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University Challenge: Newnham vs. St Andrew’s

November 16, 2009

And again with the watching UC a full week late on iPlayer. This week: Newnham College, Cambridge, vs. St Andrew’s. The Newnham College team is all-female, which makes them stick out somewhat in a competition where most teams have a 4:0 or 3:1 M:F ratio. The St Andrew’s team are all male.

There was a surreal moment about halfway through where, in successive rounds, the St Andrew’s team were given bonuses on feminist theorists and then the Newnham team questions on African football; neither team got any of their questions right. (I got one of each. Clearly I’m some sort of sexless trivia machine.)

The audience certainly saw something to titter at, and Paxman was smiling as well. And yet what the hell? Neither team had a Women’s or Gender Studies specialist or even a literature student (I only know that Julia Kristeva is a Bulgarian-born Frenchwoman because of her inclusion in the Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism). And identifying the country of origin of African soccer sides – i.e. identifying the country in which a particular city is – depends more on geography than anything else, again a subject in which neither team had a specialist (I happen to know that Yaoundé is the capital of Cameroon.)

I’m mildly pissed off at this not because I think everyone should know about Julia Kristeva and Cameroon but because it was clearly interpreted, by pretty much everyone in the studio, as a gendered thing. The audience titters and Paxman’s sympathetic grimace both clearly implied that if things had been the other way around, it would have been fine.

No. The people on UC are university students, who tend to know a lot about their own subject, quite a bit about related fields, and an average amount about everything else. The probability of the men’s team answering a difficult question about African geography is going to be determined not by their Y chromosomes but by whether any of them do geography.
Ditto the other way round. It’s studying a related subject, not having similar anatomy, that taught me Julia Kristeva’s nationality.

You’d think on a show that depends on people knowing unexpected things – because no team can cover all the academic subjects on which questions can be asked – there’d be a little less obvious assumption as to why people know what they know.

Okay. Rant now over. As well as splitting the difference on the Uber Sex Stereotype ™ rounds, I also managed three out of three concerning the sun in Shakespeare; knew what FTP stood for; and managed to unravel ‘saintliness’ into ‘in tales sins’ and ‘no more stars’ into ‘astronomers’ in the antigrams round, for a total score of 260 (210 without unstartered bonuses). Not bad.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    November 16, 2009 11:29 pm

    Heh. I knew all the letters of LAMP 🙂
    The *real* question is, do you know what the S in SFTP stands for?

    Couldn’t agree more about the non-sexism of those questions.

    I really wish I’d tried to get a University Challenge team up while I was there. I only realised when I was in the third year and it was too late.

    Still, I’ve got an official apology from the BBC over a wrong official answer to a question. That’ll have to do.

  2. wickedday permalink
    November 16, 2009 11:32 pm

    I knew all the letters of LAMP 🙂 The *real* question is, do you know what the S in SFTP stands for?

    No, because you, you know, have studied the subject and I haven’t . . .

    I’m trying to muster a UC team for next year, on the off chance that I’ll still be here (MA here I come) and therefore eligible. Failing that I’ll represent wherever I do my PhD. But I am getting on that show one day if it kills me!

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