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Under virtually all circumstances, they may not seem very smart or socially capable, but put them in the right kind of situation, and they'll demonstrate outstanding brilliance.

Mathematics (or a certain area of it) is a common area for Savant skills to show up. A few such people in real life are amazingly gifted at calendar-based calculations. Give them a specific date and they can tell you in seconds what day of the week it was or will be. Intuitive mathematical calculations, such as multiplication of large numbers or the identification of primes, also occur. Non-mathematical abilities include precocious musical ability, including perfect pitch and intuitive ability to play an instrument; unusual artistic ability, especially the ability to draw anything after having seen it once; prodigious feats of memory, such as memorizing entire books or a million digits of pi; or even the ability to learn a new language in a week.

When Hollywood uses Savant characters, the most frequent talent the character will have will be something to do with mathematics.

The term "Idiot Savant" is actually outdated, since the term "idiot" itself is no longer a medical term. The term "savant syndrome" is more correct. It refers to someone--usually someone with a developmental disorder, often autism--who has one or sometimes more extremely high abilities. The other wiki has more information.

See also The Rainman, Genius Ditz. All three tropes can be confused with Seemingly-Profound Fool. Compare/contrast Bunny Ears Lawyer, who is functioning properly despite a few quirks.

Examples of Idiot Savant include:


Anime & Manga

  • Son Goku of Dragon Ball likely can't even tie his shoelaces, but put him in a fight and he's an absolute genius. It's not just that he's stronger than everyone else, although he is - he's an absolutely brilliant tactician, expertly outmaneuvering any of them, even those who otherwise can run intellectual circles around him.
  • Luffy and Zoro in One Piece are this, being generally clueless about things around them and need Nami or somebody to explain things to them. This doesn't stop them from being complete badasses who can kick major ass on several levels and quite insightful and creative when it comes to fighting.
    • The mere fact that Luffy came up with the concept of Gear Second (increasing his bloodflow to provide nutrients faster) by himself despite being generally dumb says something.
      • Luffy and Zoro aren't dumb so much as really, really dense. Even outside of fighting they have their moments of being really smart (such as Zoro coming up with a plan to avoid being fooled by Mr. 2's ability).
  • Some would say that Genma Saotome, of Ranma ½, is one of these. For most of the series, he's basically a lazy coward who refuses to handle his own fights or take any responsibilities for his actions, and whose shown/mentioned training regimes tend to be ridiculous at best and outright dangerous at worst. The casual person would thus be inclined to believe that Ranma got as good as he did despite Genma, not because of Genma. And then, every so often, he pulls off a feat of actual skill or a moment of genuine insight and brilliance that amazes everyone, in the series and out.
    • Ranma is a smaller example. He's pretty Book Dumb, and isn't the sharpest tack in the box outside of school either. However, he is capable of learning new martial arts at incredible speeds, and formulates very clever plans to defeat his enemies. While Ranma is very strong, he outsmarts his enemies just as often, if not more often, than he overpowers them. But his genius is only limited to things that count as martial arts. However, in the Ranma universe, this is actually not much of a restriction.
  • Xu Chu can predict the weather based on the moon's phases. Xu Chu doesn't know that there's only one moon.
  • Naruto. In the academy, he was a deadlast, in terms of romance and social graces, he is a disaster, and when it comes to understanding explanations, he just plain sucks. However, if you show him how to do something, not only will he learn it terrifyingly quickly, he will also improvise and improve said something into heights never thought of before. In battle, very few people have better intuition than him save for those who are not only more experienced but prodigies on their own right. In short, when it comes to survival, strife and war, he is a terrifying prodigy, but for anything else, he is a bird-brained moron.
  • Stella Loussier of Gundam Seed Destiny is a Broken Bird with mental damage and emotional stunting so severe that she arguably counts as mentally handicapped. Put her behind the controls of a Gundam though, and slaughter ensues.
  • Cowboy Bebop: Ed has distinctly odd behaviors and mannerisms and is fond of silly exclamations and childish rhymes. It is understood this is part and parcel of her transcendent computer hacking skills.
  • L from Death Note has several quirks that may place him somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but also happens to be the greatest detective in the world.
  • The title character of Saijou no Meii has some Idiot Savant traits. Though he's a surgical genius with extreme spatial-awareness that allows him to perform incredible medical feats, he's also very childish, obsessed with a Captain Ersatz of Kamen Rider & yammers on about it to anybody who'll listen. The plot of one chapter revolves around him being incapable of recognizing a fellow doctor when she's in civilian clothes.

Comics

  • Marv from Sin City. Even he doesn't consider himself very smart but he is capable of solving mysteries and forming battle plans to take down skilled opponents.


Film

  • Rain Man: Raymond suffers from extreme autism and is usually restricted to a home. However, he has savant abilities with numbers, allowing him to count with lightning speed, do complex calculations in his head, and count cards.
  • Punch Clock Villain Kronk in the film The Emperors New Groove isn't literally autistic, but he displays a continuous mix of near-childlike naivety and razor-sharp competence. Not only that, he's an avid bird watcher, seems to be able to name multiple breeds off the top of his head and can talk squirrel fluently. He's also a pretty good cook.
  • Forrest Gump, particularly with things that require speed (running, loading weapons, ping-pong, etc.) This was actually toned down from the book.
  • Cube has Kazan, a severely mentally handicapped man who, to the rest of the people trapped in the Cube, is a nuisance at first, constantly banging his head against the walls, making weird honking noises and babbling about gumdrops. But later on it's discovered that he could find the prime factors of huge numbers in his head, and he ends up as their savior.
  • White from Tekkon Kinkreet plays this trope straight. He saves Black's life, perhaps more then once, and is eerily perceptive about some of the people around him: at the same time, he can't tie his own shoes or dress himself without help.
  • Zen, star of the Thai film Chocolate is an autistic girl and martial arts savant.
  • Mercury Rising centers on an autistic child who can intuitively decipher top military ciphers, and a police officer who can convey character with a silent telegenic stare.
  • Treasure Planet's B.E.N.
  • The film The Wizard features a young autistic boy who is fantastic at videogames.


Literature

  • Ton Ton in the novel House of the Scorpion has trouble speaking and is regarded as a dumb ox by his peers, but can work almost any machine.
  • Corporal Beak in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. His incredible natural magical ability would've put him on the fast track to High Mage rank, if not for a combination of childhood traumas and a Forrest Gumpish mental state - which combine to give him almost no self-esteem or confidence.
  • One book in the Babysitters Club series had Kristy sitting for a girl with autism. The girl, Susan, was mostly non-verbal and was generally not able to take care of herself, but was a brilliant piano player AND could do the "identify the day of the week" calendar trick.
  • Adus of The Elenium is an evil example. A handicapped, barbaric savage, Adus can barely speak, doesn't bathe, is almost illiterate, and frequently eats raw meat. He's also a combat savante, with a talent not only for physical fighting, but small unit tactics. Give him an axe and a manageable number of troops, and no one is more dangerous.


Live Action TV

  • In The Lost Experience, the Hanso Foundation uses autistic savants as human computers in the basement of a mental hospital.
  • "Coach" Ernie Pantusso in Cheers is a geography savant, even making up mnemonic songs about countries.
  • One episode of Numb3rs featured a very Rain-Man-like autistic savant character, right down to being able to count spilled toothpicks quickly and accurately. He was employed by a courier company to help track packages with missing or damaged barcodes, and when he was off work, they had to bring in at least ten people to do his job.
  • Kyle in All the Small Things displays symptoms of high-functioning autism, being unable to relate to most people, saying very little, and speaking literally when he speaks at all. However, he's a superb singer and guitarist.
  • Rom, a recurring Ferengi on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, goes beyond basic idiocy to the point of being Too Dumb to Live. Somehow he is an extremely capable engineer and at one point, even able to spout technobabble on the level of Spock and Data. His skills seems to have been honed by the Ferengi's natural skill with mathematics and the years working as Quark's personal repairman for anything and everything.
  • In That 70s Show Kelso is able to perfectly calculate how much money they'd make from a Kegger in relation to how many people showed up and paid for beer.
  • One explanation for the odd behavior of Top Gear's "tame racing driver," The Stig. Though some say he's not actually human..
  • On Boy Meets World there's a throwaway gag in one episode in which Shawn refers to himself as one after revealing he can speak French. This was during the period in the show where he got really dumb, which didn't stick as a character trait so this is never brought up again.
  • One episode of Law and Order had a suspect that could do quantum physics but couldn't remember a grocery list.
  • Brittany on Glee is a naive, child-like idiot, but she knows everything about cat diseases.
    • and is one of the best dancers on the show
  • Michael Scott from The Office is a combination of this and The Peter Principle. As a manager, he's incompetent at best, but the times that he's shown performing sales, he is extremely skilled at it.
  • Paisley from ANT Farm can't read or remember her name, but she can build a functioning helicopter complete with rope ladder out of balloons, which she can also make into a pony complete with functioning internal organs.
  • Charlie in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the resident moron of the group, but he's taught himself to play piano, saying, "Keyboards just make sense to me."


Music

  • The Gorillaz singer 2D may well be one of these, depending on how you look at it. A long history of head injuries and painkillers have made him pretty dense, sometimes verging on Too Dumb to Live, and yet he occasionally makes some strikingly philosophical or socially perceptive comments. At the very least he's a musical prodigy, writing and performing beautiful melodies unaided. (He's supposedly responsible for the entire album, "The Fall.")


Professional Wrestling

  • The WWE once featured a wrestler called Eugene who was billed as an idiot savant. He was mentally and socially way below the norm but his wrestling abilities were pretty good with him pulling off numerous classical moves from the old days of pro-wrestling.


Tabletop Games

  • The Primordials are often referred to by fans and writers alike as idiot savants. This is directly enshrined in their powers; when acting within their defining themes, even the basic abilities of a Primordial are transcendently incredible. In any area outside of their themes, they are utterly hopeless. The relevance of these matters is a bit bigger considering that they are the immense and barely comprehensible Titans who forged the world and created all mortal and godly races; since those tended to be group efforts, the Primordials were never really fully capable of grasping the consequences or possibilities of their creations. It did not work out well for them.


Video Games

  • RPG Arcanum allowed the player to take 'Idiot Savant' as a character trait. It gave a bonus to intelligence and gambling skills, but speech was limited to Hulk Speak.
  • Nikolai from Luminous Arc is more of a Genius Ditz, but it's worth noting that his character class is actually listed as "Savant".
  • Sandal, from the Dragon Age, is a savant when it comes to enchanting weapons. However, if you talk to him all he'll say is "Enchantment!" and "Enchantment?" (and once, "Hello"), probably owing to the amount of lyrium he's been exposed to. In the final dungeon at the end of the game you also encounter him alone, covered in blood, and surrounded by heaps of slain monster corpses. So he would appear to be a bit of a savant when it comes to unarmed combat as well.

 Warden: "You're surrounded by darkspawn corpses! What happened here?"

Sandal: "Enchantment!"

    • Sandal may be the first recorded Autistic Badass.
    • The sequel indicates that it isn't unarmed combat that he can do. He froze an Ogre solid, somehow. Through "not enchantment".
    • Sandal is able to speak, as observed in the sequel. He's just shy and inarticulate. (Plus, being graced by the Warden/Champion of Kirkwall would understandably make him a wee bit nervous.)
    • The implication in the first game and then expanded upon in the second is that Sandal is in fact the first (and only) Dwarven Mage, something which is supposed to be impossible. Not only that, but he may in fact be the most brilliant and powerful Mage in the world, it's just a pity that his social skills are so poor and he's so shy that no-one other than the Warden and Hawke are actually aware of this.
  • Mass Effect 2 has a DLC side mission where Shepard takes on a rogue Virtual Intelligence that has melded to the mind of the project lead's autistic brother. Through a series of holograms projected from the brother's mind, Shepard learns that not only was he a math genius, but he could actually imitate the geth language so accurately that the deactivated geth would respond to it.


Web Original

  • Herman Beckett from Out at Home is, by most measurements, an idiot, but a major plot point is that he was apparently the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
  • Sequential Art (pictured above) features a group of ditzy squirrel girls. Just one of them can rebuild a beam weapon by the memory and from randomly picked parts... if nothing distracts her (good luck with this). When the need arises, they can unite their intelligence for frightening results.
  • Ethan in Ctrl+Alt+Del, emphasis on idiot (he think the best way to deal with paperwork is to Kill It with Fire). He claims he's intelligent for only a few seconds a day and created two intelligent robots without fully understanding how, since the only plans he could find were scribbled in sauce on a restaurant menu. When one of them needs to be fixed, he gives a very technical explanation why he can't do it. The next strip shows him wearing all his winter clothes instead of, y'know, putting them on a chair or something because he needed the storage space.


Western Animation

  • Ralph Wiggum of The Simpsons can ACT.
  • Iqbal in Bromwell High is quite the libertine. He paints in his spare time (although has trouble selling his paintings), can memorize an encyclopedia, works a bit of amateur theatre into staff meetings and assemblies, and can dance and sing.
  • It's never directly addressed, but in G.I. Joe, Metalhead, Destro's lackey, is one of the dumbest characters around, but can apparently do complex artillery calculations for his rockets in his head. He also has one of the best accuracy rates of any Joe or Cobra, mostly because he only fires at vehicles.
  • Charmcaster calls Gwen Tennyson this exact name in Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, refering to Gwen's incredible but self-taught magical powers. "I've trained in magic my whole life, and you just pick up my spell book and you're instantly out-magicking me. You're not a real sorceress, you're an idiot savant." Gwen, not understanding the term, just assumes Charmcaster is insulting her. (Which may be true also.)
  • Despite his characteristic stupidity, Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force is surprisingly skilled at cooking Italian food, especially lasagna.
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