University Challenge: It’s All Just Academic

How seriously should we take University Challenge?
How seriously should we take University Challenge?

I struggle to see why the BBC has made such a ridiculous fuss over the 2009 final of University Challenge. The disqualification of Corpus Christi, the Oxford college lead by virtuoso savant Gail Trimble, seems to be based more on nitpicking technicalities than on any significant grievances.

Where were the hundreds of complains to the BBC? It’s bizarre that the Beeb have pounced on this, particularly when so few were calling for action. Even Manchester, the default winners are reluctant to acknowledge the title as theirs.

Sure, Sam Kay was no longer a student at Corpus when the final was filmed back in November. After failing to get funding for his Chemistry PhD, he jumped ship and landed a job at PWC. Given the sorry state of graduate employment at the moment, I can hardly blame him. But importantly he wasn’t expecting to leave when he applied to be on the show and indeed when he competed in the first few rounds.

Perhaps he should have been honest as admitted that he had left and taken a job before the filming of the final, but no doubt that would have caused a whole host of different problems. Should he be replaced? Should the team be disqualified even if they did nothing wrong? More importantly – who cares? After all it’s just a game. A large part of University Challenge’s appeal is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and the torrent of satire this show has both attracted and welcomed over the years is clear evidence of this.

To top it all, The Times has done some journalistic digging and found out that three previous winners of the UC title also had ineligible players in their team.

It remains to be seen whether this whole fiasco will dent the popularity of Gail Trimble, the brainbox captain who has reportedly

Legend: Bamby
Legend: Bamby

been offered a handsome sum to pose “tastefully” for Nuts magazine. An optimistic offer if ever I heard one and I can hardly imagine her new fiancé will be massively enthusiastic about the idea.

The most damning remarks come from former host Bamber Gascoigne, the only man who seems passionate one way or another: “To fail to produce a series of University Challenge, based on university life, not within a single university year, is pathetic. The whole thing is madness” Speaking of legendary producers, the BBC didn’t take long to get a reaction from the ever nonchalant Jeremy Paxman who seems like he could hardly care less.

On a related note: the qualifying heats for the next series of University Challenge are being held at City University this Thursday at 6pm in the Great Hall. Don’t all rush at once…

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