Review: University Challenge

ALEX HUGHES thinks ‘God Guttenplan’ made a great show that bit better.

alex guttenplan guttenplan paxman university challenge

From 2006, when 92 minutes of solid gold brilliance under the guise of ‘Starter for 10’ exposed me to the beautiful world that is University Challenge, like an addict I’ve tuned into BBC2 for my weekly dose of 30 steamy minutes with Jeremy Paxman. 



However, as University Challenge fever has swallowed the country in the past few weeks, I have been pondering whether the most recent series, deemed to be the most successful in a long time, deserves such success?

I say yes, even though most episodes leave me wondering what I’ve done with my 19 years on earth to not be able to answer more than three questions.  I say yes because within those initial feelings of depression there is always hope. There is always hope that one day you’ll be able to understand at what point knowing all the Maldivian islands in order of increasing population size was general knowledge. Of course there is also always perfect, intellectual and divinely attractive Paxo (doesn’t he have his own underwear brand?) who, with his biting comments and University Challenge knowhow, is as integral to the enjoyment of the show as watching Mummy and Daddy consistently shout the wrong answers at the television. 


(For anyone who is not a UC connoisseur), so how does it all work? 

Starting with 14 matches between 28-four member teams, the 14 emerging winners progress directly to the next brain-jousting round with the 2 highest scoring losers filling the remaining two places. The series then proceeds with teams gradually being filtered away via knockout. The matches themselves consist of as many rounds as the dong marking the end of the match will permit, each of which is initiated with a “starter” question for 10 points. Whichever team answers correctly in the shortest time is then granted with three bonus questions of varying value to be answered by the team captain. And so it continues, with small peculiarities like the loss of 5 points if you answer a starter question wrong and the passing on of a bonus question to the opposition if a team is unable to answer correctly. It’s all gravy. The continuity of it all is almost reassuring. But what really makes it, in my opinion, has to be the almost unworldly characters that frequent that famous split screen; always different but always, in my opinion, mind-blowing. Intelligence, fame, wit, talent: you name it, they have it all. This isn’t just eye-candy, this is brain-candy. This is serious. This is University Challenge.

2010’s brain was a certain Alexander Guttenplan; newly acclaimed heartthrob and NatSci sex-icon who, with the assistance of his army of admirable general knowledge geniuses (Andy Hastings, Jenny Harris and Josh Scott), and a score of 300-115, finalised their well deserved raping of Oxford’s remaining pride on Monday evening’s University Challenge final.

Guttenplan and his team shocked the British nation with their immeasurable knowledge and left many mere-mortals like myself with the resounding feeling of wondering where we have gone wrong in our lives as they answered questions including:

‘Represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet by a dot less question mark, what is the name for the consonant sound which is made by bringing the vocal cords tightly together and releasing them suddenly?’ 


How many squares, in total, are visible on a three by three square grid (including those squares consisting of more than one unit square)? 

The fantastic four worked together fabulously, but there is no denying the pivotal role played by ‘God Guttenplan’. Hailed by a number of particularly devoted ‘Guttenfans’ on his facebook group coined: ‘Alex Guttenplan; very clever. Very nice’ as having a certain ‘baffling sex appeal’ and ‘dreamy lethargy’, could this North Londoner be the new Einstein pinup?  Is he the ultimate proof that brains are sexy and it is OK to be attracted to a PhysNatSci? All will be revealed in the following weeks as we return for a fun-filled Easter term.

But, in the mean time, Alex it’s people like you that make University Challenge just that much more worthwhile. And yes, you are the sex and if you’re reading this, Call me? 

So get your pretty little selves onto iPlayer, tune into Monday’s final and ogle at the amazingness


Read The Tab's exclusive interview with Guttenplan here.