The COVID-19 pandemic shook up life for Robert Bennett when his job as a mechanical engineer disappeared — not that he was mad about it.
“I didn’t like engineering; I just fell back on my degree,” the UNC Charlotte graduate recalls. Instead, he seized the opportunity to turn his gig hosting Robert’s Totally Rad Trivia, which he had done since 2018, into a full-time job.
“I was doing trivia just as a hobby, a fun side job to have,” Bennett explains. “I decided I liked trivia way better, so why not devote myself to that and make a living off of it?”
Bennett is the master of ceremonies for four bar trivia nights in Asheville each week: The Golden Pineapple on Mondays, French Broad River Brewery on Tuesdays, 12 Bones Brewery South on Wednesdays and Bold Rock Cider on Thursdays. He spoke with Xpress about the logic underpinning his trivia rules, whom he would want on his trivia “dream team” and why drinking that second piña colada slushie might lead your team to victory. (Or at least help you loosen up a bit.)
This interview has been condensed for length and edited for clarity.
Are you really good at trivia?
Honestly, I am terrible at trivia. I just enjoy the fun. It’s something to do on the weekdays that gets you out of the house that a group of friends can do.
If you’re not good at trivia, how did you become a trivia night lost?
My friends and I used to go to a weekly trivia show. One week I had an idea for a round, and I told the host [Best of WNC trivia night MC winner Kipper Schauer] about it. He said, “Cool, if you write that for me, I’ll pay you for it.”
So I did, and that turned into me writing more and more. Then he got a job as the morning disc jockey on Mix 96.5, so I ended up doing all his writing. I would sub in for him when he was sick or out of town. And I was like, “I want my own show!” So he helped me get set up.
Why the focus on pop culture trivia?
My biggest issue with trivia throughout the years has been seeing people get upset about not knowing something. With pop culture trivia in general, if you don’t know it, you don’t feel too bad about it. My only goal is that everyone leaves not feeling stupid, because you shouldn’t feel bad about not knowing something at a bar trivia!
How much do you research each category? Like, if you’re doing a round of “Star Wars” trivia, do you watch every single “Star Wars” movie first?
Usually it’s just enough research to get the answers. I write four different shows a week, so I can’t spend too much time on any one topic or question, research-wise.
At the beginning of each trivia night, everyone recites an oath promising not to argue with you over the answers.
Yeah — “I won’t argue with Robert whether or not I should get points for something when I’m obviously wrong and being a douchebag about it.” One, it makes people laugh, and two, if I open up the door for questioning me, the timing of the show gets thrown off. The bars like the shows to be two hours long. Having done it so long at this point, I have the timing down to a science.
What do you think matters more for excelling at trivia: book smarts or a good memory?
On an individual basis? Memory. But my trivia is team trivia, so the biggest factor is diversity in your team — having a group of people that are into different things, come from separate age groups, come from different backgrounds. Having diversity in your team is the biggest factor into what goes into being a “superteam,” one that wins on a more consistent basis than the others.
How many superteams are there in Asheville?
Between my four shows, I probably have over a dozen superteams.
There are that many‽ Is there any point in a regular person going to trivia night and trying to beat a superteam?
Absolutely! The teams fade in and out over time. They’ll come every week for a while and then bounce for a couple months.
Do you have a “dream team” that you’d like to host a trivia night for?
My dream trivia team would consist of Steve Martin. He’s going to show up one week, I just know it! Every week, someone always asks me, “Is Steve here?”
I hope that happens for you. OK, who else is on your dream trivia team?
All my favorite bartenders from my shows. I usually have the same bartenders every week because that’s the night they work. I love them, and they never get to play.
And then my buddies Kipper and Mitch Fortune, who also does Totally Rad Trivia. Kipper did the first Totally Rad Trivia, and it was ’80s synthwave-themed. Which explains the “totally rad” part.
What’s the ideal number of people to have on a trivia team?
Six. That’s the maximum I allow. The joke reason is that if you have more than five friends, you don’t need to win at trivia — your life’s great. The real answer is that if I allow more, then teams of God-knows-how-many-people will show up and dominate to a point where the teams that are two people on a date won’t have a chance.
Can you tell if a trivia team is on a date?
Oh, absolutely. First dates are the easiest, because they’re so awkward when you talk to them. And then the married couples that show up are just overly happy — treating it like a Saturday night at the club because it’s their one night out.
Do you think having more drinks during trivia night helps or hinders a team’s chances of winning?
Oh, a well-lubricated team always does better because they’re not in their heads as much. When you’re sober, you tend to second-guess yourself more easily.
Edited at 12:46 p.m. Jan. 6 to reflect Bennett’s updated roster of shows.