Two brainy Chicago twins enter, one still standing on NBC’s ‘Genius Junior’

SHARE Two brainy Chicago twins enter, one still standing on NBC’s ‘Genius Junior’
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With his team the Brainy Bunch (left), Tyler McHugh competed against twin brother Ethan and his team the Superlatives on a March episode of “Genius Junior.” | NBC

There is nothing wrong with a little sibling rivalry. Not when $100,000 is at stake.

Just ask 12-year-old Chicago identical twins Ethan and Tyler McHugh. The pair were recently pitted on teams against each other on NBC’s “Genius Junior,” a quiz show for smart kids ages 8-12.

“We were hoping we’d be placed on the same team,” Ethan says. “It’s probably a good thing we weren’t. Collectively, we would have destroyed the competition.”

It’s probably not just boastful talk, either. The twins also share an identical IQ of 145.

Tyler is a nationally ranked speed skater and trains five times a week in Wisconsin with five-time gold medalist Bonnie Blair.

“From the moment I first saw speed skating, I fell in love with it,” Tyler recalls. “I’m very competitive and I knew I wanted to go that fast. I trained super hard, and that’s when we realized I had an athletic flair.”

Their mom is a teacher, currently home-schooling the twins in part to accommodate Tyler’s rigorous training schedule. Their dad is a Chicago police lieutenant.

While Tyler is most comfortable speeding across the ice, Ethan says he is more at home in front of a keyboard.

“My love of computers started when I was 6 and I played ‘Super Mario Bros” on the Wii. I started computer coding shortly after that,” he says. “I like to focus on graphics. My great grandfather was artist for Sears and I take after him. I have creative flair.”

The pair first learned of the show through a science club they belong to and then again through a gifted and talented school program. “Our mom was like, ‘Why not give it a shot?’ It was a needle-in-a-haystack chance and we went for it,” Tyler says.

Twin geniuses proved to be a good draw for producers of the show; Ethan and Tyler’s mom received a phone call from producers a mere 15 minutes after submitting their application. The boys went through a series of interviews and then were invited to tape the show five months later.

Tyler was placed on the Brainy Bunch team, while Ethan competed with the Superlatives. The boys had a couple of days to meet their teammates, study and strategize.

“We figured out in our hotel room the night before the taping that we were going to be facing off against each other,” Ethan says.

The show’s challenges include “Memory Master,” in which each team is given a randomly shuffled deck of cards and must memorize the entire deck; “Talking Dictionary,” in which contestants must correctly spell a word backward, and “The Human GPS,” where they demonstrate their thorough knowledge of the complex New York City transit map.

That doesn’t mean the McHugh twins know the ins and outs of the less difficult map of the Chicago Transit Authority.

“We actually don’t know the Chicago system at all,” Tyler admits. “We have only been on the subway maybe once or twice.”

“Genius Junior” host Neil Patrick Harris introduces Tyler McHugh and his Brainy Bunch teammates Victoria and Melody. | NBC

“Genius Junior” host Neil Patrick Harris introduces Tyler McHugh and his Brainy Bunch teammates Victoria and Melody. | NBC

It was Ethan, with his matrix reasoning and passion for computer coding, who was known as the brainy one. But it’s Tyler’s team that is advancing on “Genius Junior” after defeating Ethan’s Superlatives. The Brainy Bunch will compete in the semi-finals on Sunday’s episode at 8 p.m. on WMAQ-Channel 5.

“I kind of hid my talent,” Tyler says. “People knew I was smart, but not a genius. We invited a bunch of boys over for a sleepover and to watch the show. I managed to keep it a secret until now.”

Adds Ethan, “All of our friends have been supportive and extremely excited for us.”

Tyler hopes to compete in speed skating in the 2022 or 2026 Olympic Winter Games. Ethan, who just finishing building his own computer, says he’d like to try his hand at his own YouTube channel, “at least until college, and then I’ll probably major in something computer-related.”

Despite both boys having appeared in various community theater productions, Ethan freely admitted he was nervous being in front of the “Genius Junior” audience.

“I should have been used to it, but they kind of just rushed us on stage,” he says.

Athletic training may have given Tyler a bit of an edge. “Speed skating is nerve-racking. It kind of helped me with ‘Genius Junior,’ ” he says. “In speed skating, one wrong move and you can really injure yourself, but ‘Genius Junior’? I wasn’t nervous at all. I was in it to win it.”

As for potential drawbacks to appearing on the show? Ethan says with a laugh that he can only think of one: “Our mom is challenging us with harder work as a result.”

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