University Challenge



Any more of this and they’ll be calling it the Amol Rajan effect. After making his debut as presenter on last week’s nail-shredder of an opening heat, Aberdeen took on Birmingham in another sprint to the finish. A case of new host, new zip for University Challenge?

Too early to say, but since we are asking questions, what has happened to the women contestants? Only one last week, one tonight. Where are the heats taking place, 1953?

Rajan introduced Aberdeen as one of the ancient universities of Scotland, third oldest in Scotland and fifth in the UK. Founded 1495, Thomas Hardy said it had “the imposing beauty of a queen”.

On the Aberdeen team: Archie Broomfield, from Edinburgh, studying politics and international relations; Zachary Eisler, South Queensferry, history; Emily Osborne, captain, Bristol, economics; and Cal McClements, County Fermanagh, medicine.

Representing the University of Birmingham: Archie Bennett, from Staffordshire, reading biochemistry; Faiz Ahmed, Bangalore, medicine; Will Rogers, captain, from Stratford, studying for a masters in the history of warfare.

READ MORE: Rajan takes over as host. How did he do?

Aberdeen were first on the scoreboard with an answer on Scott Joplin. Bonus questions on the human body were a gift to medical student McClements.

Birmingham came back with an answer on Andrew Marvel. Their bonuses were on Japanese theatre. The one branch of it they knew, Kabuki, turned out to be one of the answers.

It was to be the story of the night for Birmingham, a little bit of luck but not quite enough when it counted.

At the 15 minute mark, the teams were on 90 points each. Aberdeen’s Eisler bagged some crucial starters to move the team into the lead, 160 against Birmingham’s 125.

“Just under four minutes to go,” said Rajan. “Plenty of time Birmingham.”

It wasn’t to be. A late rally came to naught with a trio of wrong answers on brutalist architecture.

Eisler swooped again as the seconds ticked by, but it was all over bar the gong.

READ MORE It's goodbye from Paxman on University Challenge

The final score was Aberdeen 190, Birmingham 125.

“Bad luck Birmingham. It was so tight for so long,” said Rajan. “Aberdeen, you came into your own at the end there.”

As for Rajan’s own performance, he continues to be too generous with the amount of time he gives teams to confer. His predecessor, Jeremy Paxman, would have barked “Come on!” at least six times during the half hour.

For Aberdeen, back in the competition for the first time in almost a decade, it was a confident start, bringing to mind their University Challenge glory days of 1995 when they reached the semi-finals.

Paxman ended his stint as the UK’s longest-serving quizmaster in May. The former Newsnight anchor, who has Parkinson’s, had hosted the quiz since 1994.

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Rajan received a warm welcome from critics after last week’s debut, with the Independent’s Sean O’Grady awarding him five stars. “Quietly spoken and respectful to his youthful charges, [Rajan] is almost paternal in tone,” wrote O’Grady. Mark Lawson of the Guardian gave him three stars, as did The Herald.

Not all viewers were impressed by Rajan reading the questions from a computer screen instead of using cards. One viewer tweeted: "Just because we HAVE the technology…. should we use it? Bring back the question cards!" Another added: “Far too much change!"