“The Big Bang Theory’s” fictional astrophysicist Sheldon Cooper has nothing on the real-life life genius Corey Fleischer, a mechanical engineer at Lockheed Martin from Baltimore who won Discovery Channel’s competition “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius.” Possessing top-flight engineering skills and a creatively inventive approach, Fleischer took home $50,000 and a one-year contract with WET, which designs water-based environments like the famed Bellagio Hotel fountain in Las Vegas. How did the 32-year-old engineer his TV triumph? We picked his brain.
MNN: How did you first hear about the show and decide to apply?
Corey Fleischer: My buddy Chris, an engineer himself, saw an online call for applicants for a new TV show, then called “Top Engineer.” They were asking for engineers with hands-on manufacturing experience and an outgoing personality. I thought it was such a long shot. I knew thousands of people were going to apply. But I’m well rounded as an engineer and I’ve been building stuff my whole life. I’m experienced with working in a team environment and I deal with all kinds of personalities.
Was there a minimum IQ? Yours is 120, as we were reminded every time you were on screen.
I’d never had an IQ test done. At the end of our psychological evaluation we had an intelligence test. They first revealed the IQs on the Discovery Website, and I had the lowest IQ of anyone on the show. But by the time I learned I had the lowest IQ I had already won so it didn’t bother me too much.
What was the toughest part of the show?
The challenges were really tough, but as it turns out, perfect for me. I was worried they’d involve calculations and software, and I’d be the first one eliminated. But once I walked into the machine shop and it was filled with equipment I was familiar with, I knew it wasn’t going to be so bad. When they gave us the first challenge I relaxed immediately. I said, ‘I can do this.’ The hard part was they compressed everything into 7½ weeks, one challenge after the other. Lack of sleep definitely contributed to the challenge. There has never been a show like this, with such physical and mental demand.
What was your favorite thing you built?
Definitely challenge #4, when we had to build a robot that could perform three decathlon events. It was the first time I was picked as team leader. Our robot was built on a Go-Kart base and I’ve built a lot of Go-Karts in my life. I’ve built motorized bar stools and other robotic things. I built a Go-Kart operated by a Wii remote in my garage. I built a giant mechanical iris out of wood for my son’s door. You pull a lever and it opens up a peephole.
Were you always interested in science and engineering? What sparked it?
Always. Like a lot of kids I loved to play with Legos and Construx. I loved tinkering and taking things apart. I have that natural curiosity about how things work. In high school I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up but I knew I loved building and figuring things out. My teacher, Mr. Fogelman, told me to look into engineering. When I was finally allowed to say I was on the show, one of the first people I e-mailed was Mr. Fogelman, who is a college professor now. He remembered me and was really excited.
Were you at the top of your class in school?
In high school I was the farthest thing from it. I had a GPA just above a 3.0, which my parents said I had to maintain to keep my driver’s license. When I got into college, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I was below the minimum requirement GPA but I had good letters of recommendation from teachers and that’s what got me in. I had low math placement and the non-engineering classes were really hard for me. When I graduated, my GPA in engineering was 3.7 and my overall GPA was 3.1.
So now that you’ve won, what are your plans for the prize money?
I’m going to put it in a savings account. I have two kids to take care of. It’s a good cushion to have.
And your job at WET?
I have to sort out all the logistics and details, because I’m extremely happy at my job at Lockheed. I started as an intern when I was in grad school. Now my title is senior mechanical engineer.
Are you building any new inventions in your garage?
Right now I’m finishing up building a self-balancing skateboard. It’s similar to the way the Segway works, using skateboard chassis. It’s completely free standing. You stand on the platform and go. I’m pretty close to being done.
Are you a skateboarder?
Yes. My son Aidan is seven now and he’s getting into it now. My daughter Camden will be three in October. She’s named after Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play. I’m a huge Orioles fan.
Do you encourage your kids’ interest in science?
Yes. I perform lots of kitchen experiments. I explain how soap works, how atmospheric pressure is all around us. It was extremely hard being away from my son for filming the show so before I left I made seven videos of myself doing different science experiments and I left a box of all these different supplies so every week that I was gone he could do a new experiment and see a video of me talking to him.
Do you watch “The Big Bang Theory?”
Not regularly, but I have seen it. It’s a great show. All the characters have quirks and there are times when they remind me of someone from college.
I heard you were going to get a tattoo to commemorate your win. Did you?
Not yet. I think it’s going to be on the back of one of my shoulders and will resemble the “Big Brain Theory” logo. I’ll show it to tattoo artists and hopefully they’ll come up with something really good.