Well, before we get onto the serious business of previewing the Grand Final, just a word or two about some of the nonsense that’s already begun to appear in the last few days. You may recall some of the ballyhoo last year about the remarkable captain of the Corpus Christi team, Gail Trimble. Well, not to be outdone this year, during the last few days there has been an increasing amount of interest over Emmanuel’s captain, the gifted Alex Guttenplan. So much so that I found his photo sharing the front page with a large photo of Jeremy Paxman in today’s Daily Telegraph, under the heading ,
“Challenge to TV’s know-it-all “. The article itself is fairly innocuous, with Alex Guttenplan’s far-from-earth-shattering revelation that Jeremy Paxman sometimes mispronounces questions – and I quote
“sometimes if he mispronounces particularly badly they will retake the shot at the end of the match . “
Quite true, I’m sure, but hardly the stuff of front page news – it is also the subject of an editorial in the same paper - since it happens on every recorded quiz show, and not just University Challenge. Its quite possible that the paper didn’t actually speak personally to Mr. Guttenplan, and just took a fairly innocent comment he made elsewhere.
As I say, in itself the article is fairly harmless. Not so some of the other stuff that has caught my eye in the last few days. One particularly insidious piece in an online paper that should know better, while seemingly praising his ability and knowledge , called him ‘robot boy’ throughout the piece. Nasty, that. I’ve never met Mr. Guttenplan, but I know someone who has, and she describes him as quite a private person, who has already been doorstepped and hassled this week. I can only hope that , should Emmanuel win, people will have the decency to remember that he is a 19 year old student – albeit an exceptionally knowledgable one – and leave him alone to get on with his studies after a couple of days of fuss have died down. If Emmanuel win.
This is not a foregone conclusion. Lets get the statistical stuff out of the way now. St. John’s have played in one less match than Emmanuel have, so we need to remember this. Taking the scores from all of their matches into account, St. John’s have an average of 230 points per match, and Emmanuel have an average of 265 points per match. Just consider that for a minute, because in all truth that’s not a huge difference – two sets of starters and one set of bonuses . Still, if we take just their last three matches, the 2 quarter finals and the semi final, then the picture is a little different. St. John’s average is still pretty similar – at 230. However Emmanuel’s climbs to 290. So Emmanuel are a team who seem to be improving. Not only that, but they became the only team so far this series to break the 300 point barrier, in a semi final, against a team as good as Manchester. So the stats say not a lot in it, but Emmanuel more likely to win.
What will it come down to ? 2 factors – the buzzer most importantly, and the rate at which the team convert their bonuses into points. St. John’s possess one of the stars of this series in their captain George Woudhuysen. He has been ably served by his teammates Parry and Townsend. Mr.Chen has been rather quiet since the early rounds, but it must not be forgotten that it was his steely nerve which saw him take the tie break question against Manchester in the quarter finals. Emmanuel , then have the series’ most valuable player in terms of starters correctly answered, that man Guttenplan. However he has been ably served throughout the series by Harris, Scott and Hastings too.
Here’s a few factors which might have a bearing on the outcome of the match : -
· In the semis, St. John’s started like an express train. If they can out buzz Emmanuel at the start of the match, then they will take confidence and may be able to hold onto a lead.
· In a couple of the matches Jenny Harris has buzzed in early, then given a long pause, only supplying answers after Jeremy Paxman has started to say no, and he has accepted the answers. If she does it in the final, and JP is strict, then this could have an effect at a crucial moment.
· However nerve wracking the semi finals may have been, the grand final of University Challenge is a whole other order of magnitude. You may remember last year that Gail Trimble hardly got into the match for the first 20 minutes or so. Sometimes key competitors can freeze.
· You may also remember Gail Trimble’s remarkable finishing burst. One star player of that calibre can make a difference. Alex Guttenplan approached that level in the second half of last week’s show.
· In the Paxman era no Cambridge college has won since his very first series in 1995. Since then it has been won by Oxford colleges 6 times, and also Corpus Christi won last year’s final , to be disqualified a few days after it was broadcast.
What do I think ? Well, my accurate predictions for the quarters and semis have all but buried the curse of the Clark sofa, it would seem. I think it will be a fine match, and I think – and by all means feel free to disagree – I think that Emmanuel are the more likely winners. But St. John’s, take heart, because it would not surprise me either if you won. You are both fine teams, who would be worthy champions. Good luck to you both.