In “Brain Games: On the Road”, Chuck Nice improves on a classic… There, we said it.

Tired of the same old boring programming? Or overwhelmed by the 543,652,467,346 new shows streaming on the same number of streaming platforms? Never fear. We got your back.

National Geographic is breaking out of the studio and taking a fan-favorite series on the road with Brain Games: On the Road. The Magical Elves-produced series premieres Feb. 25 at 8/7c on National Geographic, with four episodes per night over five consecutive Fridays. Hosted by comedian Chuck Nice, the all-new iteration of the critically acclaimed series will pit teams of everyday Americans against each other as they take on friends and family in an epic battle of the brains. Not only does Nice and Brain Games: On the Road live up to past series, it’s actually more fun.

We caught up with Chuck Nice and asked him a few questions, some pertinent, others not so much.

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Can I start with, like a background question here. You have a pretty diverse resume of projects you did in the past like stand up and hosting shows with different sorts of subjects. You started inching your way into SciComm. Tell me about your relationship with science. What do you love about it? What keeps pulling you in?

Yeah, it’s funny. When you say, “Pulling me in.” I just hear Al Pacino… “Every time I try to get out…” 

I’ve always been a fan of science. I’ve always loved science, but I did so in a kind of in-the-closet way. I’ve also been a sci-fi fan my entire life. The great thing about good sci-fi is that it’s always tied to good science. When you really love sci-fi, you can’t help but try to find out the science behind the fiction. 

From that love of science, I ended up working with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson about 10 years ago. I just had to come out of the closet as a science geek. Over the years, it’s just been a wonderful experience. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to some of the world’s top scientists. One of the great things about that is you can’t speak to them intelligently if you don’t know their work, so I have to go read their work, which of course just increases my love of science. 

Slowly but surely I kept going deeper and deeper into this vortex of science information. The great thing about science – I don’t care who you are – the more you know about it, the more you want to know. And the more you know about it, the more you want to share it. That’s kind of my journey, man.

You touch on something that’s actually really interesting. You have to answer honestly… Why were you in the closet about loving science?

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Okay, you said, “Answer honestly.” All right, here we go. I don’t want to answer honestly, but I might as well because it’s just my truth. 

Being black and loving science, and being a geek and a nerd can sometimes bring ridicule and mistrust upon you. People are sometimes intimidated or they question you like, “What’s up with you?” It’s just so much easier to say you love basketball, when really you love astrophysics.

You came to it as an adult, or at least came out of your science closet as an adult, right? 

Yes, I guess I did. 

Were you into science when you were in school? Or is it something you purely came into as an adult?

Once again, I’m going to be very candid. I have loved science my entire life. I had my first book about astronomy when I was 11 years old. There was a lot in it that I didn’t understand like white dwarfs and pulsars and all that. The book explained it but I needed further clarification because I’m 11, right? 

I have to say that I had two really good science teachers. I also had a bunch of really bad science teachers. I remember their effect on me, which was, “Oh, well. This is BS. I guess it’s not for me.” So yeah, I always had a love for science but I think that love was stomped on by some, I won’t say bad teachers, but maybe they should have been in a lab instead of in a classroom.

That makes sense to me. Let’s talk Brain Games. You’ve got some pressure on you. It’s been around for a while and has had some great hosts. Number one, do you feel any pressure? Number two, how did you get involved with the show in the first place?

Okay. Number one, no pressure at all. Here’s why this is the best iteration of Brain Games ever. I say that with the utmost reverence and respect for every other version that’s come before this, but here’s why it’s the best ever. 

Number one. It’s a game show, which means it’s a whole lot of fun. There’s an energy level that was kind of missing before because the audience was passive. They were watching other people play. In this version, the audience, or the contestants and the people at home, and everyone can play along. You get to identify with the games on screen because as the person gets the right or the wrong answer, you may have a different answer. 

It may be right or wrong, but at the end, you learned the brain science behind it. You’re like, “Oh, man, that’s why.” Not only were you having fun, not only were you engaged, but after it’s all over, you learned something. You don’t even know that you’re learning it while you’re learning it, which is the best way to learn anything. By the way, that is neuroscience. People retain more information when they’re having a pleasant experience while they are learning it. Also, learning something releases dopamine, so that learning itself is addictive. I’m getting excited just talking about it. (laughs) I’m sorry.

David and Krystal from The Anibrainiacs team complete the “Cereal Position” brain buster. (National Geographic/Mike Taing)

What kind of prep do you do for an episode?

I get something like a dossier on all of the contestants because I have to be personable. Also, I don’t want to walk on set and not know the people. When I step on the set, I know everybody’s name. It puts them at ease. It’s still a television show and you’d be surprised how many people have a bit of camera shyness when they’re there when they’re on set. So I get a dossier on everybody and I try to remember as much about them as possible. 

I also have to know all the games and how they work. Then of course, there’s the science behind the games. The great thing is that people at NatGeo and the people at Magical Elves, they do a great job at bringing me all of this information in a tight little package. It’s my job just to retain as much of that information as possible and then to have fun with it on set. That’s what my job really is, which is what I love about it. It’s just go out there and have some fun, man. Just go have some fun, and that’s what we do.

You kind of touched on this question already but I’ll just do it one more time. Brain Games. Your version. Sell it. Why should people watch?

It’s very simple. Why you should watch this game. One, you’re already smart. Okay, two, you want to be smarter. Three, you like to have fun. When it’s done, you’ll be even smarter than you were before. And five, if none of that applies to you. This will still be a good show to you.

Renee and Megan of Team San Diego Roller Derby complete the “A Number In the Life” brain buster while Host Chuck Nice looks on. (National Geographic/Mike Taing)

Alright, I’ve got some quick fire questions for you. It’s just “this” or “that”. Earth… Round or flat?

It’s actually oblate spheroid. But go, on.

Fantastic. Pluto… Planet or not a planet?

It’s actually a big ice ball. Who cares if it’s a planet? Nobody can live there.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

That’s like Sophie’s Choice, but it’s Star Trek.

Okay. If you say so… Last one… Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson?

Man. No, no, I’m not doing it. 

I will. 

It’s Neil. 

I want to tell you why. 

It’s Neil. Okay, cuz I know you said this or that. I think Neil has the same reach as Carl. But Carl wasn’t funny. Neil is hilarious.

IMAGE CREDIT: National Geographic/Mike Taing.

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