We applied for the University Challenge Team: it’s harder than it looks
We just wanted to meet Paxman
We arrived thinking we’d have to sit in front a panel, proving our worth with our intellect, but the reality was really quite dull. As we received an email about the exam conditions of the trial, our hopes sunk. We walked into the wood-panelled dive of the Wolfson suite, in the Harold Cohen, clutching our pens to our chests. Who knew our hearts would be torn apart by the end of the hour.
The actual trial was essentially a pub quiz mixed with an episode of Only Connect. In a quiz that is 100 questions, we did not have high hopes for the number we would be able to answer. But, as we sat down and accepted our fate, were pleasantly surprised, answering about half of them. Although only about 20 of these answers were confident.
The application said we could come any time between 6 and 9pm, and strolling in at 7:30, we realised the mistake we’d made; everyone had been there from the beginning, frantically writing down answers to every question, with stern looks on their faces. Realising we were drastically under-prepared compared to the people who had been working towards this since the moment they had left the womb, we buckled down, letting out an occasional giggle at the absurdity of the questions.
Despite trying to invoke the muse of Bretherton we could not pass this challenge of mental gymnastics. It’s the paranoia that gets you. Why are they writing so fast? Do they know what USB means? Who bloody cares?! They wouldn’t even let us go out for a cigarette to help us contemplate how unimportant and insignificant our lives and intelligence were. Primetime BBC2 needs us more than we need them.
Highlights included questions about Sound of Music Lyrics and ABBA’s Dancing Queen; most questions were about topics we had no real knowledge of, but despite this, they were surprisingly easy to make a guess at – ranging from computer operating systems to New York architecture. That’s if you could actually concentrate in the freezing cold room – we both wore our coats throughout the test, it was that bloody cold.
Our self-confessed specialist subjects of politics, literature, and history were mysteries to us, but our knowledge of 5 letter words and GCSE Biology kept us going, determined to get through to the next stage.
With Paxman in our sights, we desperately searched the deepest corners of our minds, trying to find answers that just would not come. A moment of inspiration hit, when a question came up on one of our dissertations, and although our hopes raised, they were instantly dashed by unanswered question after unanswered question. Full pages of unanswered questions became depressingly more common.
We left within about an hour, and the same people who were there at the start stared us down as we left too soon for their liking. We’re sorry, but it just was too dull for us. Soz Pazman.
Both of us are incredibly competitive but also naive individuals, so when we were informed a couple of days later that neither one of us got through to the next stage, we were devastated. Didn’t our extensive knowledge of how genetic composition of cells guarantee us a path to the final? In hindsight, it was inevitable really.
Here’s to hoping the team this year doesn’t regret letting us go. If they don’t win the whole competition, we’ll put it down to the fact that they didn’t take us.