GDS Workshop Blog

Interview with TOC Champion Brian Zhou from Greenhill School

Jul 07, 2018

You went from at large to champ, which no one has done before, so what gave you the confidence to think you could compete and win TOC?

During the season, I felt a lot of pressure and expectation from myself and others to win everything I could. But telling myself I had to improve and learn something from every debate just placed a burden on myself for every round, so I didn’t achieve the success that I had hoped for. As an at large, I knew no one expected me to win or anything, and ironically enough, I felt like I had nothing to lose (but everything to gain). I think this mindset helped me let go of the pressure and gave me the confident to just do my best, round by round.


You clear and will debate the top seed; what was your thought process for that round and preparation?

I was excited for the challenge of debating the top seed, but I definitely could have been better prepared for that round. I flipped aff, but accidentally disclosed the already-broken aff that I wasn’t planning to read, so it was too late to change my strategy by the time we already flipped. I knew I was at a disadvantage going into the debate, but I placed my hope in making the most of my position and any mistakes my opponent would make. Sure enough, I saw a way out in the 1AR and took full advantage of that to the end.


During TOC, you made a lot of arguments relating to afropessimism. Recently, some people have remarked that you can just watch a couple videos to understand afropessimism, but what do you think?

I was taught that afropessimism isn’t just some argument to understand and beat—it’s also a way of thinking and analyzing the world from a critical standpoint. I think it’s naïve to say you can simply watch a few debates or videos to truly grasp an entire body of post-doctorate level literature, without doing the full work of reading and thinking yourself. Afropessimism pushes you to the limits of questioning civil society, the political structure, and our own ethical existence. You can’t confront the depths of antiblackness by spending a couple hours watching debates that touch just the tip of the iceberg.


What process did you use to prepare for TOC?

The focus of my process was on prepping materials and developing technical skills. I did a lot of drills the months before TOC along with plenty of tournaments, but I also have to give credit to my team for dividing up the prep we needed and collectively contributing to our TOC material. Without coordinating and planning with my coaches and teammates, I don’t think we would have gotten very far in TOC.


Going into TOC, you lost the first round, so how did you deal with that for the rest of the tournament?

I was rather discouraged after losing my first round, but I was able to use that anger and frustration to motivate me throughout the rest of the tournament. Especially before facing my round one opponent again in the semis round, I was determined to turn the tables around and give it my best. I knew I couldn’t go back in time to correct my loss, so I committed myself to winning the upcoming rounds. 


How did the socialization process that you have gone through at worship and working with your coaches (most of whom are Black males) affect your competitive success?

 Answer: The way I was coached at both workshops and tournaments was formative in teaching me how to think about debate, argumentation, and reading literature. I don’t think I would have the same depth of knowledge and understanding if I hadn’t talked extensively with Mr. Eli Smith, Mr. Randall, and Mr. Timmons. They gave me a purpose, changed how I view the world, and pushed my limits in applying my skills/knowledge to debate rounds.