The Big Brain Theory

Common Sense Media says

Science reality competition stresses teamwork, innovation.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

The show highlights the importance of keeping America at the cutting edge of science and technological innovation. It also underscores the need to understand problems before trying to solve them, thinking outside of the box, teamwork, and other things that are necessary for successfully designing, building, and testing innovations.

Positive role models

Contestants are scientists and engineers in various fields; all of them are passionate about their work. There is some ethnic diversity, but most contestants are male.


The contestants design some things that test the impact of fire, explosions, and other dangerous environments. Things get shot at, blown up, etc. as a way of testing the viability of the prototypes created; safety precautions are always used. A few contestants are argumentative, but not violent.

Not applicable

Moments of frustration lead to some cursing ("f--k"), which are fully bleeped.


Firms like WET and Christalis, universities like Stanford and University of California, and organizations like NASA are all mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Beer drinking is visible during down times.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Big Brain Theory is a reality elimination show that contains strong and positive messages about the importance of scientific and technological development, and highlights the various ways math, science, and engineering are applied to the real world. Aside from some arguing and some occasional strong language (which is fully bleeped), the show is pretty mild, but it can also get rather technical, which means that it will probably only appeal to kids who are interested in these fields. Design innovations often test the impact of fire, explosions, and other dangerous elements using safety precautions; viewers of all ages should be reminded to never try these these activities at home.

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What's the story?

THE BIG BRAIN THEORY pits some of America's top young scientists and engineers against each other to see who can come up with the most ingenious innovations. The series, which is hosted by actor, teacher, and former White House staff member and science education advisor Kal Penn, features 10 contestants who study and/or work in fields like mechanical engineering, rocket science, and nuclear power. In each episode they are presented with a specific challenge that has real world applications, and must design a solution that reflects an understanding of the problem and offers an innovative way of solving it. They then break into teams and create prototypes of their designs with only a small budget and a few days to complete the task. Their designs, work processes, and prototypes are judged by special effects designer Mark Fuller, CEO of the leading design and engineering firm WET, and Dr. Christine Gulbranson, founder and CEO of Christalis, a company focused on alternative energy and nanotechnology. Guest judges, including U.S. Olympic gold medal decathalon athlete winner Bryan Clay, NASCAR champion driver Carl Edwards, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. The team with the winning project moves forward; a member of the losing team goes home. The last person remaining wins $50,000 and a job with WET.

Is it any good?


The Big Brain Theory highlights the important role that science and technology has in our everyday lives, and underscores the United States' desire to remain at the cutting edge in these fields. It also points out the wide-array of skills that people have in order to to become successful innovators, which ranges from having the appropriate academic training, to having the ability to work effectively in teams, communicate clearly, and think outside of the box.

There's definitely a lot to be learned here, but the constant technical conversations between contestants may be a turn-off to kids who aren't interested in this sort of thing. But viewers interested in math, science, and engineering, will probably find the challenges intriguing, and various ways these folks go about trying to solve them both exciting and educational.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about science and engineering. What kind of stereotypes exist about people who study and/or work in these fields? How has TV and film portrayed people who work in these fields over the years?

  • What contributions have American inventors and scientists made to the world? How have folks like Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs changed the way people live their lives? What kind of training did these folks have? In what ways did they see the world that was different from others?

  • Do you hope to invent something in the future? What? How will your designs and innovations help people live their daily lives?

TV details

Cast:Christine Gulbranson, Kal Penn, Mark Fuller
Network:Discovery Channel
Topics:Science and nature
TV rating:NR
Available on:Streaming

This review of The Big Brain Theory was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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