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The malady of reverie. - The power of the internet.
&c.

Lystellion
Date: 2009-01-28 17:44
Subject: The power of the internet.
Security: Public
Tags:26th january, corpus christi college, exeter, exeter university, jeremy paxman, lincoln college, oxford, oxford university, pembroke college, sheffield, university challenge
I EXPRESSLY RESERVE ANY AND ALL RIGHTS TO THE CONTENT WITHIN, AND EXPLICIT WRITTEN PERMISSION MUST BE OBTAINED TO REPRODUCE ANYTHING WITHIN THIS ENTRY, IN WHOLE OR IN PART. THIS INCLUDES ALL TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS.
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On University Challenge (Illustrated)

All kinds of things about the show and our three matches for anyone interested.
With some colourful pictures for those who aren't really.
It's long, but this is really three-entries-in-one, and "he has only half learned the art of reading who has not added to it the even more refined accomplishments of skipping and skimming" ~ Arthur Balfour. Read what, if anything, interests you.

It's worth looking at the comments as well - Three other contestants, past and present, have left their interesting thoughts. You should comment too!
... and may I briefly highlight this journal for anyone who wants informed opinion on any University Challenge episode: http://lifeaftermastermind.blogspot.com/

---
Getting on it.

I go to Exeter's shiny new Cornwall campus. This is ~100 miles away from Exeter, and the train takes just under 3 hours of its sweet time to get there. No trials for University Challenge were happening, or have ever happened, at the little Tremough campus, so after showering everyone remotely relevant at the main campus with e-mails, I finally found out about some trials that were happening at Exeter. I asked the powers-that-be several times to let people at Tremough at the very least be informed about trials at the main campus, but this for one reason or another never happened. This coming year I am currently set to organize the trials down in Cornwall, so hopefully you won't have to leave the county just to scribble down some answers on a test paper! (Edit: Since writing this I have written and marked the exam paper for Exeter twice. This year (2010-2011) Exeter successfully made the television stages, including no less than three representatives from the Cornwall campus. Look out for them, they're great.)

I half-memorized the UN secretaries-general on the way there, an early symptom of things to come. I wandered through St Luke's campus and indeed the city of Exeter for the very first time in my life the day I took the test paper. To represent the University of Exeter. If I was an academic in human geography I'd make a career out of this oddity. The question paper was 40 questions (or thereabouts) which I could answer in my own time in the refectory. I recognized some of them as questions that had been on University Challenge before, even down to the episode for a couple. I remembered getting some of them wrong, but crucially I did not remember the right answers. Thanks, selective memory.

When the results for that came back I was in the top 10 people who were eligible to go to the audition in Bristol, which was held on the UWE campus. A couple of student-y people from Granada studios interviewed the 7 of us who turned up in order to determine that we weren't going to be 'rabbits in the headlights' material. A couple of people from the Open University with a collected age of ten million years also showed up, I do wonder if they just didn't include the Open University in this series out of a (rare) sense of fairness to all the younger contestants, rather than due to their ability.

A CD was played with 40 questions (or thereabouts) with an 8 second delay between questions. We had to write the answers to them on a sheet of paper. I think I got about 10-15 of them. Later, I would be informed that some contestants got in the 30s. I remember distinctly trying and failing to pin down the name of the film-maker Dalí collaborated with to make L'Age d'Or. I had a portrait Dalí did of him in my mind and desperately wanted to write 'the guy with the crazy dark eyebrows'. Instead I was left with vague grasping: "Brunel? No. Brunel? No. Burnel? No. Bunnual? That isn't even a name. Crap. Next question."

The four highest scores were added together, and if that puts them in the top 28 teams, that team gets on the TV, with the top scorer in the audition within each team becoming captain. Although it isn't quite so simple. Oxbridge are limited to the number of colleges that can appear, and we were told that they would "mix things up" to cover a wider geographical area should there be a number of fairly evenly matched teams. UC is a TV show, any part of it can be tinkered with, it's not a regulated standard of student excellence or anything so grand.

---
The Pembroke match.

The day before the Pembroke match I went down an abandoned Welsh slate mine with a friend in the pouring rain and driving wind. I'd never seen clouds have a clear boundary only 25 metres above my head before. I didn't have wellingtons or a waterproof coat on, the one I borrowed had been ruined with detergent. I was paranoid I was going to catch a chill and be sniffling &c. all the next day.
What I'm trying to say is: This is a bad way to prepare for University Challenge.

UC is filmed in batches over a few days. There are a batch of first-round matches, and highest-scoring loser matches, in June. Then second-round matches in July. Then quarter-, semi-, and final-finals in November. These are then staggered out over the coming weeks to give the illusion of constant employment for Jeremy Paxman.



The studios themselves are in Manchester. Granada put you up in a Travel Inn and let you claim back your basic expenses but that's it. We arrived at the studio and only then were we told we were against Pembroke College. Oxbridge colleges are so massively variable on UC that it didn't mean a lot to me in terms of expectation. Though, there is of course greater incentive to win against an Oxbridge college compared to Scunthorpe Polytechnic.

The studio isn't made of marble or stone in life, it is grey board with haphazardly daubed white paint all over it, MDF and obvious wiring trailing behind the desks. This is obvious when you think about it, but it brings home how much you buy into the façade watching at home. Roger Tilling, the announcer of the names, threw out some practice questions to start. He's actually incarnate and everything, not just a voice, in his thirties, tall and has short black hair.

We proceeded to lose all of the knockabout questions, and the hideous thought that we were in for a real thrashing by Oxford's brightest came to mind. In the event, we did well. Katy in particular was absurdly good, really quick on the buzzer, and everyone else got starters. I managed to invent a word halfway between a colour and an element for two of the bonus answers (verillium), something so ridiculously stupid I spent part of summer learning about valencies and periodic groups for the first time since GCSE.

The match was exciting, but I didn't contribute as much as I'd have liked, and when we won it had an air of unreality about it for that very reason. Still, I was delighted that we got through the first round. The Pembroke team, like every other team we played, were friendly to us afterwards. Now there was only the wait to the next round, which afforded the chance to 'size up the opposition'.

---
Seeing Corpus Christi beat Durham on television.

"Wow. They must have psychoneural links to Wikipedia."
After the match had finished, the Durham captain looked like someone who'd had his gut pierced with a straw which drained all the smiles out of him. I tried to forget about them, hoping someone worse than CC would knock them out, somehow.

---
The Sheffield match.

I thought Granada would feed us. We all went to get lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, and I tried chilled cucumber soup. Which turned out to be as ghastly as it sounds, so I didn't eat it. Granada's canteen was shut. I ended up literally begging the production team for food prior to the match, and I raided the make-up room for cereal and milk, eaten with a plastic teaspoon. With that I was fuelled by randomly gathered cheese, crackers and nuts brought by the pitying Granada staff. Most teams are gearing up mentally for the coming match in the green room. I was stuffing my face ASAP. What I'm trying to say is: This is a bad way to prepare for University Challenge.

Sheffield are good at University Challenge, they knocked Exeter out last year. I placed a lot of importance on that. They were louder and more forceful personalities than the Pembroke team, and I was peculiarly determined that we had to win this one.



Roger Tilling, in human form, asking the practice questions.

We lost our knockabout questions again, but Katy got us off to a good start and for a time things were looking good. Imperceptibly our lead started to fade until we were in a losing position. Good thing I interrupted a starter question on double-blind that I (and anyone basically familiar with empirical testing methods) knew the answer to way too early, saying something vaguely related but very wrong instead. Somehow, though, we pulled back. I can scarcely describe what those last few minutes were like. I barely ever adhered in any moment of it. It was all a tumultuous flow where every second felt lengthened and tortured, I was desperately reaching for answers and found things sprang to mind in instants. My heart was going at an amazing rate, and my mind was in a state of total, fraught concentration. I was still reeling from feeling like I'd thrown away every chance of winning with my premature answer, and was already preparing in my mind how I was going to deal with being knocked out at this point, 'the end of the dream'. And then on that last starter everything changed, and we were *elated*. In contrast were the scarcely credulous and dejected, annoyed faces of the Sheffield team. It was, literally speaking, incredible, and took ages to sink in. The match was a true team effort, everyone's contribution being absolutely vital to the final result.



After every show they re-film bits, where people fluff answers or aren't recorded properly &c. One of the members of the Sheffield team had to buzz in with a wrong answer and look dejected. He did so, and looked dejected in a somewhat theatrical way - with a hint of a curl of his lower lip. They asked him to do this take over and over again, telling him 'just move back into your chair and look down' and people began to laugh because it was farcical. I could sympathize, it's like someone saying to you 'just stand there and act NORMAL for a bit'. Eventually they either lost patience or had recorded something they were happy with because the endless re-takes finished. This is the way they rub salt into your wounds.



Now I had to re-take something also. I had to say to Stearn, for one of the bonus questions, 'tendrils', which I am happy to say was the right answer to the question. I looked to my left, resting my head on my left hand naturally, and said it.

Jeremy Paxman: "You, next to Stearn, don't be such a poser throwing these Auguste Rodin poses."
(laughter from the audience)

He is of course referencing the statue Le Penseur or The Thinker. Throughout the episode I'd, unlike everyone else, rested my head on my hand and looked at a nondescript bit of the desk so I wouldn't be distracted by a thing when listening to Paxman's question, so I'd been unintentionally resembling the famed Thinker for the whole episode...



---
The Corpus Christi match.

Driving up to Manchester on the day before the match we got stuck in traffic, I was shouted at needlessly by the guy driving me, I ended up at the wrong travel inn, and eventually fell asleep at 3am after getting the reluctant receptionist to get the moronic people in the next room to turn their bloody television down. I woke up about 8am the next morning and spent most of the afternoon unsuccessfully trying to sleep. What I'm trying to say is...

It was all very interesting this time, finding out who had made the quarter-finals. At this point only a few second round matches had been shown on TV. Everyone who I'd guessed would make it made it, with the exception of St Andrews.

When we arrived at the reception I thought one of the guys waiting there was from the City team. That would be a tough match, but at least we weren't up against Manchester or Corpus Christi. We'd be in with a shot.



I don't know what's happening with that painting either.

In the dressing room there was some discussion about whether or not to 'smarten up' now, or wait till a later stage. I was very much in the 'now' camp. I asked the guy who was looking after us who we were up against, we hadn't actually been told yet.

"Corpus Christi"

Yeah.
Better smarten up for this one.
(Incidentally, the pairings in the quarters are not random, they're chosen, so there was never any chance of us being matched against a comparable team, like Queen's or City. A member of staff told us later that we were deliberately placed with CC so as to keep the stronger teams apart. Whether that's good or not can be argued both ways, but in either case it must make for better television else they wouldn't do it.)





The 'green room' where we waited before the match.

We were the third quarter-final. When we were waiting for the knockabout questions to start, I tried to talk things up in my head. I looked over at the Corpus Christi team "You can't be that great, you look just like people to me." This is in retrospect like an Amish Luddite threatening Terminator with a stick.

I love the intros. I don't remember them exactly but they went something like this: Exeter got here, maybe with the help of black magic. No one can prove otherwise. As for Corpus Christi, angels weep when they pass.

When it got to the stage that we were 120 points down without a single question, I looked at Tom Pugh and we just laughed. They were simply so much better. One thing that doesn't come across on screen is that a large part of their victory is down to their being faster than us, whereas on TV it looks like we just didn't know any of the answers bar two. Many times someone would press the buzzer either side of me, I'd look over to them expecting their name to be announced, and then Tilling would announce 'Corpus Christi, [___]'. When finally a starter came around that I did know and could recall the answer to before them, I was rather disproportionately happy. I expected the Nietzsche quote question to ask more than it did, expecting him to ask which work it was in. I know the Thus Spake Zarathustra 'God is dead' passage to heart (Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition?[...]) because it is one of the most stirring passages of melodramatic philosophy I've ever read. I'd heard the other 'God is dead' passage Paxman quoted before, but didn't know which work it came from. It almost took me by surprise that he wanted just the name of the philosopher. Then they hammered us for a while more.

When the gong went, it was strange to see that '15' next to our team. I didn't think anything quite that drastic would happen. Shortly after the end a woman from the staff came and told us it wasn't the lowest score ever - not a consolation you want to be in a position to receive. But I felt oddly happy about the whole thing. I'd grabbed a couple of starters, as good as the two Oxford lads. You just had to hand it to them, their performance will rank as one of the best in the history of the show, and hey, it was fun to play the best team in the competition.

The Corpus Christi team are well-balanced subject-wise, and are lightning quick on the buzzer. Furthermore, they're very good at guessing and anticipating questions, a skill that's probably honed by the intercollegiate University Challenge style competitions that are held at Oxford. Their captain, Gail Trimble, is the quintessence of these abilities, a truly remarkable player in the same exclusive class as Kaufman and Christodoulou of previous series. It doesn't quite come across on screen what it's like to be on the end of their intellectual Blitzkrieg - listening as hard as you can to question after question and hearing them answer it, often before you've got much of an idea of what it's about. It puts a mass of pressure on every question to buzz in early, too early, and you end up getting surprised if you get anything.

A little snippet of conversation afterwards:

Me: Did I hint at the answer at all, when I said saprophyte?
GT: No, I could work it out from the 'epi' part...
Me: ...oh of course the Latin...
GT: ...Greek.
Me: Ah, right, yes, sorry. Of course.

More than anything else, pretty much sums up my day.

When the member of Granada staff assigned to us, who had been working there for years, escorted us from the television studio for the last time, he told us they were the best team he'd ever seen on the competition.

---
Differences between the show in life and at home.

It is harder. A lot, lot harder. And a lot more fun. If you want an idea, pick a team next time it's on. In life you have no choice who you're with, so you should probably flip a coin. Take something vaguely buzzer-shaped and place your finger on it. When a question is read out, push it when you want to answer and then answer within two and a half seconds. You must push it a *clear half-second before* Roger Tilling announces anyone's name, else another player got there before you, and that's you out. Also, if one of your chosen 'team mates' answers and happens to get it wrong, that's you out. For extra spice only answer those bonuses that you or one of your 'team mates' get the starters to - so as to experience the frustration of hearing easy bonuses that the other team fails to get. 'Playing at home' is *comparatively easy*, you can hold back answering until Tilling's voice kicks in. Figuring out for yourself when you've heard enough whilst listening to the rest of the question whilst assessing where the question is going whilst assessing your potential answers whilst wondering if one of the people next to you has a better idea, is a lot harder. If you end up guessing incorrectly more than two or three times, consider how much that would dent your confidence, and how much you'd be letting down the team. If you keep getting questions right despite all this, get on the show ASAP.

The 'wild guesses' that you can throw at the TV at home are generally a no-no in the studio. Twice on our episodes I would've guessed Tchaikovsky for starters because he's one of the few composers I know. It would've been the right answer twice, I would've 'got that' at home. But on TV I wasn't nearly confident enough to waste a potential chance for a team mate, and it was the right decision, I think, not to buzz.

I never really judged people that harshly before being on it, but now I'm all the more sympathetic to contestants on screen. It's harder than it looks, and you have to be very good indeed to get more than 3 or 4 starters in an episode.

---
Finishing things / peroration.

I had a handful of goals for myself, and the team, the biggest being matching the previous year's Exeter team quarter-final spot. Both team and individual goals were lucky enough to be met - bar one. I still don't know who won, despite the semi- and final-finals being the day after our quarters. Knowing that a winning team almost certainly wouldn't have someone of my age (I was 19 in our first two matches) and ability on it, I always hoped that whoever we lost to would be the eventual winners. So I'm in the same boat as everyone else, oddly hoping for outcomes that have already happened. If anyone did beat Corpus Christi, that team should probably be captured and dissected to prevent them taking over the world with General Knowledge.

Jeremy Paxman has a bit of a reputation for being an irascible martinet, but in person he's quite friendly and was very nice to us at the end of all our episodes, coming over to say a few words of praise or consolation. He only really gets irritated if you waste time, and generally he was very fair.

All that's left now is to grow some dodgy hairy facial fungus, wait ten years, and appear on The Professionals.

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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-01-29 14:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Your idea of the viewers-at-home exercise, to make them appreciate how it actually works, is so true, esp. the habit of counting both teams' bonuses to one's credit. I would almost put it down as a slightly (but only slightly) tongue-in-cheek Wikipedia link for the UC entry. On a day where Paxman is less prone to rushing them, the contestants might get through only twenty/very low 20s starters, and not only are these crucial to any point-scoring at all, but it leaves open a large element of chance. People who did schools-level quizzes on the buzzer - probably a surprisingly large proportion of UC viewers - are likely more used to bonuses passing across to the team who failed to buzz if the team with first call on them does not get them right, a set-up which makes the stakes lower and the lowest scores higher. Or failing that, they're familiar with pub quizzes where no team's greater speed stops them writing an answer down.

Though of course some teams each series are very good and you know they will go far, for the vast majority - perhaps the whole field bar one or two - I think that, because of the element of luck, any attempts to predict how they will do by extrapolating their and their opponents' previous scores tend to fail more spectacularly than in any other competition, and that's saying something as it's never a particularly reliable indicator in anything. I never forget from Sean Blanchflower's stats site that the greatest margin in the Paxman era, a difference of 360 points, was inflicted on a team that managed to reach the semis.

At least you do have the two previous rounds to your credit. I always feel so sorry for those who go out dismally in the first round, as they have nothing to back them up in the viewers' eyes, the public being oblivious to the qualification process which has to whittle what is sometimes not far short of 200 teams down to 28, and which can only do this with questions at the harder end of even the UC spectrum. I think that many people, who admittedly give it little thought, assume that all universities can get on automatically - which unless we have the same number of institutions of higher education as during the 1930s, is hard to explain. Do they think it's a coin toss or a royal rumble or something? It's also good that you mention the slightly unspoken cap on Oxbridge colleges, as to read the New Statesman last December, or to know of the old, ongoing bourgeoisie-flagellating debate of which it is part, it is clear that notta lotta people know this.

Just one little thing: 2/4 of the Corpus team were in fact undergrads. Not that this really detracts from much of what you say.
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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-02-16 21:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for the comment! I think that the buzz-at-home exercise is absolutely essential for anyone to do who has strong opinions about people on the show. Especially at the latter stages, where the speed of the contestants is generally a lot higher and speed comes into play all the more.

If the questions were written down, then for the majority of them I would say that at least 2 of the 8 contestants would know the answers. That's where the speed is so important. It's not only easy if you know the answer. It's only easy if you know the answer before everyone else, and you or a team member hasn't interrupted the question too early, and if your confidence isn't so dented that you're too scared to buzz in.

I've corrected the Ph.D thing. I had a feeling it might be wrong. Turns out they're younger on average by three years than I thought too - which makes their performance all the more impressive.

Edited at 2009-02-16 09:02 pm (UTC)
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-01-30 01:35 (UTC)
Subject: Nice blog.
You guys were a good team , with two excellent victories. And what's more you took your annihilation with supreme good grace. A credit to the show , well done.
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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-02-16 21:02 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Nice blog.
Thanks for that, I appreciate it a lot :)
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-02-02 18:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was in the audience when your quarter final was recorded as i was a guest of corpus christi. it was just really unfortunate that you came up against Gail Trimble on a day when she was incredible. And your comment about speed is completely true. When watching it live you could see members of both teams all hitting the buzzer split seconds within each other but each time "Corpus Christi, Trimble" was shouted out. You were a credit to the competition as you provided a thrilling match between you and Sheffield, and also were very gracious in defeat and took it well (knowing the result in both semi-finals and the final, some teams didn't take the idea of losing so well)
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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-02-02 21:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for your comment. I don't mean to say by the speed thing that we would've won had we been faster. The speed is an explanation for our getting such a low score, not our loss. Our loss was down to being against a better team, Gail Trimble being really, actually as good as she's being made out to be.

I can understand why some teams found it more difficult to lose. Any of the four winning quarter-finalists, and LSE, must've had a glimmer of a hope of perhaps winning the competition. Even I tried to talk up our chances (to myself) before the match, knowing full well what the Corpus team were capable of. But being a bad sport is rubbish, you've got to take it in good spirit. The Corpus team were 'good winners', for their part, they were friendly and talkative to us afterwards. I firmly believe that it's just a TV show at the end of the day, and nothing to get overly worked-up about.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-02-11 12:43 (UTC)
Subject: University Challenge
You shouldn't take your defeat to Corpus Christi to heart as you did excellently to get to the quarter-finals :) I believe most people who appear on University Challenge feel a little hard done by (I have met a few) as they think they should have performed better on the day, but luck does play a big part in success.

Having won as part of the Warwick team, I am still in awe of the might of players such has Christodoulou and Trimble and their excellent knowledge and recall. I think that a player like them is the difference between a good UC team and a great one.

I also like to add that none of my fellow team-mates hardly ever participated in quizzes either at school or at university, and our preparation for UC was scant (about two pub quizzes), hence we were learning how to play whilst "on the job". Also we were between the ages 21 - 22, with me being the only postgraduate.

P. S. The backstage pictures are really good
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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-02-12 14:42 (UTC)
Subject: Re: University Challenge
I agree with you on the 'luck' thing, I think that a lot depends on how the questions go. In some episodes, the questions seem almost deliberately written for me. Other episodes they seem almost deliberately written to make me look stupid. This means that there ends up being a 3-fold difference between episodes in the range of questions I would say I know, and I daresay that people who feel they should've done better may have had a nasty bunch of questions for them which suited the other team, as much as anything. Added to that, a lot is contingent on the 'form' both teams happen to be in. If you know what it's like to have a good episode you tend to want to have one every match.

Having seen CC beat Durham, I was quite prepared for a heavy defeat, so I don't think I was in a position to take it to heart from the outset. I do think that our case is a little special though, because we really are better than the CC score indicates. Katy alone would be worth more than that. I think the fairest reflection would be our Sheffield match.

I totally agree that a team needs a great captain in order to be a great team. These players never have 'off days', and are a constant pressure on the other team. It usually seems to be that there's only one truly outstanding player like this in any given series. The other things that are necessary or at least very common in great teams is that every team member needs to be strong. No-one can be carried. And a good balance of subjects helps a lot too, particularly with the sciences. We lacked a science specialist, and it was telling - we only got one science starter in three episodes as I remember!

I don't think practice or preparation is necessary, most teams don't seem to bother (with the infamous exception of the coached Manchester side), but it can undoubtedly help. One or two of the bonuses I contributed in the Sheffield match were as a direct result of reading them in some of the books I'd read in preparation. Without them, we would probably have been forced to a tie-break or lost the match.

I do have a lot of respect for your team winning at such a young age, that's extremely impressive. Even then, I'd stick by my comment about being 19 (20 against CC) making me think we'd be out of the running for actually winning it from the outset. I tally off the number of questions I get when watching at home, and each year I end up regularly breaking the highest score I got in the previous year. A year makes a lot of difference, at least for me. It might be because much of the stuff I know for UC is from books, and a year's worth of reading is generally worth an extra 5 or 6 questions an episode to me, on average.

Thanks for your comment! I remember being similarly wowed by the Warwick team as I was by Corpus Christi, you were all very strong, and well-balanced subject-wise. I'm as much a fan of the show as anything, and you were a great team to watch. I also seem to remember one of you - I think it was Harold Wyber? - buzzing in for a picture round and saying that a Turner was a Dalí. Which, given as it came from a member of a winning team, always made me feel better about giving silly answers from then on! It was largely on the back of your team's performance that one of the universities I really didn't want to be up against in the first round was Warwick.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-02-15 23:44 (UTC)
Subject: Re: University Challenge
Thanks for replying to my post. I'm Prakash Patel by the way. I'm quite flattered you can remember that far back about that Turner painting (and correctly too!).

I'm quite sure the that the Durham team have coaching - we were backstage when the Manchester v Durham semi-finals was being recorded, which they left the "Collins Gem Book of Facts" for us to read. Edinburgh are also not a bad team, being the only university to appear on University Challenge more than Warwick. Losing to any of those teams would be not embarrassing, which makes CCO's achievement quite astonishing.

Your team's progress prior to the quarter-finals mirror our own, having beaten a Cambridge college comfortably in the first, and winning by a 5 point margin against UEA in the second. That was a very tense game against extremely fast players, where we didn't lead until the final minute, which I seemed to celebrate quite wildly - the relief was intense! Which is quite out of character for me as people who have met me find me melancholic, but I guess I enjoy the attention of the cameras. But in that match we learnt the lesson of buzzing in ridiculously early, perhaps even before thinking of the answer.

Personally, many of the starter questions in our quarter-final against Aberystwyth just flew over my head (which was also the case with the latter two rounds), which was in stark comparison with the first two rounds which I could have answered or attempted to answer every third starter. Luckily for us, we had Daisy on the team, who was beginning to assert her dominance on the game.

I was the only scientist on the team, but there was only three science starters in that round. I'm eternally grateful that Rory Gill got two of them. Hence it may be possible to win without one, especially as some of the questions do have hooks that non-scientist could grab onto.

You are quite right that being well-read is a great advantage, having three members who have read far more fiction than I could possibly imagine. This advantage showed up very often. And I think it also helps if you took history and geography to A-level, attended a school that taught Latin grammar and the classics, and also went to Sunday School. My humble schooling was unable to provide these things.

We weren't spectacular until our semi-final against UCL, recorded after Manchester's wallop of Durham. Incidentally, the Mancunian home crowd were intially cheering for us very loudly when the Manchester coach pointed out "We want Warwick to win, they're the weaker team!". That was until we were 150+ points up.

After earning the "deathless glory" of being university challenge, there is now hardly anything material to show for it, except for some VHS copies of the show, various websites and our memories. The university did not receive the UC trophy until late June (2 1/2 months after the final was televised) and was promptly removed by March the following year. We have no replica trophy from Granada to acknowledge our win. Although I really should not be bitter at all, as this is the stuff fairytales are made of.

Talking about howlers, I failed to recall that an orrery was a model of planets around the Sun in the final, answering "stars" instead. However, the rest of the team do like to coax poor old Rory Gill into reminding us of the *seven* pillars of Islam.

Be glad you didn't progress far enough to embrace Ann Widdecombe very awkwardly...
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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-02-24 23:37 (UTC)
Subject: Re: University Challenge
It's amazing how close your match against UEA was, it goes to show what little boundaries can separate a series. It's interesting how you say you came across differently on screen to how you are in life. I think that that needs to be kept in mind when people form judgements about people on the TV. They're not under normal circumstances.

I smiled when I read about the Durham team and their book of facts. I did try a little of that fact-learning myself, and it's hopeless. Unless you know things in context, you probably will end up forgetting them. Prime example: prior to the CC match, I read about palindromes in the green room in my trusty Schott's Original Miscellany. Our knockabout bonuses were coincidentally also on palindromes, and I'd not remembered a thing!

I tried learning about prime ministers of the 18th & 19th centuries as 'revision', and the only ones I remembered anything about (like rough time in office) were the ones that I could actually attribute historical events to. Which turned out to be about 4 or 5 at most. That's why UC is a little more than just 'random facts', it's mostly 'random facts in context'. It takes a long time to accumulate knowledge in context, and that's why coaching and pre-match preparation can only get a team so far.

I know what you mean about having good games and bad games. Once every dozen shows or so a game comes along on TV where I feel I could run away with 5-8 starters, screaming things at the TV well before anyone on the teams on show. And other games I feel totally ridiculous for long periods, not even knowing any questions for 5 minutes. It's really strange how it works, but even Trimble was quiet for the first half of the final last night.

My humble school was able to provide a nice amount of stigma and ridicule for knowing things, the catchment area including the 8th most deprived ward in the entire country. So I'm with you there, Prakash! As I remember Daisy Christodoulou sounded very down to Earth, though, so I'm guessing she wasn't privately educated?

It's a shame they don't give you anything material for winning! Granada were a bit tardy in getting some photographs to us. We had our photo taken behind Paxman sitting at his desk in the quarter-finals, but they never sent us a copy. I do have the polythene EXETER and FUNNELL strips that they use on the desks, though. They're proudly decorating my room.

I can't believe it, but now you mention it, I remember that orrery one, because I'm sure I remember getting that one right. Which was often remarkable for me, especially then, because you were ever such a fast team.

I remember that kiss on the cheek of Ann Widdecombe! That still makes me smile. You were braver than your teammates, they didn't even try!

I really hope Granada do another 'reunited' type series. I relish the prospect of seeing your team play someone like a Corpus Christi or Christ Church. Have you found being on UC gets you anywhere with employers and things? I doubt it will make a huge amount of difference, but I've always figured it will be something for the CV. I will of course not mention all the particulars of our matches... =p

Edited at 2009-02-24 11:40 pm (UTC)
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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-03-16 02:53 (UTC)
Subject: Re: University Challenge
A guy at the BBC may be interested in talking to you, scroll to the bottom of this page: http://www.blanchflower.org/uc/index.html

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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-02-12 10:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That was a thoroughly enjoyable read, thanks for that!
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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-02-12 14:00 (UTC)
Subject: Thanks for commenting!
I'm glad you enjoyed it!!
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eatyourfudge: pigeons
User: eatyourfudge
Date: 2009-02-24 02:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:pigeons
I thought you were a fantastic team, and it was a shame but you lost, but none of the team have any reason to be ashamed with that lost. These things just happen. And the Sheffield match was fantastic!
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Lystellion: pic#56304378
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-02-24 23:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:pic#56304378
Thanks for your comment, I'm glad you enjoyed the Sheffield match!

Your icon is original and kinda hypnotic, I really like it. What inspired you to make a custard cream sofa? Also, your collection of Stephen Colbert videos is just brilliant. I love that man:

Reality has a well-known liberal bias

Too right!
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eatyourfudge
User: eatyourfudge
Date: 2009-02-27 14:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, it was especially exciting as I've applied to both Exeter and Sheffield. My mum asked me afterwards whether it made me favour one or the other - how could it? It was so close!

I must admit I didn't take the photos/think it up myself, I found the series on http://delicatesituations.blogspot.com/ and thought they were just brilliant.

Ah yeah, he's a genius! So annoyed that colbernation.com has blocked viewers from the UK (or at least it had last time I checked).
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-07-19 03:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hi, just stumbled across this, fascinating read! I thought your performance was great in the first 2 rounds and you really were just unlucky in the third, it's great that you just enjoyed the whole experience and took it with such good grace, I suppose that's what it's all about at the end of the day! Nice to read a measured account after all the hype and hysteria (most of it ill-informed) that surrounded last series and, I think, detracted from it, especially the nasty and incredibly sexist comments made about GT, who was after all just playing the game and playing it well!

I'm on the Manchester team whose match was screened on Monday (July 13th) and I understand what you mean about it not feeling real, our whole match against the Royal Veterinary College was very odd indeed, I knew we were being filmed, but somehow it just didn't seem as nerve-racking as we'd expected and we actually all seemed to really enjoy the whole match and be quite relaxed, apart from when I got a starter about Katie Melua right, I considered not answering it for fear of being branded a Melua fan (which I'm not honest!) but pointlust got in the way! It was strange watching it back though as I don't remember half of those questions, especially the bonus rounds we had, I've been very focused on my PHD though so I think all other thoughts had been put to the back of my mind, maybe that's why I was so relaxed during the match because I hadn't even had time to think or worry about the match beforehand, just turned up on the day and got on with it. I agree that learning long lists of things in preparation doesn't help much, that kind of cramming rarely works for me! It's interesting to read your account of all the stages as we've got all that to come (providing we're not knocked out of course) and I'm sure that future matches won't be as relaxed as our first one, though I'd have expected it to be the other way round. I suppose like you say nobody really knows what it's like until you're there in the studio with Paxman asking the questions. I also agree, he seems quite courteous in person!

Anyway, thanks for writing this,
Best wishes,
Rachael Neiman.

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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2009-07-25 22:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hey Rachael thanks for commenting! It's great to hear from other contestants, and I'm sure many others will read this comment over time.

"I suppose like you say nobody really knows what it's like until you're there in the studio with Paxman asking the questions."

Very much so! It all depends so much on the questions you get, and the opposition, as to how you experience it. Your opponents were unlucky not to get one or two more starters which would be in their fields of expertise a bit more - and they had some very nasty bonuses. That takes of course no credit away from your team, you got a very good score and I was very struck by how much it seemed a TEAM effort. I didn't come away thinking 'that person was really good, but that person was a bit quiet', I got the feeling you all contributed a lot.

Also, the face of your captain when the absolutely ridiculous question about physics was read out was wonderful. It's always nice to see someone else visibly just go 'all right, what the hell is this about'. Also I had to laugh when Paxman said to your opponents 'it's not the WORST score we've ever got, by a long way!'. Oh dear me. Whatever could he have been talking about?

I'm guessing you've already played your second-round match, I hope that went well!

Jacob
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-12-26 12:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Just found your blog by accident, and thought I'd say thanks for what made for a very heartening read. I captained the Loughborough team in this year's competition, and you're completely right about the difference between playing along at home and playing the game for real. People at home (including myself formerly) forget that University Challenge is in fact a *contest*, and that you're playing against another team - not only that, but, as you say, even if you have a hunch that the answer that's just popped into your head might be the right one, you sometimes err on the side of caution because you don't want to buzz in and get the answer wrong when one of your teammates might just be about to reach for the right answer and buzz in. You have to play a team game.

This happened in our second-round match, in which we lost to St. John's, Oxford. I recall one question, where the answer 'gall bladder' popped into my head. We had a couple of scientists on the team so I held back from buzzing in, because I'd already buzzed in once and got a starter wrong. So I felt less inclined to buzz and get something wrong again. As it was, a guy from the St. John's team buzzed in, said jovially, 'Gall bladder?' and Paxman said, 'Correct!' I kicked myself, but - as you say here - I felt I'd still made the right decision, because you never know what your teammates might be about to do. Curiously enough, I spoke to one of my fellow team members after the filming of the show, and he said he'd also had 'Gall bladder' running through his head, but had been too tentative to buzz.

I think confidence is also a major issue. What enables players like Gail Trimble to rack up so many correct answers to starter questions in a single match is the cumulative effect of getting a question right - the high it gives you. You want to replicate that, and to an extent adrenaline takes over, so you no longer care so much about buzzing in rashly and getting one wrong. After all, if you've already won the team four starters, or more, then what's one dropped starter? Or even five lost points? That's how it goes, I think. Maybe you think similarly. I remember that, after I'd got a couple of starters for Loughborough in our first-round match, I managed to win a few more by simply buzzing in and having a guess - something I didn't do in the second round, since as soon as we'd started to fall behind, and I'd got that first starter wrong, my confidence wasn't what it had been the first time around. It wasn't so much that I'd lost confidence; it was more that it just hadn't had that boost it had had in the first round, from getting several starters right. So I think that sometimes you end up with a team that does very well because they're on a roll - and mostly it's got nothing to do with their knowing intrinsically far more than their opponents, but simply that they felt they could afford to make some fortunate guesses. So much of it depends on the fact that it's a contest: something lost on many armchair players of the show, I think.

Anyway, thanks for the enlightening read, and well done for doing Exeter proud by getting to the quarter-finals of the show (something Loughborough missed out on, alas!).
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Lystellion
User: lystellion
Date: 2010-10-21 11:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for the insightful comment! Sorry I've taken ages to respond, do comment back if you ever read this. Loughborough rammed into a great team in the second round, which unfortunately happens to a lot of teams who have great potential. I remember being very impressed when I saw your team, you did very well in the first round. I daresay you would have liked to have had a crack at some of the teams in the quarter-finals, who may have looked very beatable.

It's good to hear you had a similar experience with the gall bladder question. What you say is so true about buzzing in and being on a roll is so true, I don't have anything much to add to that. It does highlight just how much leads can beget more leads because you can afford to buzz in on anything.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2010-10-19 22:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I found this very interesting to read as a massive fan of the series. I have massive respect for all the teams, as I know I could never do it. At home I only get 4 or 5 questions correct per episode, and that's getting to answer them all, not just a certain teams. I'm always stunned with the vast extent of knowledge contestants like Gail Trimble have. I remember the series you are on very vividly and I was routing for Exeter all the way through (though as a Manchester student, I would have supported them if you ever faced them). I thought you were a good team and seemed very down to earth.

I was wondering how you felt about the disqualification of CC? I felt sorry for both CC and Manchester. CC as they lost their trophy for a spectacular team, and Manchester as its an empty win if you didn't win the final (though they almost did until Trimble's epic end 5 minutes!)

Nice to see the back stage photos and well done on your team's performance. Must have been a great experience.
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Lystellion: The aim of philosophy is...
User: lystellion
Date: 2010-10-21 11:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:The aim of philosophy is...
Hey thanks for your comment, and for supporting us! Sorry it took a short time to get back to you/unscreen your comment, laptop issues.

As for the disqualification thing: Sam Kay sat across from me and said he was studying chemistry - present tense - when he was an accountant. I was expecting to go against people who were actually university students, and for my part, I was in no doubt I had to be a current student and that final year students were, at that time, ineligible. It's part of the reason why I went for it when I was a second year - instead of waiting until I was in my third year. On the other hand, he was planning to do a Ph.D which never happened, so he was expecting to be a student. So it's all a bit muddy - had he told producers the situation then it could have been resolved ahead of time and nothing much would have happened.

It messed up the whole thing. It's most unfair on Manchester because you know, they did nothing wrong. On the other hand, they got more exposure than any other series before or since, and they have some interesting stories to tell - in my opinion, probably the most valuable thing you take from the show.

They've changed it now, which is good - one of the people who was in the Exeter team this year was a masters student, and he would have been ineligible if it wasn't for this forced change of rules and nobody would have seen his impressive musical knowledge :D

I have to emphasize what I said in the entry that this is just a TV show - and as absorbing and exhilarating as it can be when you're on it, it's all very transient. Similarly for my series, the media cast their many-eyed gaze on it for a bit, and then forgot about it entirely. It's not like being disqualified from some major sporting event, where the participants actually make a living from being professional sportspeople. Dr Gail Trimble is taking impressive first steps into academia proper now. I daresay that the Manchester captain has finished or is finishing his Ph.D. All this UC stuff is insignificant nothings by comparison.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2012-11-12 23:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Do many parents attend the recordings, or is it mostly made up of students or even the general public?
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Lystellion: Kant
User: lystellion
Date: 2013-01-22 10:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Kant
Sorry it took me forever to respond, I've practically forgotten about the existence of livejournal and University Challenge ...

As far as I remember the team had 10 tickets (I think it was 10, might've been more) which we distributed between us. Anyone can come.

Audience members will end up seeing at least two episodes if it's in the earlier rounds, which is why the audience looks bigger than 20. So my mum watched the episode before our Corpus Christi one. We both agreed that if we'd had those questions, things would have been different ... :P
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2012-12-27 19:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Have just found this blog, and thought I might as well drop you a line. I was on the Edinburgh team in 2007-8 (scraped past round one with an extraordinarily low winning score, thumped in round two), and it's fun to read about other people's experiences! (I don't think we saw the best of Paxman, though to be fair we weren't exactly memorable. I do remember being disgruntled that he was surprised I knew the answer to a couple of pretty obscure questions about music and literature. Maybe I deserved it after the brain explosion that had me name Kraftwerk as a string quartet...)

I do remember watching your match against Corpus Christi, and being rather glad I'd been on the previous year. In any case, one reason I found the courage to go on the show at all was the fact that I'm not British, and thus most of my friends and acquaintances were never going to see the show if I did make a fool of myself!

Oh, and I also have EDINBURGH and FREEDE happily decorating my living room now. Something of a talking point for guests.

Incidentally, I don't know if this has changed since I left, but Edinburgh certainly didn't go in for extensive coaching back then. Selection process was very well organised, but after that we were on our own. A fair few pub quizzes, and that was it. (Actually, I was supposed to be the reserve, but I did better with the Granada audition. Being female probably didn't hurt there, either, as Edinburgh's teams over the last few years have been pretty blokey.)

Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane.
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