MONTEREY, CA — On a brisk, sunny northern California morning, Defense Language Institute students gathered at Soldier Field for the first day of the Nerd of the Quarter competition.
Sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen braved dozens of events designed to test their nerd mettle, including World of Warcraft navigation, Star Wars trivia, Star Trek trivia, Cosplay, and Magic the Gathering deck building.
“This is a rigorous day for all competitors,” said Petty Officer Mike Boyle, a military language instructor and self-described “Battlestar Galactica Uber-Freak.”
Boyle is one of the judges of the competition, and a former Nerd of the Quarter winner himself. He stressed the importance of well-rounded skills.
“We’re not looking to reward the guy who knows everything about Manga but nothing about Lord of the Rings,” Boyle said.
“Actually,” Boyle added, “could you change that when you quote me? I said ‘guy who knows everything’ but I should have said ‘guy or girl.’ Some of the girls here are into vampire nerd stuff and are so fracking uncool [sic], they make me look like Apollo Adama in comparison.”
The early favorite of this quarter’s competition was Private James Hurley, a student in the basic Arabic program who hails from Salt Lake City. During the interview round, Hurley revealed that he speaks Arabic all the time, even during the 10-minute breaks between classes and out at the movie theater with his friends.
“Hurley is a beast,” Boyle said. “Just being at DLI means your nerd potential is high. But speaking your language out in town on a Friday night—that kind of dedication really elevates your nerd cred.”
Later in the day, though, Marine Corps Private First Class David Jennisen surged to the front of the pack. The 19-year-old student in the Chinese program sits atop the leaderboard after the first day of competition.
“I don’t know why I’m even here,” said Jennisen, whose entire back is covered by a tattoo of an eagle flanked by the words “Semper Fidelis.”
“I’m not a nerd,” Jennisen insisted. “Yeah, maybe I’m a little too into kung fu movies, especially Donnie Yen’s early work, and maybe some Sammo Hung if I’m feeling like watching some sell-out Hong Kong new wave bullshit . But at the end of the day, I’m not a nerd. I’m a deadly warrior.”
Jennisen then went on to recite the Rifleman’s Creed, followed by twenty-minutes-worth of lines from Full Metal Jacket and Heartbreak Ridge.
The students are battling for a vacant crown. The winner of last quarter’s competition, Airman Reggie Watkins, wasn’t able to attend this weekend because he now has a girlfriend.
Competition continues until Sunday.