Monday, 2 March 2009

University Challenge Disqualification

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.


allrounder said...

Great blog and I couldn't agree with you more about this farce of a decision. The BBC have ruined what was undoubtably one of the shows best finals in recent memory and this years series will now no doubt be remembered for the controversy rather than it's entertainment. Take a look at this link and you'l actually discover the writer of it actually participated in this years UC whilst no longer being at university, and also read the comment at the bottom from a contestant from the past with a similar story

It seems rather unfair that Corpus Christi are the only ones being pursued and punished. I suspect if the producers did a little more digging they could find more players have been ineligible that have taken part. The whole process just seems so slack. I think they'd have been better off just drawing a line under it all and letting Corpus Christi keep their trophy and admitted they'd made a mistake by not checking, but promising to be more competent in the future.

Londinius said...

Thanks for taking the time and trouble to leave a comment, Allrounder. I have to admit that I've had a night to think about it, but I still think it woul have ben better to say - yes, a mistake was made, but lets draw a line under it, and tighten things up from next year. Its very sad all round.

Becca Mavin said...

I'm generally not very vocal on news stories, but this story has captured my attention over the past few days, and a few interesting thoughts have come to my attention...

The first is the timeline which filming for UC seems to follow. The BBC has been criticised for filming the series over two academic years, meaning it is more than possible for a third year student like Kay to begin as a legitimate contestant and be rendered unable to compete should the team progress to the later stages. This seems bizzare in itself, as effectively it means that all final-year students who have no intention of studying at the institution in the next academic year are effectively unable to participate. This seems to be cutting off the proverbial nose despite the face?
It also struck me as strange that not one member of the BBC/Granada team seemed to pick up on the issue, despite reports that term dates were declared on the entry form from Corpus. This could easily lead one to the conclusion that nobody bothered to verify the dates, or that Corpus were assured they were fielding a legitimate team during the filming process.

That said, the amount of publicity generated for the show (first by the media attention to Gail Trimble, second to this fiasco) has no doubt boosted BBC ratings and the popularity of the show (which, I would daresay was watched by millions just to see the 'clever girl'.)

Nonetheless, the attitude of the Manchester team was dignifed and respectable in such an awkward position. It seems that although 'rules are rules', they accept that they were fundamentally defeated by an excellent team. The technicality which has stripped Corpus of thier trophy does not detract from the fact that all four of them were massively intellegent. On a sentimental note, however, one must feel for Marsden and Schwartzman- the two team members whose contributions seem to have been swept under the carpet, first in favour of thier Captain and now in light of the disqualification. Schwartzman imparticular seemed to be a valuable component of the team who has not been celebrated, which seems a shame.

Anyhow. I digress. But all one can hope is that the show can bounce back from the 'sensation' and come back with a new season which makes viewing as good as the one just gone.

Londinius said...

Thanks for your thoughtful contribution to the debate, MissSuzyLee. I particularly concur with your comments about Mr. Marsden, and Lauren Schwartzman. As it happens, Lauren emailed me the day after the final last week to say that she had read the review in my blog, and wanted to thank me for my comments. I was in contact with her yesterday, and to use her words she is very shocked and saddened over the way events have turned out.

I cannot add a great deal to what you've said.Like you, I hope that the next series lives up to the superb standards of this one, and that this sorry business does not lead to teams and players of quality thinking twice about applying to participate

ColinK said...

"I've started - so I'll finish." That should be the rule.