Quiz-show success made freshman Yavor Kostov -- and Pomona College -- well-known in Bulgaria.
Freshman Yavor Kostov '09 is just beginning at Pomona, but he is already a big name back home in Bulgaria. ”I get recognized in the street, whenever I ride in public transportation,” he says. “I have given autographs on several occasions.”
And it’s all because of a quiz show. In June, Kostov made it to the very final question on the Bulgarian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (There the show is called “Become Rich” and the top prize is $60,000.) He was only the third Bulgarian to make it that far, and the youngest at age 18.
This episode was devoted to graduating high-school seniors, and Kostov had gone through a competitive screening process, passing a series of quizzes before producers picked him. Once on the show, he quickly excelled.
Kostov was on a roll, picking off question after question, though they kept getting tougher. By using a process of elimination, he managed to correctly field the question: “Which ancient tribe still inhabits floating islands on Lake Titicaca?” (answer: the Uros.) This assured him $30,000 -- if he called it quits right there.
The multiple-choice quiz show allows contestants to take their money and go home at any point. If they decide to go on for bigger money, they risk most of what they’ve already won if they get the answer wrong.
Kostov decided to proceed to the 15th and final question. It turned out to be a stumper. The host asked what year the Latin abbreviation AUC refers to. Kostov chose 313 A.D., when Constantine issued an edict ending persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. The correct answer was 753 B.C., Rome’s legendary founding date. (AUC stands for ab urbe condita, which is Latin for "from the founding of the city.")
So Kostov went home with $1,700. “Some people said it was very childish of me not to quit, that I was naïve,” he says.
Still, Kostov has no regrets about trying to reach the top, and his friends and parents stand behind his decision. “They support me and they think I did the right thing,” he says.
Kostov’s youth, his success on the show and his decision to go all the way to the final question made for quite a buzz in the Bulgarian media. He was interviewed in major newspapers, on TV and radio. One Web log devoted to Kostov has more than 600 entries from fans. “I think it’s funny,” he says of the publicity. “I still can’t actually comprehend that they’re talking about me.”
Kostov’s fame has helped make Pomona College known in the Eastern European nation of about 8 million people. ”I popularized Pomona,’’ he said. “Wherever I went I told people about Pomona.”
Pomona economics professor Slavi Slavov, a native of Bulgaria, was chatting with the driver as he rode in a cab in a small town back in his homeland this summer. The driver asked him about his work, and Slavov explained that he’s a professor at a college in California. The driver was trying to remember the college where the young contestant from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” was going. He said it started with a “P.”
“Pomona College?,” asked Slavov.
”That’s it,” replied the cabbie.
"All of a sudden it's much easier to explain where I work,’’ says Slavov. “I just tell them I work at the place where the guy from ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’” is studying. All of a sudden everybody knows about Pomona College.”
Kostov found out about Pomona while talking to his counselor at American College of Sofia, a prep school where Kostov was president of the Friends of UNICEF Club. Previous graduates of the school also have attended Pomona. Kostov made up his mind to enroll here after finding out more about the College from those Bulgarian students at Pomona through e-mail conversations.
At Pomona, Kostov is considering majoring in physics, politics or international relations and plans to return to his homeland after graduating. By then, after four years studying at Pomona, Kostov may find himself poised for a quiz-show comeback. Is there a Bulgarian version of “Jeopardy?”