About three years ago, Salt Lake City resident John Graham starting reading books on memory techniques and "went down the rabbit hole" memorizing decks of cards, license plates, people's names and so on.
Around the same time, he and his high school sweetheart sold their house and almost everything they owned to travel the world for seven months. They bought a one way ticket to Thailand and, while in Asia, Graham competed in the World Memory Championships. He met people who taught him more memory tricks and, since that time, has been involved in the world of mental athletics.
On June 12, Graham will show off his amazing memory abilities on Fox's new show "Superhuman." As one of five contestants, Graham will compete against four other people of extraordinary ability: one who is a synesthete, or sees sound in color, one with advanced muscle memory, one who can identify a single species of frog from amid multiple sounds, and one with the ability to find tiny differences in almost identical images.
Judges Mike Tyson, Mary Lynn-Rajskub and Dr. Rahul Jandial choose three finalists out of the group and the audience votes on the winner who goes home with $50,000. Actor Kal Penn hosts.
Graham's challenge is to remember the names, numbers and colors listed on 20 runners who jog past him on stage.
Graham told the Deseret News in an interview that his main memory technique is one Benedict Cumberbatch's title character showed off on BBC's "Sherlock." Sherlock called it a "mind palace" but, traditionally, the technique is known as the method of loci. Here's how it works: mentally walk through a place you know well, like your home, and place images along the way — one at the front door, one in the living room, one in the kitchen and so on. Then, when trying to recall what you memorized, again walk through the house and recall the images in order.
Originally from Michigan, Graham has lived in Salt Lake with his girlfriend for the last two years. They lived in Colorado for a few years before their trip around the world and, when they came back, decided they wanted to stay in the West. Graham said he particularly enjoys the lack of humidity in Utah.
"I love the sunshine, the mountains; I like the dry air," he said. "I like it out here a lot."
Graham auditioned for "Superhuman" after he saw some of his other mental athlete friends on the single special episode that aired a year and a half ago. He knew he could do what they were doing, so when the opportunity came, he tried out.
He filmed the episode airing Monday about a year ago.
"This last year, every day has been like Christmas Eve because I can't wait to see this performance," he said. "I have something to look forward to."
He enjoyed meeting the celebrity judges, especially heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and host Kal Penn.
These days, Graham continues his mental athlete hobby while balancing numerous day jobs. He said shows like "Superhuman" are extremely popular in China, and he hopes the trend spreads to the United States.
"A lot of shows on TV these days dumb down society, and this show will raise people up and show how ordinary people can be extraordinary and just inspire people to be better and to learn these things," he said. "It's very uplifting; it's very jaw-dropping, so definitely tune in."