Mistake compounded by a Mistake
University Challenge is probably the best-loved quiz show amongst genuine quizzers on British television, but its probably fair to say that each series tends to come and go without making much of an impression on our national consciousness. Not so the 2008/9 series.
Firstly we had the media circus over the victorious Corpus Christi team's captain Gail Trimble. I was asked last week by the Sunday Telegraph if I would be prepared to play in an Ultimate Quiz against Gail Trimble and some other quizzers if they could arrange it ? The answer was, yes, I would have been very interested, just for the chance to meet Miss Trimble or any of the wonderful Corpus Christi team. This idea must have fallen apart during the week, since I didn't hear from the Sunday Telegraph again. Fair enough.
Then on Sunday it was revealed that Sam Kay of Corpus Christi had not actually still been a student at the time that the later rounds of the competition were recorded. He was a student when the competition began, but completed his studies before the later rounds. Apparently the rules are that a contestant must be a student throughout the whole competition to be eligible. The BBC announced that they were taking the issue very seriously. Now, earlier this evening it has been reported on both News 24 and the BBC News website that the Corpus Christi team have been disqualified, and Manchester have become the champions.
This seems to me to be a very drastic, in fact, draconian response to the infringement.I accept that the rules have been broken, yes, but does anyone truly believe that Sam Kay deliberately contravened the eligibility rules in order to gain some advantage for his team ? I'm sorry, but the question of intent really has to be considered. I have no reason to suggest that this was not anything other than a genuine and honest mistake. Maybe this makes no difference to the BBC, but it should.
Who actually wants this disqualification ? The Manchester team didn't, that's for sure. Before the BBC announced their decision to disqualify Corpus Christi their fine captain Matthew Yeo had already stated that he and the team had no wish for a rematch. They had enjoyed the final, and saw Corpus Christi as worthy winners. After the disqualification he has expressed his team's sadness over the outcome.
If, like me, you watched the final of University Challenge last Monday you will have seen a wonderful match. This has been tainted and sullied by this decision. I wonder if it has occurred to the producers of the show to ask the question - if teams make a mistake with the eligibility rules , then are those rules clearly enough explained to all the teams ? As they stand, do they even put some teams at a considerable disadvantage ?
At the end of the day, who has gained anything from this decision ? Not the Corpus Christi team, who should still be basking in their achievement a week later. Not the Manchester team either, albeit that they have behaved with great dignity over the last couple of days. Certainly not the BBC. Not the viewers either, not in the least. I would have thought that was the point.