We spoke to the students representing Birmingham on this year’s University Challenge

The first round match will be aired on Monday 11 October

Birmingham will face the University of Sussex in the television quiz show.

Students studying subjects including History and Medicine will represent UOB.

The competition will be shown on Monday 10 October at 20.30 0n BBC2.

Next week will see the University of Birmingham face the University of Sussex on the 51st series of the popular BBC quiz show, University Challenge. The annual competition, which draws in audiences of up to three million, features university teams in a series of head-to-head rounds, with characteristically eccentric students answering a range of difficult questions posed by the show’s imposing host, Jeremy Paxman.

Led by team captain Michael Jœl Bartelle, who is studying a PhD in Shakespeare Studies, the University of Birmingham team consists of MA Literature student, John Robinson, Jaimy Sajit, a second year student studying Medicine, and third year History and English student, Mark McParlan. The group were supported by reserve team member, Rachel Humphreys, who studies Geology.

Michael told the Birmingham Tab that “it’s been a dream of mine for years” and he was “absolutely thrilled” to be selected to represent the university on such a large platform.

“Birmingham’s historical track record on the show hasn’t been particularly stellar, and we came into the competition with a real desire to change that,” he said.

“We entered with a belief that we had the team to finally end 55 years without a University Challenge final appearance for our great institution!” added third year, Mark McParlan.

Literature student John Robinson, who has studied at Birmingham for his undergraduate, PGCE and master’s degrees recounted to The Birmingham Tab how he felt “incredibly proud” to appear on the show. After a failed application to make the team during his undergraduate studies, John said that his participation in this year’s competition was “all the more sweet.”

For youngest team member Jaimy Sajit, the experience was “surreal.” “I felt like it was a really unique opportunity and I was just happy to be there,” she told The Birmingham Tab.

Travelling to Manchester earlier this year to compete, Michael described filming for the show as “a really fun experience”. “It felt pretty surreal going into the studio and seeing all our surnames on the desk.

“It was obviously awesome getting to meet Jeremy Paxman as well!” he recounted to The Birmingham Tab.

The University of Birmingham’s “Purrmaid” team mascot, a combination of the lion and the mermaid in the university’s crest

Explaining the preparation the team underwent, the team captain told The Birmingham Tab: “We obviously didn’t know exactly what questions we would get, so – based on the many episodes we’ve all watched over the past years – we prepared ourselves by learning the stuff that seemed most likely to come up.

“We just tried to focus on what we ourselves could control and I think, in that regard, we did all we could,” he said.

This year’s contest took place between July 2020 and April 2021, during the Coronavirus pandemic. This meant that the first time the team met in person was on the first day of filming, something that John dubbed “bizarre.” Covid protocols also involved the teams being kept separate backstage.

“The staff were really good to us and made us feel quite calm and much less nervous before we filmed our episode,” said Medical student, Jaimy Sajit.

“Having to look straight into the camera to introduce yourself was the most nerve-racking part of it. It was really fun to knock about with the other team on camera and I think we all really just enjoyed ourselves.”

The University of Birmingham team in 2019. The team were knocked out in the second round by Jesus College, Oxford.

History and English student Mark McParlan described how natural filming for the show felt. He told The Birmingham Tab: “Honestly, once Paxman starts reading out those first starter questions, you entirely forget that you are being filmed for national television.

“All focus goes straight onto the match,” he said.

Although the team are yet to hear from the university regarding their performance in the competition, Michael recounted that “everyone at my particular corner of the university – the Shakespeare Institute – has been incredibly supportive.”

“They’ve been counting down the days until our episode finally airs. It’s been really exciting! There was a lot of stiff competition but, regardless of any outcome, I’m incredibly proud of how we were able to do our best.

“We had the time of our lives! I truly hope we do our fellow students proud!”

Watch Michael, John, Jaimy and Mark take on the University of Sussex team on Monday 10 October at 20.30 0n BBC2.

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