field work and tallying scores behind the scenes of the livestreamed final, which was hosted by Director of Education Michelle Chaput. About 100 people tuned in to watch, sharing their enthusiastic support for the final five in the live chat.

Keeping in line with past competitions, some questions were video questions featuring explorers Jill Heinerth, Christian Stenner and George Kourounis.

Second place went to Tony Wang from Ottawa, Ont., who was just eight points behind Spano. Third went to Aaron Chung from Markham, Ont., just two points behind Wang. Fourth and fifth places went to Awad Khalid from Calgary, Alta., and Noah Deng, from Windsor, Ont., respectively. Each of the top three winners receives a cash prize, a medal, and a Can Geo Education prize pack. 

As a special surprise, storm chaser and TV personality Kourounis joined the livestream at the end of the competition to congratulate the finalists.

“I look forward to the day I can shake your hand,” Kourounis said to gold medal winner Spano.

Watch the livestreamed final here: