By Sarah Hussain
In a year that’s already gifted us the Free 4 All, Collider Collision and recent Movie Trivia Glowdown, the Commissioner continues to spoil us fans with the upcoming back-to-back 16-competitor Ultimate Schmoedown tournaments. And after an incredible season for both rookies and veterans of the league, the competition has never been more stacked.
As always, there are favourites and underdogs as fans submit their brackets. But while winning the Schmoedown is the main endgame for all competitors, contrary to popular belief, there actually are points for second place. Sometimes surpassing expectations and making a statement is enough. Dubbed by this writer as the “John Humphrey Effect,” being a breakout star can do wonders for one’s standing in the league and earn the respect of both their competitors and the fans.
That doesn’t necessarily mean winning and breaking out are mutually exclusive, but history has shown that it is the more experienced player that makes it to the finals, while the headlines tend to follow the ones who surprise us the most.
So before I give my predictions on who will win our attention in this year’s tournament, let’s take a look back at previous breakout stars in the Ultimate Schmoedown.
2014: JOSH MACUGA
The results of the 2014 Schmoedown came as no surprise to anyone, as Mark Reilly took the win just as he was expected to do. And yet, nobody could have predicted who he’d be taking on in the finals.
While many will pass it off as a fluke or blame it on the Blue Fairy or Matthew Broderick debacle, “The Wildman” did an incredible job in the inaugural tournament, taking down worthy competitors like Ken Napzok, Kristian Harloff, and Bonnie Sommerville before losing to the future champion on the final question.
Circumstances may have helped him get to that final match, but after watching him fly throughout this tournament, you couldn’t deny that it was more than just his Macuga Magic that almost carried him all the way.
2015: JOHN ROCHA (TOP 10)
In a year where most people had a final bracket consisting of teams like Profiles, Champs, and Schmoes (who did end up winning the tournament in the end), it was Box Office Breakdown and ETC that brought the upsets. And while I did consider picking one of those teams, I don’t think either took the Schmoedown by storm that year the way John Rocha did after Top 10 made their debut.
Not to take away anything from his team-mate, Matt Knost, who played his own part in their progress, but the second Rocha entered the arena with his signature cowboy hat and “V for Vendetta” mask, and then proceeded to knock out Screen Junkies with the help of Knost, he had everyone’s attention.
This was only furthered when Top 10 beat tournament favorites Team Champs in the second round. And though they failed in making it past the semi-finals, Top 10 cemented themselves as favorites in the league, with many people anxious to see what else Rocha had up his sleeve. To his credit, he did not disappoint…
2016: MARK ELLIS
It’s strange referring to Ellis as a “breakout star” given that he was the reigning team champion and winner of the previous tournament at the time. And yet, very few people predicted him to win.
Nobody ever doubted his talents, but in a tournament filled with veteran fighters like Reilly and Macuga, as well as rising stars Clarke Wolfe and Samm Levine, Ellis’ name just got lost in the shuffle. His relaxed demeanor and cheerful entrances made him seem like less of a threat and disguised his true competitive nature and drive to win.
While everyone seemed to be focused on Rocha’s hot streak after his redemption against Mantz, his narrow defeat against Harloff, and his shocking victory over the former singles champion, “Baby Carrots” was slowly making his way to the finals with more under-the-radar wins against Levine and Macuga.
Once he took home the crown at the end of the tournament – and then put up one hell of a fight against Dan Murrell in the title match – nobody ever took his movie knowledge for granted again.
So with that out of the way, here’s my picks for the breakout stars of the 2017 tournaments…
2017 SINGLES: STACY HOWARD
After three years of mostly male-dominated tournaments (only one woman has ever made it to the semi-finals – Grae Drake in 2015), I predict that this year, we’ll be getting at least one woman in the finals. There are many worthy ladies that could make it, most notably Clarke Wolfe, Rachel Cushing, and Brianne Chandler. One recurring omission – aside from the aforementioned Drake who is unfortunately missing from this tournament – has been Chandler’s team partner, Stacy Howard.
After having an incredible singles debut that was overlooked by her expected heel turn at the end, followed by a great showing in her team match that put Tuff Beats in retirement, I’m fully on board the Sassy train. Howard is a consistent competitor that has usually been overshadowed as of late by her own faction. I feel like if she can have a great turnout in her first match, it could finally give her a name in the league beyond being a member of the MissFits and Six Degrees.
She’ll taking on the winner of the past two tournaments, 2016 breakout star Mark Ellis, who is obviously the favorite to win. But as we saw recently in his match against Wolfe, the former champion is apparently rusty. Howard is also such a well-rounded competitor; she’s knowledgeable in categories like musicals and romantic films, but also has demonstrated strengths in action films. If the wheel goes her way, I could see her busting a lot of brackets later this year.
At the time of writing this article, the bracket for the singles tournament hasn’t been published, so we don’t know what her route would be if she did defeat Ellis. But if she can take down someone as strong as “Baby Carrots”, which this writer thinks she can, regardless of how her next match goes, Howard could exit this tournament with a newfound popularity.
2017 TEAMS: HECTOR NAVARRO (HEROES)
Cinemablend, Deep Cuts, Reel Rejects – all of these teams have the potential to go further than expected. But the team that I’m predicating will shock everyone is actually Team Heroes.
Hear me out. Do I think Jon Schnepp will show up to this match? Probably not unless they manage to spin comic book movies again (which given their track record isn’t unlikely!). But the deciding factor of whether or not they can defeat Blofeld’s Cat will lie with Hector Navarro and the knowledge that I know he has, even if the rest of the MTS community doesn’t.
Again, it’s strange referring to Navarro as a potential breakout star considering that he’s the current defending Innergeekdom champion. And yet, it still baffles me how people underestimate him in regular play. Yes, he had a losing record while he was part of Team Superhero News, but he and Adam Hlavac outperformed their opponents during both matches and lost on difficult five point questions. (Forget Carmen Sandiego, where in the world in Adam Hlavac?!)
Navarro has a strong handle on the general categories, but his expertise lie with categories that most players struggle with. Scores and soundtracks? Check. Movie release dates? Check. Animation? Check. Any Innergeekdom category? Check. Unless they get James Bond, they have a shot at pulling the upset.
The point is, if JTE can carry Finstock to the finals and if Eliot Dewberry can carry Ricky Hayberg to a No.1 contenders’ match (once again, how the hell did that happen?), then “The Nightmare” can easily carry Schnepp through a few rounds.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think Heroes will make it past round 2 given their position in the bracket. Even beating Blofeld’s cat is a stretch. But win or lose, I do think Navarro’s going to leave the tournament with a great amount of respect that he hasn’t been getting outside of the Innergeekdom league.
Who do you think will be the breakout stars of the tournament? Have your say in the comments below!