University Challenge

Last night BBC Two aired an episode of University Challenge that was a real humdinger. Jesus came from behind (hur hur) and snatched the victory from the jaws of Warwick at the death and it was all very, very exciting.

Of course, when I say ‘exciting’, it wasn’t as exciting as, say, someone leaping from an exploding car with a baby stuffed down each sock… University Challenge is a different kind of thrill – the thrill of being a clever clogs and being a snob.

You see, a snob is either a person who tends to patronize or ignore people regarded as social inferiors or one who affects an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste or intellect. University Challenge brings both of these things out in me.

Basically, this means sneering at students or being completely and utterly against absolutely any team from Oxbridge universities.

Whilst this may seem a little unfair, for me, it’s the whole point of watching the show. Anyone who simply tunes in for a bally good time, to whoop with delight in the face of all those little spongey brains is… well… spineless and dull.

The very reason I tune in to University Challenge is to firstly, see how many questions I get right (I average about 10, which is a clear signal of my idiocy in the face of these intelligent little gits) and secondly, to pick a side to support.

Naturally, because I’m Northern and never went to university, I see the Oxbridge lot as the enemy. Of course, they’re not the enemy at all… however, I love the weekly opportunity to be a complete pig-headed dick-for-brains. I roll around in my own inverted snobbery for a whole 30 minutes, gleeful in the hope that somewhere else in the country, some old Etonian is yelling “STICK IT TO THOSE NORTHERN SHAGSACKS FROM THEIR GLORIFIED POLYTECHNICS!

Mostly, Britain is a placid, lip-biting place. We all get along pretty well, despite what the nightly news tells you. When I meet a Cambridge graduate, I say hello, they say hello back and everything is fine. However, that’s no fun. It’s oh-so-British to hate people for no reason at all. Instead of picking on people and driving them away, it’s so much more fun to be a complete cock in the comfort of your own home with no-one getting hurt.

If you’ve been holding it in, I suggest you tune in to University Challenge and slag off people for no reason. Who knows, you might learn a few things in the process too.

Corpus Christi College, Oxford, the winning team of this year’s University Challenge, has been disqualified by the BBC for using a contestant who was no longer a student at the college.

The disqualification of the team means that Manchester University, who lost to Corpus Christi in last week’s final, have been awarded the title by default.

It emerged that Corpus Christi team member Sam Kay had left full time education and was working as an accountant at the time the programme was filmed. 

A statement made jointly by the BBC and Granada, who produces the programme, said: “The University Challenge rules on student eligibility are that students taking part must be registered at their university or college for the duration of the recording of the series.

“Whilst obviously not intending to, Corpus Christi broke this important rule when other universities and colleges taking part adhered to it.

“We therefore find ourselves in the regrettable position of having no choice but to disqualify Corpus Christi from the final. This means they forfeit their hard-fought title which now goes to the Manchester University team.”

University Challenge presenter Jeremy Paxman said: “I suppose it is mildly embarrassing but I do feel sorry for the Corpus Christi team – I mean they were all legitimate students when it started. But rules are rules, and they had to be stuck to.”

Mr Kay has apologised and said “it was never my intention to mislead anyone. hugely regret not confirming my change of status to the University Challenge programme makers before the final rounds.”

“I had honestly believed I was eligible as I had indicated my course dates when I applied.”

Despite some newspapers reporting the possibility of the first rematch in University Challenge history, the Manchester team have said they have “ no desire” for a rematch. Manchester team captain Matthew Yeo said: “While we accept the deci

sion of the University Challenge judges, we are saddened to have been awarded the trophy under such circumstances.

“As far as Simon, Henry, Reuben and I are concerned the final was a great experience and we believe Corpus Christi College were outstanding opponents.”

A spokesperson from Corpus Christi college said: “Our students entered University Challenge in good faith. The team had a wonderful run and we are, of course, disappointed to be losing the title.”

The 2009 final had already made the headlines more than any other University Challenge competition in the programme’s 47-year history due to the performance of Corpus Christi captain Gail Trimble, dubbed the greatest contestant ever.

Ms Trimble declined to comment on the decision.


University Challenge  – The Final

The media hype that has surrounded University Challenge, and finalist Gail Trimble, has been amazing this past week.  Many of the newspapers, as well as the BBC of course, have been commenting on Gail Trimble.  Is she really the cleverest woman in Britain?  Do we love her or loather her because of her cleverness?

Just why Ms Trimble has become so newsworthy is a bit of a mystery.  Certainly she is very knowledgeable, having single-handedly won more than half of her team’s 1,2000 points in the previous rounds of University Challenge.  Yet why do some quarters of the press dislike her?  Is this really because she is a clever woman?  Or do some just take umbrage with her because she can come across as arrogant? Better judges of human character will realise that she is just nervous and a bit shy….she is on national telly for goodness sakes, who wouldn’t be nervous?

The Final unfolds
Of course, the most pressing question for the team from Corpus Christi, Oxford was whether Gail Trimble could handle the pressure of this media hype and lead them to victory in the University Challenge Final against Manchester University?

This quiz had some very tough questions, as is appropriate for a final.  Manchester got off to a great start and quickly led by 70 point to nil. But then the Corpus Christi team – not just Gail Trimble – began their fight back, answering questions on Shakespeare, Dutch universities and dog breeds.  The team from Oxford came from behind to beat Manchester by 250 points to 190. This was quite a thrilling University Challenge Final – with both teams displaying an amazing amount of knowledge. 

The BBC is the real winner
One positive side effect for the BBC of all the controversy surrounding Ms Trimble was that it boosted the programme’s viewing figures up to around six million viewers.  Usually, University Challenge has just 2 million viewers. It would seem that for the BBC at least, publicity (both good and bad) really does payoff.

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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