Representing the university’s academic reputation on television was never going to be easy. However, after a series of painstaking trials last November, and an interview with the producers in Bristol, four bright young things had the courage (and brainpower) to step up to the challenge.
This years’ all-male team comprised of two first year undergraduates, Physics student David Bishop, and Richard Evans, studying Chemistry. The team was captained by Bob De Caux, a phD student studying Complex System Simulation. The line-up was completed by fellow phD student Matt Loxham, studying Respiratory Toxicology.
“We had never met before.” Bob explains. “Although, I did know that Matt ran the Postgrad quiz. We are all such big fans of University Challenge, especially Richard. I think he stated at one point that he’d said to his parents he would one day be on the show!”
The University of Southampton regrettably lost with 155 points to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), constituent college of the University of London, who qualified straight to the second round with 230 points.
Despite being defeated, the team did play well, answering some tricky questions covering a range of subjects including: Mathematics, 20th century English novelists in the words of critic Terry Eagleton, edible algae, culinary nuts and seeds, and 19th century Presidents.
Perhaps the Southampton team’s performance on the show may have been due to the choice in mascot. “It is common practice to have a lucky charm when you appear on the show. We all thought that SUSU the cat was a good representation of the University.”
Unfortunately, the real SUSU the cat was unable to make an appearance, so the team had to settle for a stuffed version instead.
So, what was it really like to encounter Jeremy Paxman? Was he exactly how we all imagined him to be?
“It was strange!” Bob reveals. “Those we knew in the audience found him to be exactly how we would expect him to be… But honestly, when we spoke to him backstage he was nice, actually very complimentary and genuinely impressed with everyone’s knowledge. He was very approachable.”
According to Bob, despite the “scary process” being a part of the show was “lots of fun and incredibly rewarding”. He offers advice for any future candidates with a desire to get involved:
“I wouldn’t worry about looking like a fool by answering the questions wrong. I do believe that you don’t need to know everything. As long as you just have that interest in general knowledge, you know your own subject well and are good at narrow areas.”
Does Bob expect the team to be a little more popular on campus now?
“It’s tricky at this stage! Especially now that we’ve lost…But we may have the opportunity to be invited back, which would probably be during term-time. The problem is that the show is filmed so far in advance! But it would be great if we get the chance to go back.”
Regardless of this first-round defeat, Southampton still have a chance to return to the show should they total up as a ‘highest scoring loser’.
Watch this space.