Friday, 27 April 2018

University Challenge 2018 - The Grand Final. Merton, Oxford v. St. John's, Cambridge

Here we are, then, dearly beloved, the Grand Final. With the benefit of hindsight it seems that both of these teams have been on a collision course ever since at least the end of the second round. Now, I’ve never quite come out and said who I thought would win, but I must admit that I’d had a partiality for the Merton team. St. John’s, though, were so impressive in their semi, that I found last week that I just could not tip them to lose, and so ended up cravenly refusing to call it. Well, that was how I genuinely felt, I couldn’t predict how this one was most likely to go. Hoping to tip the balance in St. John’s favour were John-Clark Levin, Rosie McKeown, Matt Hazell and captain James Devine-Stoneman. Determined to take the trophy back to Oxford for Merton were Edward Thomas, Alexander Peplow, Akira Wiberg, and captain Leonie Woodland.

First blood to Merton, and Alex Peplow, who was the first to recognise a quote from Lord Reith about sponsored broadcasting.  3 bonuses on the ineffable followed – I was pleased to get The Great Gatsby – and Merton, who missed that one took the other two. Leonie Woodland recognised that the dill is the aromatic herb contained within the names of several items to which we were given clues for the next starter. The shipping forecast proved fairly fruitful as well, providing another 10 points. Skipper Woodland also took a great early buzz for the next starter, which was winding its weary way through definitions of statics and statistics. Bonuses on multiple choices and probability did nowt for me, but brought 5 points to Merton. For the picture starter we saw a word cloud based on frequency of use of terms from a major work on critical theory translated from French. “Foucault” said Rosie McKeown, and I must admit that a word not a million miles removed from that was passing through my mind at the same time. I realised, though, that unlike me she was answering, rather than expressing frustration. Answering correctly too, to get St. John’s moving. Three more word clouds did nothing for any of us. Thus, at the 10 minute mark Merton had outscored the Cambridge team by 3 starters to 1, and led 55 – 10.

A terrific early buzz from John-Clark Levin identified the US political movement Black Lives Matter. Sociology bonuses again proved to be a step too far for any of us. At last, with the mention of a concept from Hans Holbein’s woodcuts, did I manage to get a starter before either of the teams. Leonie Woodland came in too early and lost 5, allowing Rosie McKeown to supply the correct answer of Danse Macabre. Anna Komnene, also known in LAM towers as Anna Who? promised but little, but provided us both with 2 bonuses. The gap was now down to a single starter. For the music starter, Alex Peplow immediately recognised Wagner, and buzzed. He hesitated, though, and then supplied the wrong Wagner, opting for Lohengrin. St. John’s couldn’t capitalise, and the Mastersingers of Nuremburg went begging. Akira Wiberg, obviously wanting to get his team on the front foot again, came in too early on the next starter, about particles and JJ Thompson, and zigged with electron, thus losing 5. This allowed St. John’s the whole question, allowing Rosie McKeown to zag with corpuscles. I wouldn’t say that I thought that this was a turning point while I was watching, although watching it again, with hindsight it may well appear so. However I did feel that Merton seemed a little rattled in a way that I had never seen them in any previous contest. The music bonuses were pieces conducted by – I didn’t quite catch the name, but it sounded like Madge Allsopp, who was also Dame Edna’s bridesmaid, I believe – and they provided but the one bonus. I considered having a lap of honour for knowing that Rule Britannia comes from Alfred, but lethargy won out and I stayed put. Now, based on what has happened throughout the series so far, as soon as JP said “In Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress. . . “ I thought – this one’s for Rosie McKeown again - and I wasn’t wrong. Spectroscopy was never going to provide me with any bonuses, but St. John’s took one, and they led now with 70 to 45. Alex Peplow, usually so reliable, missed out on the next starter which I am sure he did know the answer to. Basically, the question asked which king Hubert Walter served after having served his predecessor on the Third Crusade. He gave us the predecessor, Richard I, not the king required. Rosie McKeown, with a free shot at goal went for the one who came after the correct answer, with Henry III rather than John. Seemingly kicking himself, Alex Peplow came in too early for the next starter. “God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived” began JP. Alex Peplow buzzed in immediately with the person who said it, “St. Anselm”. As JP began to say “No, I’m afraid” he amplified his answer with “the ontological argument”, which was actually the answer required. JP ignored this, as well he should and docked Merton 5. However, Alex Peplow had also given the correct answer after the No – and I’ve seen occasions where the question would be struck out at this point and another starter begun, but I’ve also seen times it hasn’t been. This time it wasn’t, allowing a smiling Rosie McKeown to answer – the ontological argument. This earned a set on organic chemistry, and I’m very sorry, but dredging up the word ketones from previous editions of UC more than entitled me to my lap of honour around the living room. A full house meant that this set of questions took St. John’s score to more than double that of Merton’s. A superb answer from Akira Wiberg saw him give Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as the three contiguous EU countries with a high point less than 400m. The 4 great classical novels of Chinese Literature provided Merton with 2 bonuses, and at the 20 minute mark the score stood at 95 to 60. Either team could still win, but Merton were going to have to find their form on the starters to have a chance.

Asked for an American artist for the picture starter I don’t blame Akira Wiberg for having a punt with Singer Sargent, but it was one of those nights when a lot of Merton’s punts were not on target. James Devine-Stoneman recognised the work of Mary Cassatt. Three 20th century artists’ work provided two bonuses, which was two more than I managed. The shoe was on the other foot as John-Clark Levin came in way too early on a Nobel Prize question, allowing Akira Wiberg to slot the ball into the open goal with Lisa Meitner. Willa Cather provided two bonuses, and narrowed the gap to 30. Still time enough for Merton. Now, any question which has the words ‘poet’ and ‘asylum’ is meat and drink to Rosie McKeown, and she and I both said John Clare at the same time. Linguistic terms beginning with the same two letters allowed me to dredge up the term ablaut from my days of studying old English – ironically I remember the same example – sing – sang – sung being used. Memories of the latin ablative absolute gave me my only full house of the night, while St. John’s marched serenely on with two. Another literature starter beckoned with “In Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man . . . “ and another correct early buzz for the magnificent Rosie McKeown, very much the star of this contest. Maths bonuses usually do nothing for me, but I did get Fermat’s Last Theorem. Two bonuses gave St. John’s a 65 point lead, and effectively, the win. Matt Hazell, asked for one of the two SI units whose names come from latin words for light, zigged with Lux, which is also a soap (or was) allowing Leonie Woodland to zag with Lumen. Boutros Boutros Ghali (so good they named him twice) gave Merton the points they needed to take them to triple figures. Very surprisingly nobody on either team could dredge up the name of Desmond Morris for the next starter. And that was it. The gong ended a surprisingly low scoring, yet very intense final. St. John’s emerged clear and worthy winners with 145 to 100.

Very bad luck Merton. They and St. John’s had certainly looked the most likely finalists throughout the series. Sometimes you have one of those nights when it just doesn’t quite go your way, and there’s little you can do other than take it on the chin. Many, many congratulations though to St. John’s, very worthy winners of the series. And I must admit, it was nice to see a fellow London Borough of Ealing man collect the trophy from Judith Weir – the St. John’s skipper is from Southall, which is right next door to Hanwell, my own particular corner of the borough.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Nothing really to say here. Jez is usually on his very best behaviour for a final, and this was no different, and I’m glad that he paid tribute to Merton’s achievements during the series at the end, as well as St. John’s.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week.

It was the USA that successfully blocked Boutros Boutros Ghali’s bid for a second term of office.


Jack said...

Not the best final of recent times, but not a bad game either. Both sides did seem a bit more nervous compared to their previous imperiousness, but both did well considering, and St John's are certainly worthy champions. Merton need feel no shame either, worthy runners-up.

Reportedly, after the 'ontological' starter, the recording was stopped to decide whether the points should stand given Mr Peplow said the right answer as well. Ms McKeown claimed she would have known the answer even if he hadn't said it, so it was allowed to stand.

Anyway, that's it for another series. Thanks very much indeed Dave for your reviews this series, enjoyable reading as always. I myself may decide to scale back my UC coverage next series, but I haven't made a hard decision yet.

Aethelstan said...

Thanks to you both, Dave and Jack for your commentry this year!

I think this seasons matches were always going to struggle against the shadow of Monkmania last year and I'd agree with the sentiment expressed here that there were a lot of mismatches in the first two rounds that saw us lose some really good teams, I felt Warwick, UCL, Soton and Brookes were teams I would like to have seen more of. In a way I actually enjoyed this final more than last years, as I felt we were back to being one of the few serious quiz shows.

I opined at Jack's that the whole music round business in the semis might have wrong footed Merton. Re-watching the match has not disavowed me of that notion. I even suspect Merton fell into the trap that I felt John's did in the QF's of underestimating their opponents. When young Rosie got going, that was it. Of course Merton would have had a quick turnaround after the music round kerfuffle, whereas John's marched into that studio fresh and satorially dapper. Merton looked very rattled.

It's been a ladies year on UC - McKeown was simply, utterly, superb and I hope we see her on other serious quiz shows in the future. It will be interesting to see how this feeds into the demographic of future UC seasons; of course the 2018/19 matches will be done and dusted by now, so I hope we don't go back to 'ops normal' of being a blokefest. A few colleagues and friends commented on how Woodland and McKeown had inspired their own daughters!

I have had to eat humble pie a bit in my sometimes critical remarks on John's QF performance. I was quite wrong - but you know, at the back of my mind, it did occur to me that the team with quite the social media twitter operation wasn't go to do too badly : )

We say that Paxman behaved himself. Now possibly not a topic for a family website, but interested readers might want to see if they spotted what I did, when the Merton team filed past the great man in the last minute of the show. Or maybe I am becoming cynical in old age?

Londinius said...

Thanks both for your comments.

Jack, that does make sense over the ontological starter. Aethelstan - you bring out the worst in me, since I'm going right back now to look at the last minute of the show again!

Carly said...

Been waiting for the review & a very good one it was too :) . Poor Merton - the look on Woodland's face as the title slipped from their grasp was all too similar to my own as question after question went over my head recently.

Stephen Follows said...

For Madge Alsopp, read Marin Alsop - the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms (and quite a few other things), so almost certainly a standard quiz chestnut of the future. All in all, with Judith Weir doing the prizegiving, it was a very good night for classical music lesbians.