Washington • Anthony Cheng, an eighth-grader from Midvale Middle School, knew that Serbia is the landlocked country bordering Bulgaria and Croatia.
He knew the precipitation patterns of the city of Jeddah and he knew that a certain species of red-tailed lemurs live only on the Comoros Islands on the coast of Africa.
What stumped him was what river was located near the island city of Saint-Louis in Senegal. (It is the Senegal River.)
Cheng, 13, placed fifth Thursday in the National Geographic Bee in Washington, his third straight and last appearance in the finals. Ten students participated in a game-show-like final moderated by "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek and broadcast on the National Geographic Channel.
Cheng represented Utah facing off against 53 other champions from U.S. states and territories and the District of Columbia.
"It was definitely a lot harder this year," Cheng said after the competition. "It's been a good three years."
Cheng was introduced to the audience as a well-rounded scholar.
He started out strong at the finals at the National Geographic Building, swiftly jumping into the lead. He accepted bonus questions with confidence and gave his answers quickly.
In one round he answered before Trebek finished asking the question, drawing laughs and smiles.
Trebek had help with some of the questions. President Barack Obama asked contestants in a recorded video what city he held nuclear talks in earlier this year (Seoul, South Korea).
Twice, exotic animals were brought on stage, including the nonstop squawking Southern Ground Hornbill. The competitors were challenged to identify one of this bird's favorite watering holes in Africa. (It's Lake Mweru in Zambia.)
Later on, an Indian dancer graced the stage, and competitors had to name the region of India where the dance originated (Andhra Pradesh).
As the competition reached the halfway point, Cheng missed a few questions and fell behind. He was left in the bottom of the top six and forced into a tie-breaking match with Varun Mahadevan, from California. Able to survive three questions, Cheng answered incorrectly on the fourth try, knocking him out of the final four.
Cheng had placed sixth in 2010 and fifth in 2011.
This year's competition was his last chance he's no longer eligible for the competition but he said he's ready for future endeavors.
Cheng said he looks forward to relaxing over the summer and concentrating on his other passions, including sports and music.
His parents said he has worked very hard to get where he is.
"We help him, but it's mostly himself, preparing and driving himself," said Albert Cheng, Anthony's father. "He has lots of things he does, so he couldn't devote all of his energy towards this. It's been a good experience."
"There are many challenges in life," adds his mom, Wendy Lu Cheng. "But he's worked so hard and that's all that matters."
Rahul Nagvekar, from Texas, took first place, winning a $25,000 scholarship along with a trip the Galapagos islands.