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Producer Shima Oliaee Draws On Her Own Past To Examine Girlhood In America Today.

Veteran podcast host and producer Shima Oliaee is offering a personal story that takes her back two decades when she was a contestant in the Distinguished Young Women program, as she returns to Alabama as a judge in annual competition that brings together 50 of America’s brightest young women. The six-part docuseries The Competition tells the story of seven girls experiencing the competition today.

Every summer for the past seven decades, 50 high school seniors — one from every state — descend on Mobile to take part in one of the country’s most lucrative scholarship competitions for young women. The Competition takes listeners behind the scenes at the Distinguished Young Women program and follows seven girls as they experience the highs and lows of competing for two weeks. Some girls enter for the money, some for prestige. All of them are used to being the best and the brightest, but only one will walk away with the top prize. The creators of the podcast say the series examines what two weeks with 50 of the country’s most ambitious teens can tell us about girlhood in America.

Oliaee was Nevada’s contestant in 2001, and more than 20 years later, she returns to Alabama as a judge. In The Competition, she not only documents her new role, but the podcast’s producers were fully embedded with the girls on-the-ground on the other side, recording everything that went down, from the silliest to most vulnerable moments. In the year after the competition, Oliaee traveled across the country, interviewing the competitors over the following year — unpacking just what happened those two weeks in Mobile.

“It feels like if you could just win this, your future is limitless. And I remember that feeling because I was one of them – and I lost. And it hurt, and so like any teenage heartbreak I tried not to think about it for 20 years,” Oliaee says in the show’s preview. “But I’ve been asked back. This time I’m a judge and a kind of teen girl anthropologist. Because if you want to understand what it is like to be a young woman in America today, The Competition is not a bad place to start.”

Oliaee is the founder of Shirazad Productions. Before creating The Competition, she was the executive producer and creator of Pink Card for ESPN 30 for 30, a series that follows three generations of Iranian women who risk their lives for the simple right to watch a soccer game. She also co-created, produced, and reported Dolly Parton’s America. As an independent producer, she also created The Vanishing of Harry Pace and UnErased. The Competition is the second series in a trilogy from her company about surviving as a woman in the world. Before working in audio, Oliaee worked in comedy television, including on the television series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

The Competition is a Wondery and Audacy’s Pineapple Street Studios production, marking their latest collaboration following 9/12Will Be Wild, and Persona: The French Deception, and Ghost Story. The Competition debuts exclusively on Wondery+ and Amazon Music on April 15, and will be available everywhere starting April 29.

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