Weaver's Week 2018-09-16

Last week | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

Shall we start with the results, then discuss everything else?


University Challenge Update

Match 5 was yet another Oxbridge clash, as the four blokes of Clare Cambridge (Anish Naik, Matt Nixon, Andrew Gurr, Elijah Granet) played Hertford Oxford (Stefi Woodgate, Pat Taylor, Richard Tudor, Chris Page). A low-scoring first half, and one of those matches where the lead flips one way and flops the other. Clare were ahead at the final gong, 160-150, two extra starters made the difference. From the transcripts, looks like Clare rode their luck a little here.

Proving there is intelligent life north of the Watford Gap, Strathclyde played Durham. Strathclyde (Billy Hogg, Thomas Callan, Jack Pollock, Catherine Ember) got a couple of starters early on, but ceded the field to Durham (Sian Round, Cameron Yule, Matthew Toynbee, Ben Murray). The final score: Durham won, 360-55. 360 is the highest score since the current lengthy questions were introduced in 2003-4, proved Durham answered at a cracking pace, and they managed a stonking bonus conversion rate of 38/48.

Double Dutch in the next game, York and St Edmund Hall Oxford both fielded someone from the Netherlands. York (Nils Boender, Danny Bate, William Blackett, Francesco Palazzo) fell to the buzzing of St Edmund Hall (Agastya Pisharody, Marceline Bresson, Freddie Leo, Lizzie Fry), with captain Freddie Leo picking up nine starters. 240-105 the score, perhaps the margin is a little flattering to the Oxford side.

This week, Edinburgh against Sidney Sussex Cambridge. A slow start to the match, but Edinburgh's blokes (Matt Booth, Marco Malusa, Max Fitz-James, Robbie Campbell Hewson) picked up speed to leave Sidney Sussex (Ranu Thomas, James Delaney, Jay Vinayak Ojha, Isabel Ollard) in the dust. 210-75 in a match that never looked in doubt.

Eric Monkman, Bobby Seagull, and a car.

More University Challenge recaps in four weeks. Before then, watch out for Eric Monkman and Bobby Seagull. The stars from the 2017 series are going on a tour to find fantastic inventions, and take a camera crew with them. That's on at 8pm Monday, just before UC.

A paranoid fear of progress

So there was this piece a couple of weeks back, when UC producer Peter Gwyn said the show wanted "gender-neutral" questions. What, as in avoiding gendered terms like "comedienne"? Apparently not, it's "gender-neutral" as in "you can't tell the gender of the question author". Well, if that's what they want, that's what they can have. Even though we've watched zillions of quiz questions in the past umpteen years, we never could tell if a particular question was written by a man, woman, or enby. (Except on Sabotage, where we recognised Kate Copstick's questions as being just our kind of funny.)

The remark opened up the ongoing debate about sexism in the world of quiz. Must we go through this again? Apparently, we must, because some kermoogles still haven't got the message.

"They mustn't change University Challenge a bit," chirrupped Anne Robinson in the Daily Taxdodger. It's too late for that, chuck. They've already gone through lots of format changes.

Back in the 1960s, University Challenge worked like Countdown – the winner of each match stayed on, until they'd won three games or were beaten. The best eight teams – trichamps or otherwise – went into a straightforward knockout tournament. Then they tried a knockout tournament where the first round matches lasted two days with the specialist "pass the baton" format. Then it became a straight knockout tournament, with a few losers' places. These days, it's a sort-of knockout tournament where it's never clear whether a loser is all out, might be out, or plays again.

University Challenge has fiddled with missignal penalties, first adding them to the opposition then subtracting from the offenders. They've changed the format of bonus questions, which were for a variable prize and are always now for 15. They've changed the set more often than we can remember, re-orchestrated the theme tune, made the questions much longer, and replaced that nice Bambi Gascoigne with the obnoxious Thumper Paxman.

The Weakest Link Anne Robinson evolved, too.

Good shows change and evolve with the times. We remember how one show used to have its contestants step up to a podium in the final, then changed to have them stay in place. We remember how one show just drew questions at random, then put them on a curve so the first round's easy and the last round's harder. But whatever happened to The Weakest Link?

Modern quizzers

For historical reasons, quizzing in general – and quiz shows in particular – have tended to be dominated by men. In this society, men are socialised to specialise in something, and to show off about their achievements. This is particularly noticeable in the education sector, where some independent schools produce pupils who master nothing, yet never stop bragging about their mundane achievements.

Have I Got News for You

Such an attitude continues at university, where societies tend to be full of young men for whom this is their only source of validation. Sports societies are full of young men who measure their self-worth by sport. Politics societies are full of young men who measure their self-worth by whatever political metric they use. Debate societies are full of young men who measure their self-worth by waffle and retort. Quiz societies are full of young men who measure their self-worth by buzzer and bonus.

Not all students have been brought up in this environment of toxic masculinity. They might be put off by the preening self-righteous people. Or – if they do stick their head above the parapet – the snipers will be out for them. Behind all the bluster, there's one question: "How dare someone crash Our party? How can someone who is not One Of Us succeed on our terms? It's an insult to Our masculinity!"

To its credit, University Challenge recognises there's a problem, and has done something about it. Institutions are positively encouraged to send a team that isn't all men, that doesn't all come from Pinner and Weybridge and Dorking. Progress is slow, but it's happening, and seems to have gathered its own momentum now.

Don't listen to this column, listen to someone who's been there and worn the crown

But University Challenge doesn't operate in a vacuum. The tabloid press, the tawdry magazines, the clickbait websites all want to have their ill-considered say. We cannot put it better than a statement by Dr Hannah Woods (captain of the champion Peterhouse Cambridge team in 2016):

University Challenge Crowning moment of awesome incoming.

Dear media (again), please stop ruining University Challenge.
Over the past couple of days I, and several other female contestants, have been inundated with requests from newspapers, magazines and radio stations to talk about why there are so few women on University Challenge. Here's the thing, though..
I have already written at length about how the media's sexist commentary is discouraging women from taking part in the programme. And yet I mainly keep being asked to talk about my "fears" of social media trolls, and what universities can do to improve the audition process..
Recently, I gave a series of quotes to the always-excellent Anna Leszkie for a piece in the Radio Times, about the gender confidence gap, the importance of gender-balancing questions, and how we can challenge the male-dominated nature of "general knowledge"...
The piece was then sensationalised by several national newspapers, and my comments re-contextualised as being about my "fear of being judged on my appearance", and a warning to female contestants that going on UC might "harm their careers"..
This hugely undermines everything I've tried to do to encourage more women to take part in the programme. What's more: I'm not afraid of being judged on my appearance. I'm {chuffing} angry that women are reduced to their appearance, in the media and literally everywhere.
There is a pattern to these articles. Female contestants are cast as "admitting" or "confessing" to being upset or fearful about comments on their looks and clothes. Then a famous figure is wheeled out to say "but women just aren't interested in showing off at quizzes like boys!"
A female contestant is then invited on the radio to speak further about the issue of female under-representation. John Humphrys laughs about her bra. The news cycle of "women just aren't interested in quizzing", "women worry about their looks" and "social media is to blame" continues.

We cannot put it better. This column chooses to amplify wise words.

The changing nature of "general knowledge"

We are going to go off on a tangent from Dr. Woods' piece.

"General knowledge" has at least two meanings. It's a broad swathe of facts and learning, distinct from "specialist knowledge". People can be specialists, people can be generalists. Indeed, the English education system prizes people who become specialists at an early age – most people take no science or language education after they're 16 years old. The English culture has a slight disdain for generalists, "jack of all trades, and master of none".

Fifteen-to-One William G. Stewart, the late king of general knowledge.

"General knowledge" also carries significant cultural baggage. It's the facts and learning that are "generally known", that are expected to be shared within a particular culture.

"General knowledge" in modern London would include the Magna Carta, the Gunpowder Plot, and a rudimentary understanding of fronted adverbials. General knowledge in Paris would include the Napoleonic era, de Gaulle's vision for Europe, and why "voiture" is feminine. General knowledge in Amsterdam would cover the Spanish occupation, the concept of pillarisation, and why masculine and feminine nouns get combined in "common gender".

Not all of these are common knowledge across society. Some older people will remember de Gaulle as news, not history. Some speakers of Nederlands still distinguish between masculine and feminine. And if anyone can get Susan Calman to define "fronted adverbial" on CBBC's Top Class, we'd be grateful.

"General knowledge" carries connotations of an in-group, an experience shared by some of society. Where there's an in-group, there's an out-group, people who don't share that experience. If we're not careful, "general knowledge" can be used as a shibboleth, to identify people who can't remember enough of the social trivia. For example, Life in the UK, an exercise that purports to measure "social integration" by a series of badly-written trivia questions. It would be absurd if it wasn't treated seriously by successive governments.

It's time to vote for the strongest link.

The facts that make up "general knowledge" change over time. Compared with the first University Challenge series in 1962, it's more reasonable to expect a modern university student to know about women scientists. In part, this is because women have had fifty extra years in the laboratory, and have made many advances. In part, it's because social norms have changed, and women get to do science. And, in part, it's because the old boys network (those whose mediocre performance is eclipsed by their great volume) are not always very good at their jobs.

So we get sample questions like these, from the two most recent editions of University Challenge.

Q: An example of op art, "Hesitate" is a 1964 painting by which British artist? It comprises rows of grayscale spots positioned to create an illusion of movement.

Q: Which writer and actor won the Best Comedy Writing BAFTA in 2013 for the black comedy Hunderby, a parody of period dramas in which she plays a sinister housekeeper? She is also the creator of Camping and Nighty Night.

Q: The name of the company that's developed games including Bully, Red Dead Redemption, and Grand Theft Auto?

Q: Which French author wrote The Book Of The City Of Ladies in 1405? It describes an allegorical city, populated by women of great renown as a response to their contemporary's "wicked insults" about women and their behaviour.

Like it or loathe it, this is general knowledge in 2018.

This Week and Next

Eurovision Song Contest Who's next? You decide.

Details of the next Senior Eurovision Song Contest have been confirmed. Tel Aviv will be the venue, KAN the host broadcaster. The dates – 14, 16, 18 May – are a week earlier than expected, and are chosen to avoid Lag BaOmer.

The final will take place on the same day as the men's FA Cup final in England. We're asked, "what happens if it goes to extra time and penalties?" Same procedure as every year. Netta will be in goal, and Jon Ola Sand blows the whistle.

We welcome the Fingers on Buzzers podcast, where Jenny Ryan from The Chase and Lucy Porter from Taskmaster talk about quizzes, quizzical things, and whether Countdown is a quiz. We've not heard the show yet, it only "dropped" on Friday, and we're still gawping at this billing from 1983.

"Break-neck anagrams and mental arithmetic. The question master is Richard Whiteley, and Gyles Brandreth entertains."

Countdown? Break-neck?!

BARB ratings in the week to 2 September.

  1. Bodyguard remains the most-seen show (BBC1, Sun, 10.15m). The Great Breadxit Burn-Out returns to top the game show list (C4, Tue, 9.2m).
  2. The X Factor also came back (ITV, Sat, 7.25m; Sun, 6.15m). Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1, Thu, 4.45m) beat Celebrity Catchphrase (ITV, Sat, 3.75m) and Celebrity The Chase (ITV, Mon, 3.05m).
  3. Dragons' Den was BBC2's top show (Sun, 2.95m), with University Challenge (Mon, 2.3m) and Great Local Menu (Tue, 2m) also doing well. Celebrity Big Brother attracted tabloid attention and viewers (C5, Thu, 2.15m).
  4. Digital shows remained in the doldrums, with one exception: A League of Their Own hit 910,000 on its return (The Satellite Channel, Thu). Burn-Out on E4 (Sat) scored 345,000, and QI XL (Dave, Wed, 305,000).

The answers to UC questions were Bridget Riley, Julia Davis, Rockstar, Christine de Pizan.

There's quiz and strategy on Chase the Case (BBC1, weekdays). Home comforts are prized on Four in a Bed (C4, weekdays). S4C searches for a Junior Eurovision song in Chwilio am Seren (Tue). And new social media experiment The Circle starts its rotation (C4, nights from Tue)

Not a contest, but interesting nonetheless. Eric Monkman and Bobby Seagull, stars of University Challenge, get their own inventions travelogue, Monkman and Seagull's Genius Guide (BBC2, Mon). And next Saturday sees Strictly Come Dancing start performances (BBC1), and a Strictly special of Pointless Celebrities.

Photo credits: Label1, BBC Studios, Granada, Hat Trick, Regent, ITV/ITN, RTP/EBU, 2waytraffic

To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day, receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers, sign up to our Yahoo! Group.

Last week | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in