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A quartet of St John’s students take part in University Challenge

"I felt pretty confident that we weren’t going to embarrass ourselves too much because we had done so much practice"

A team of students from St John’s will go head-to-head with a team from the Royal Academy of Music in the new series of University Challenge.

The 11th first-round match of the series will be screened on Monday, September 21 at 8.30pm on BBC Two. The episode sees the contestants battle it out in a bid to reach the second stage of the toughest quiz show on television.

The St John’s team is made-up of four students: Thomas Musgrove, team captain, Milena Malcharek, Rebecca Marrow, and Sam Willis. The selection of the team members was led by Dani Vijayakumar, St John’s Economics student.

Thomas was in his final year of a History degree when the filming took place and is about to start an MPhil in History at St John’s, Milena and Rebecca are both currently studying Natural Sciences, and Sam was studying for an MPhil in History after completing his degree in History at St John’s and is now doing a General Diploma in Law (GDL) after securing funding from St John’s.

University Challenge team
The St John’s College Cambridge team on University Challenge with Jeremy Paxman. Credit: ITV Studios.

Anthony Kattuman, Mathematician, was the reserve member of the team.

The appearance on the quiz show by a team from St John’s comes just two years after St John’s won University Challenge for the first time after defeating Merton College Oxford 145-100 in the final.

The 2018 champions met up with the latest batch of contestants to give them helpful tips and guidance and they even lent them their pig mascot for the filming.

After taking part in auditions in Cambridge as producers selected teams from across the University, the 2020 team found out they had been chosen during the Michaelmas Term. The quartet spent a lot of time together before filming began in BBC’s Media City in Salford in March. The series continued to be filmed despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the team appear in episode 11 of the first-round.

Sam said: “We watched a lot of old episodes of the programme together as a team to practice. We would pause the show with the remote control as if it was a buzzer and figure out if we knew the right answer and were quicker than the team on the television. We would make a note of where our weaknesses were and go away and work on them.”

The team even practised questions on the train on the way to filming from Thomas’s book of University Challenge questions.

Sam explained: “I felt pretty confident that we weren’t going to embarrass ourselves too much because we had done so much practice. I had a lot of faith in the other team members so as strange as it was to be sitting behind that desk, by the time we got there we were ready for whatever was going to happen next and we wanted to enjoy it. We knew we had to listen carefully, be confident and get to the buzzer first - that is often the key to success!”

The episode is being broadcast on Sam’s birthday on Monday September 21, but because of the Covid-19 restrictions he will only be able to watch it at home in Hackney with his family and girlfriend. 

The aspiring barrister said: “University Challenge is a British institution and has an enormous audience that really loves the show. The programme holds a fascinating place in the cultural life of this country and it is special to be part of that.”

Sam was not able to reveal how far the team gets in the competition but he did tell us that fans of St John’s will enjoy spotting the Eagle mascot on their desk, aptly called Maggie, that the team took with them to bring a little bit of luck from St John’s to the quiz show.

University Challenge featuring St John’s College will be broadcast on BBC Two on Monday September 21 at 8.30pm.

How far would you get in University Challenge? Take our quiz written by our 2018 champions.

Published: 18/9/2020

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