Challenging TV

Last night saw the grand final of University Challenge (BBC2), with Oxford college Corpus Christi beating Manchester University to the 2009 title.

The show had the highest ratings for BBC2 in over a week, as it consistently does, and it’s good to know that such a programme can survive in the current television climate. There’s no cash prizes, no voting, no viewer interaction, and none of the contestants (we can be fairly sure) have their eye on a future career in TV. 

That said, in the past few weeks the media have been trying their best to bring the programme down to their level by, frankly, picking on Corpus Christi’s team captain Gail Trimble in the hopes of creating a new celebrity. The 26 year-old has been dubbed the greatest University Challenge contestant ever, with famously hard-to-please host Jeremy Paxman describing her as ‘a phenomenon’. She was even approached by lads’ mag Nuts to do a ‘tasteful’ photo-shoot. She declined. 

On the other hand, it would be nice to have a celebrity who is famous for being clever.

Trimble has apparently been responsible for two-thirds of her team’s points throughout the contest, but even she started slowly, looking nervous and unsure, but soon she – and her team-mates, it must be said – livened up and the answers came pouring out. Manchester put up a tremendous fight, and the score was fluctuating between the teams for most of the duration of the show. Manchester even had the lead by quite a way halfway through, but Corpus Christi bounced back as expected. When the two teams are evenly matched, the result is actually quite thrilling.

What is truly fantastic is the tension, the excitement, that always surrounds a University Challenge final. It is eight young people answering questions – and it is mesmerising. 

So hurrah to you, University Challenge, for staying on the air for nearly 50 years (how much longer do we give Big Brother?), for celebrating intelligence and knowledge over pomp and spectacle, and for proving that as long as there is quality programming, intelligent people will continue to watch it.


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Watches TV, does little else.
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