Weaver's Week 2017-01-22

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Lots of new shows have started this year, but we need to see more episodes before we review them. So we'll dig into the postbag for a You Ask Us.


University Challenge and International Students

Or, Theresa May wants to take away your Monkman Moments.

This question popped up about three months ago. What would happen to University Challenge if further restrictions were placed on overseas students?

Politicians have been wittering on about "migration" for many years. The state they run is a success, and people want to come and live here. For some reason, politicians see this as a problem, not an endorsement of their policies.

To tackle their own success, politicos have resorted to increasingly desperate measures. The only way to stop immigration is to run their feifdom into the ground, so that it no longer becomes an attractive place to live. It's a policy tried by the government in Ireland a few years ago, and look how successful that wasn't.

Jedward Jedward: from migrants to experts.

Rather than cause an economic crash directly, some politicos want to make it a bureaucratic faff to move about the world. They'd rather erect barriers to people and goods, a monumental waste of money and effort. King Cnut knew that he couldn't oppose the tides of history, and that was almost a thousand years ago.

Modern-day Cnuts, such as the present prime minister, want to make it difficult for university students to study around here. The Higher Education Policy Institute reckons its members "could lose out on £2bn a year." That's £500m in university fees from fewer overseas students, £600m from ancillary spending on rent and food, and £900m lost from the local economies.

For most people, this is a remote discussion, academics talking amongst themselves. The bulk of the population only comes into contact with university students in one forum: University Challenge.

University Challenge Paxman: the new silver fox.

The question we ask: what happens if all overseas students are barred? The truth means something, and we need to mark the point where we move from fact (above) to speculative fiction (below).

In this speculative exercise, we will re-work the current (2016-17) series of University Challenge, ignoring the contributions of any students whose home location as stated on air would not be liable for the BBC license fee. Teams of four become three, and in a few cases two. (How did we work it out? The gory details are in the sidebar.)

First Round

No change in the opening two matches, as all contestants were domestic. Bristol beat Sheffield by 210-130, and Corpus Christi Oxford did for Jesus Cambridge by 200-175.

The first change comes in heat three, as Warwick lose Thomas Van. We have to deduct his starters, the bonuses they led to, and a small percentage of the team's other bonuses. It doesn't affect the result, Warwick win by about 175-95.

Queen's Cambridge and Peterhouse Cambridge is played by teams of three – Venturini and Voake are foreign, so don't play. Peterhouse won by ten on screen, and win by ten here, 130-120.

University Challenge If overseas students were banned, both teams suffer.

Oriel lost Helms, but still beat Manchester. It was a woeful match, we reckon 110-95.

Nottingham had just two players – van Urk and Cowan were from abroad. Even with a full squad, they didn't trouble Emmanuel Cambridge, who won in this alternative universe by 175-50.

Balliol Oxford versus Imperial was another three-a-side match: Balliol lose Pope, Imperial lose Menkus. Doesn't alter things much, Balliol breeze through by 150-35.

Robinson Cambridge could only increase their margin of victory over Wadham Oxford, as Wadham lost Ramakrishna, and by 155-45.

Two unchanged matches next: Open beat Salford by 210-115, and Edinburgh overcame Durham by 190-155.

The first reversal comes next. Wolfson Cambridge lose Yang and their star buzzer Monkman. SOAS win the fixture by 175-60, and Wolfson's two-man team are out at the first hurdle. This match was drawn on screen.

University Challenge If overseas students were banned, Eric Monkman (left) doesn't appear.

Birmingham defeat Queens' Belfast after the latter lose Newby, we reckon 165-85 the score.

Another reversal, as St Andrews lose their star buzzer Green. It allows Worcester Oxford to take the match, 145-95.

Finally, East London widen their margin over Glasgow – shorn of Shishov, East London's margin is 150-110.


Jesus Cambridge play Queen's Cambridge, as happened in the real series. With Queen's still a three-player team, they go down by 195-115.

The other match is more difficult: in this alternative timeline, SOAS won their heat, so don't need to play Durham. Sheffield take the berth in this match. We're going to credit the win to Durham, though whichever side wins will be cannon-fodder for Emmanuel Cambridge.

University Challenge Get on with it. What happens in round two?

Detailed methodology

We ignore starters and the consequent bonuses from students who report they are "from" a place outside England, Scotland, Wales, or the six counties of Northern Ireland. We also discount some of the team's correct bonuses – as we can't reliably attribute bonuses to individuals, we assume 10% were known only by one overseas student, 30% by two overseas students, and deduct marks accordingly. Penalties for incorrect interruptions by these players are restored.

This exercise is for entertainment and to inform debate. It lacks rigour in two key areas. 1) The overseas student would have been replaced when the team was built, and their replacement would likely have been of similar quality. 2) Had the replacement been sufficiently inferior, their team would not have qualified for the broadcast phase, and been replaced by a team from a similar institution.

Round two

No change in the opening match, Open and Edinburgh play to a 185-185 draw. On screen, Edinburgh advances.

Birmingham have new opponents, Worcester Oxford rather than St Andrews. It was an easy win for the Brummies on screen, and we'll put them through in this alternative universe by about 195-115.

Warwick are still a three-player team, but that's enough to pass East London, by about 155-55.

As we said, Durham were going to be beaten by Emmanuel Cambridge. This was Emmanuel against SOAS on screen, and Emmanuel's hot buzzer action gave them a comfortable victory.

SOAS won their heat, so moved elsewhere in the draw, and played against repêchage winners Jesus Cambridge. On screen, this was against Wolfson, and we know SOAS and Wolfson are about equivalent. For our alternative history, SOAS by about 220-140.

Balliol Oxford may have lose Pope, but still beat Robinson Cambridge by 135-90.

Bristol were not troubled by three-player Oriel Oxford, winning 265-70.

Corpus Christi Oxford completed the group phase, beating the short-handed Peterhouse by about 175-110.

Conclusions: There's less change than we expected. Just one team doesn't make the quarter-finals – Wolfson Cambridge relies on its two foreign players, and SOAS would have come through the gap they left. Warwick and Balliol Oxford are the only three-player teams left.

This week's match

Which leads into this week's Group Phase. In our alternative universe, SOAS played Balliol Oxford. We can believe that Balliol knew they had to out-buzz their opponents, but buzzed too much too soon. Six penalties for bad interruptions proved the key, as SOAS beat Balliol by 165-125. Had just a couple of those interruptions been right, Balliol would be contenders.

University Challenge If overseas students were banned, this week's show was 4-2.

Balliol have a quality team: a hypothetical match between Wolfson Cambridge and Balliol might see Wolfson's two players collect one starter between them.

Back in reality, Wolfson did have Monkman and Yang on the team. Monkman picked up eight starters, as Wolfson won by 165-135. Balliol briefly held the lead after the second picture round, and the better bonus rate (17/23 to 13/33) but those interruptions proved costly.

UKGameshows / Bother's Bar Poll of the Year 2016

Hall of Fame

Go 8 Bit won, and there was much cheer for the participants, and at broadcaster UKTV. It's a niche production, but it's the first mainstream series this century to take video games seriously. And – like Taskmaster – it's a really good original show on the Dave channel. Lest we forget, a few years ago Dave made such cringeworthy schlock as Compete for the Meat.

Go 8 Bit Winner of this year's Golden Joystick.

The Code and Tenable shared second place. Matt and Lesley combine for the right emotions on The Code. Five answers is enough to win money on Tenable, allowing plenty of strategy.

Robot Wars finished fourth, and The Crystal Maze fifth. Is The Crystal Maze the highest rated a single-episode special has done in Hall of Fame? No – Fifteen-to-One came third in 2013, 24 Hour Panel People 4th in 2011, and Win Your Wish List came 5th in 2014 with one show eligible.

Hall of Shame

Alphabetical topped the poll. There's a decent show in there, and many details were right, but the programme doesn't work. The endgame was wrong, and they needed a shorter show – or for something other than trivia. We hope they can sort out the problems in this second run they want.

Alphabetical Sums up the show, really.

500 Questions came second. It's a bad format to begin with. ITV did the best they could out of a sow's ear, forcing a clear winner every episode. We don't expect to see it again.

Can't Touch This and The Getaway Car, fourth and third. Both were ambitious experiments that didn't work. And they tripped over each other – had Can't Touch This gone out as disposable summer filler, it wouldn't have generated quite so much opprobrium.

And Think Tank (3) came fifth. Innocuous show, difficult to hate, not easy to like. We're warming more to !mpossible.

Golden Five

Pointless and Only Connect and The Chase in that order, all separated by a handful of ballots. Taskmaster finishes fourth – never been to our taste, but it filled a gap on the evening of 24 June and we kept up with that series.

Tipping Point the best of the rest, with Countdown not too far behind. Wouldn't surprise us if Countdown and Pointless had similar budgets per hour, though Xander and Richard bring in about ten times as many viewers as Rachel and Nick.

And yes, this column chooses Countdown as our breakfast viewing. BBC Breakfast is bland, Good Morning Britain has too many special snowflakes, and CBBC's Bottersnikes and Gumbles is far too high-concept for our corn flakes.


Semi-final 2

Gill Taylor was perhaps a little lucky to win her heat, passing often in the general knowledge phase. Same again tonight, 7 on the Periodic Table left her out of contention, and a final score of 16 (3 passes). Still, Gill has forgotten about Andrea Leadsom, so she is winning at life. Sarah Lake was also behind the curve – 8 on the Novels of Nick Hornby increased to 14 (4 passes) by the end.

Mohan Mudigonda was another low-scoring heat winner, tonight he scores 10 on the Asterix stories. He'd passed in the specialist round, unlike the two competitors ahead, and this informed his tactics in general knowledge. Answer or pass, and move right along. He got through a lot of questions, and finished on 22 (4 passes).

Alan Diment scored 10 on the Life and Films of Stan Laurel, but found his general knowledge set more difficult. Came good in the final seconds, but only to 21 (0 passes).

James Haughton was the high-scoring loser, and achieved a perfect round on Richard Feynmann. But, as in the heat, the general knowledge questions just didn't fall for him. James's final score was 18 (0 passes).

All of which means Mohan Mudigonda takes the second place in the final. There's no show next week, so Mastermind returns on 4 February.

This Week and Next

Pointless marked its 1000th episode on Monday with a special edition. Most of the questions were themed around "thousand", each pointless answer was worth £1000, and Richard Osman stepped up to host. Invited back as celebs who had won the jackpot before, Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson proved they are smart, by winning the programme and scooping another jackpot for their charities.

Later in the week, Pointless became self-aware: in a round on people who had big-selling albums in 2015, Alexander Armstrong confirmed that the answer Alexander Armstrong was pointless. Richard Osman hasn't been a pointless answer himself, though his brother Mat has been.

The Chase hit back with a storming episode on Thursday, Anne Hegerty overcame a 23-step deficit to catch the team in time.

From Radio 1's news bulletin on Thursday morning:

"The Xtra Factor is going online only. ITV said that it was coming off ITV2 because they wanted to focus their efforts on digital. Lots more about this on the Newsbeat website."

Subliminal message: ITV is going digital now. The BBC has been digital since you were in short trousers for school, Radio 1 listener.

Surrealists and Verbivores on this week's Only Connect (2). At this stage, anything can pop up. Songs with "Teenage" in the title. Pictures of things with no identifying marks. Cyrillic and Latin letter equivalences. Beatrix Potter story titles in French. Clues to meals, and names of Met Office storms.

Surrealists won the Connections round 6-2, Verbivores won Sequences by 5-2. Surrealists struck back on the walls 10-5, Verbivores won a brutal Missing Vowels round by 3-2. The totals: Surrealists 20, Verbivores 16. Both sides will be back.

Next week's edition goes out at 7pm. We have to choose between this and the CBBC Chart Show. Coren or Spellman, brains or fun. Ah, Cel gets a repeat, so it's Vicky live.

BARB ratings in the week to 8 January.

  1. Sherlock remains at the top, with 9.55m viewers. Let It Shine the top game show, 7m tuned in for the launch episode.
  2. BBC The Voice of This Territory settled uncomfortably on ITV, with 6.65m spinning in. Pointless Celebrities recorded 5.35m viewers on Saturday. Dance Dance Dance launched on ITV to 4.35m, that's early Sunday evening.
  3. A good week for The Chase, Wednesday's episode pulled in 3.8m viewers. Ninja Warrior held on to 3.65m on Saturday teatime.
  4. University Challenge recorded 3.3m on Monday. Only Connect went off to Friday, and fell to 2m (but it wasn't shown everywhere); Mastermind in the adjacent slot had 1.9m viewers. Dragons' Den scored 2.8m on Sunday, Great Interior Design Challenge 2.4m on Tuesday.
  5. On Channel 4, Big Fat Quiz of Everything went out on Friday, 1.85m saw it. Celebrity Big Brother began on Channel 5, 2.55m saw Tuesday's launch episode. 1.7m for Lip Sync Battle on Friday.
  6. More4 takes all the game show medals for the digital tier: Four in a Bed 495,000 on Sunday, 8 Out of 10 Cats 485,000 on Wednesday, Come Dine with Me 320,000 on Sunday. Best of the rest: Mock the Week on Dave, 290,000 on Wednesday.

We also have ratings from Mediatel for Ireland. These are overnight ratings, unlike the live + one week ratings we give for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And we only get a handful of shows each week.

Dancing With the Stars debuted on RTE1 with 534,000 viewers, it was the most popular show in the country. The only other popular game show was lottery tie-in Winning Streak, seen by 292,000 on Saturday night.

Two annual fixtures this week. The National Television Awards (ITV, Wed) and Eurovision You Decide (BBC2, Fri).

New series for Brain of Britain 2017 (Radio 4, Mon), Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 (Artsworld, Tue), and Top Class (CBBC, Wed). Susan Calman pops up on Pointless Celebs (BBC1, Sat), also with Richard Coles and Gyles Brandreth.

Photo credits: EBU / PBS, ITV Studios, DLT Entertainment, Gameface (an ITV Studios company)

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