When I wrote the first ever edition of this blog in 2016, I described Jeremy Paxman as 'stony eyed, hair thick and flowing like a bear post-hibernation.' Having completed his twenty ninth series earlier this year he has now departed for a longer rest, well earned after nearly three decades of sardonic quips and withering put-downs. From all of the press pics, his replacement Amol Rajan is not boasting a bouffant on Paxo's 2016 level, and I can't choose which animal to compare him with, but I'm sure we'll get there.
I, like all viewers of University Challenge, am intrigued to see how Rajan hosts the show. For a large number of people Paxman is the only person we've known as quizmaster, and his style has become synonymous with the show itself. In his later years, he mellowed out a little bit, taking the edge off his caustic nature for the most part, but his furrowed brow, knitted tightly in befuddlement at the silliness of a contestant's throwaway guess remains iconic. Amol Rajan certainly has a big seat to fill.
I think its pretty cool, for what its worth, and I reckon they had to mix things up a bit or it might have felt a bit strange with someone else in the hotseat.
There is an excitement around this series, a nervousness about the newness of it (amplified somewhat by the faked death of the University Challenge YouTube uploader, which you can read about here if you haven't heard of it. Let's just say here that hopefully someone else steps up to upload this new series).
Manchester have won the show four times, and Trinity three, making them two of the most historically significant UC teams, but only one of them can win tonight... Without further ado, your first starter of the Amol Rajan era.
The show opens with a bizarre aspect ratio which I feared they were going to stick with the whole time, but the camera zooms in and we are treated to Rajan's dulcet tones for the first time. He introduces the teams and then we're off to the races.
Immaterialism is a concept associated with which philosopher...
Manchester hit back thanks to captain Senehedheera, but he rushes on the first bonus, losing out on the five points. No one knows its Honolulu on the next starter, but a second from Senehedheera gives Manchester the lead. Jaksina gets the first picture starter on Dr Zhivago by Pasternak, before a full bonus set on samizdat novels ties the game, and another from Banerjee takes back the advantage.
De los Reyes-White takes a starter on Wandavision and Senehedheera is disgusted by his own failure to recall the names of philosophers on the bonuses.
Henderson gets the music starter in about two seconds, prompting a big 'wow!' from Rajan. Maybe this can be his thing - pure shock at the speed of knowledge on display. Good bonuswork puts Trinity on double the score of Manchester at the halfway stage.
Banerjee wins a bonus set on herbs for Trinity. Bucking the stereotype of the cooking-ignorant student, they manage two of the three. Jaksina then takes his second picture starter with Vermeer, and Trinity are in command with five minutes to go.
Needing a starter, Grady buzzes in and starts giving Wide Sargasso Sea, but Rajan accepts his answer before he even finishes saying wide. Fair enough, but certainly something Paxman would never have done. They reduce the gap, but Kang shuts down the comeback. Whenever Manchester look like they're going to get back in it, one of the Trinity quartet block them. Fifty points separate the sides, so all Manchester can play for is the high-scoring loser play-off.
Or is it?
A starter from Kullmann is followed by a quickfire hat-trick on the bonuses. Another starter. Dawdling on the bonuses. Too much conferring. They only manage one, but its a crucial one. They're ten points back. A supremely clutch starter from De los Reyes-White (yak) ties the game with seconds left. Some of which Rajan wastes by telling us there are seconds left.
What kind of electricity...?
'Static?' guesses Senehedheera, and then the gong. Is he right? No he is not.
In the first episode of the new era.
Which activist art group...
Senehedheera - Guerilla Girls?
Trinity 175 - 185 Manchester
Phew! What a game to start the series. I know there is a bit of choice for the schedulers over which match gets broadcast first, but they must have been rubbing their hands with glee when this one fell into their laps.
Astonishing comeback from Manchester, and huge commiserations to Trinity, though they will surely return for the play-offs unless Rajan's increased speed of delivery results in loads of high-scoring games.
As for Rajan himself, new things always take a bit of getting used to, and as I said in the introduction, Paxman had become so synonymous with UC that its odd to see someone else there (it sort of feels like we're watching a alternate universe version of the show), but I think he did a good job and I'm sure we'll get over it soon enough.
Although it might take longer than that for people to get over the lack of question cards...
Join us next week for Episode 2 of the Rajan Era, as Aberdeen take on Birmingham, and subscribe here so that you never miss a review!
A quick visit to his old school, and his time at Cambridge University.
The journalist training in Brighton, then to Belfast and other troublespots.
Newsnight is going to be his best-remembered programme, Paxman redefined the political interview as a hostile, aggressive experience, producing more heat than light. He's also written some books.
For this blog, Jeremy Paxman will be remembered as the host of University Challenge.
For almost thirty years, great student minds have pitted their wits against questions from his mouth. He's worked gently to make the show more inclusive - welcome women, steer the questions towards minorities and groups under-represented on mainstream telly.
And now, while the mind remains sharp, Paxman's body has begun to let him down. He feels it's time to get off the stage, which is terribly sad, and an excuse to pay tribute to a television legend.
Harry Scully. He was on the winning team of this year’s University Challenge. Ok, there’s not a muscle man in sight so this post will probably be read by 3 of you at the most but still...sexy man! Harry, don’t sue me for this!
Watching this UK quiz show called "University Challenge" with my family, and usually it's a show with really hard Oxford level questions but tonight one of the questions was "who sings this song" and they played 2 seconds and this bitch on one of the panels pressed that buzzer SO QUICK and was like "GIRL IN RED"
And then they had to know names of movies and they showed a picture of Kristen Stewart and one of the guys on her team looked at her desperarely and was like "KRISTEN STEWART!! Do you know this one??" (she did OBVIOUSLY)
And THEN they were asked something about iconic women in history or something
University Challenge more like the Great Lesbian Challenge these questions were done by some lesbian who was like fuck this pretentious shit
Am NOT okay about the new University Challenge format. Obviously Paxo was being replaced, but the new credits? With actual pictures like it’s a late 80′s talk show? The retro-ness of the set? Amol Rajan’s seat being a weird Cuck-Throne of the Void, separate from the teams but also from time and space?
I wrote a blog called No Spoiler last year, about how easy it had been for me to avoid spoilers for the previous day's episode of The Challenge, and how that was an oddity in our information-dense, social-media flooded lives. Well, on Tuesday I innocently logged onto Twitter, having missed this week's episode due to my Book Club, and had the result spoiled for me. It was my own fault - as I said in the other post, when you log on to a Twitter account which is specifically for University Challenge then that is the kind of fire you are playing with.
For the past few weeks, I've been watching the Netflix Tour de France documentary with my girlfriend. With no prior interest in the sport of cycling she really got into it (and really loved Wout van Aert, which did make me a bit jealous, but who doesn't?). Despite the fact that it was about last year's Tour, the result of which has been known for nearly a full twelve months, and despite the fact that we watched several stages of this year's race together, she made it to the final episode with no knowledge (besides her correct inclination that there was no way redacted would be coming back from such a large deficit going into the final few days) of the overall victor.
What's the moral of this story? Nothing particularly profound, just that its interesting how siloed our consumption of things is. If I had to estimate, I'd say that I read/heard the fact that cyclist A beat cyclist B in the 2022 Tour de France more than a hundred times in the past month, but if you're not looking out for something, or if your personal Internet isn't pre-programmed to show you it then this sort of thing is far easier to avoid.
It would be pretty funny, I think, if I did go ahead and not review this week's episode, but I've already spent a while looking up cool stats and I don't want to waste them, so with that in mind; here's your first Starter for Ten.
You can watch the episode here before reading my review...
Birkbeck were regulars in the early years of the Paxman era, appearing six times in the first nine series, culminating with victory in 2003, after which they weren't seen for seventeen years. Oxford Brookes, meanwhile, have only been on five times in total, making the quarter-finals twice.
Brookes skipper Manton buzzes early on the first starter, but he's wrong, and McMillan swoops in for Birkbeck to steal the points. An easy bonus set on films nets them a full house, before Manton makes up for his earlier mistake with epiphany. They grab a hat-trick on the Biafran war, but remain behind thanks to the incorrect interruption.
Another from McMillan stretched the Londoner's lead, but Gardner hit back for Brookes to keep things tight. McMillan is then able to give one of the coldest possible UC answers of all time when asked to complete the phrase written on Woody Guthrie's guitar, 'This machine... kills fascists". Rajan shows off his cricket credentials, scolding Birkbeck for mistaking a doosra for a googly, and demonstrating the bowling action at his desk.
The first picture starter continues the ping-pong nature of the game so far, with Broadbent, eyebrows plastered in a kindly frown, quickest to recognise the Togo flag. He blitzes the bonuses too to tie the game. Two more consecutive starters for Brookes open up the biggest lead of the game, but Birkbeck fought back through Huntley and McMillan.
It looks like no one knows the musical on the music starter, but Chadha guesses Funny Girl after hearing the lyric 'good for a laugh', which is excellent quizzing. After the bonuses we're back level, at 110 each.
The scoring has been going at quite the clip and doesn't let up in the second half. Brookes get a couple to go ahead again, but three in a row from Birkbeck nudge them back in front. No one is allowed to build up too much momentum though, and Broadbent buzzes rapidly with games console to regain the advantage for Brookes. Its an absolute basketball match of a quiz, but who is going to be the one to score the dagger?
McMillan puts Birkbeck five points clear, and skipper Chadha gives Taylor Swift (an answer for the second time this series) to put the game beyond Brookes.
Birkbeck 220 - 205 Oxford Brookes
Phew! You can definitely see the effect of Rajan's quicker questioning here.
This was the first match with a combined score of 400 or more since Durham thrashed Strathclyde 360-55 in 2018. You've got to go back to 2014 for the last match where both teams scored more than 200, when Trinity beat Manchester 285-205 in the quarters.
So despite the fact I think the average score is going to be a bit higher this series than in recent history, Oxford Brookes can count themselves supremely unlucky, and will definitely be returning as high-scoring losers.