Thinking person: crumpet


Ah, University Challenge, one of those programmes that’s seemingly always on, and if I see it at all, it’s by mistake, and about ten minutes before the end, when Jeremy Paxman speeds up and tells the students off. I never sit down to watch it, because it’s only the very occasional picture or music round that actually elicits any correct answers from my brain. Thus, unlike Mastermind, it’s not participatory, merely passive. I was keen to see yesterday’s final because of Gail Trimble, who I heard about on Radio 4’s PM programme last night – unbeknown to me, she has become a bit of a name due to being really clever and earning Corpus Christi about two thirds of their points over the series. I understand she’s also become an “unlikely sex symbol”. The media loves creating “unlikely sex symbols” even though they instantly become “likely” once singled out in this way. Trimble is very clever and she’s a woman who’s more conventionally attractive than, say, Anne Widdecombe or Bella Emberg – that’ll do for the media, which is still mostly run by unattractive middle-aged men, hence her elevation for a couple of weeks until these men get bored and realise that a student is never going to get off with them.

Anyway, the hype worked, as I tried to actually watch a full edition of University Challenge on the iPlayer, which wasn’t easy, as my connection in the Library (where, ironically, I was surrounded by people who looked like they were on University Challenge) was very weak, and it kept rebuffering in the middle of Paxman’s questions. This was no way to take part. Manchester were dominant initially, but I was ready to give up after about seven minutes, as I was sick of seeing that little clock symbol going round and round. The joke is, Trimble had not yet uttered a word apart from hello, and her buzzer remained unbuzzed, so I’d barely seen her move. What a swiz. I soldiered on into the seventh minute – just for her! – and then, at 7.43, she spoke! A question about vectors and cosines which she got wrong.

She seemed a bit prim and well-spoken in a Radio 4 kind of way, but confident, relaxed and smart, a combination of attributes that threaten many men. (She was, by the way, the second most attractive member of Corpus Christi, after Marsden to her left, but it’s all relative.) After this, the magical spell of Gail Trimble momentarily unblocked my internet connection and the rest of the programme played out in real time, or thereabouts. (I’m not clever enough to be on University Challenge, and I’m certainly not clever enough to understand why KBs sometimes go really fast and sometimes really slowly in the “send” and “receive” boxes of my wi-fi connection panel.) Then my connection ran out of Gail magic, and went all wonky again. I gave up at 13.34.

For the academic record, Richard Herring, St Catherine’s, says he got “about one answer right“: Petri. (I think he was being self-effacing.) For the same record, despite a 2:1 BA Hons in Drawing Pictures and Photocopying, Andrew Collins, Chelsea, got four answers right in the first 13 minutes and 34 seconds: Freud; Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the attack on Pearl Harbor; Jimmy Carter and the Iranian hostage crisis; George HW Bush and the Gulf War. But it’s not a competition.

What I want to know is: why does Gail Trimble get all this attention, when Sophie Hollender, also a posh female student, did quite well on Mastermind in October with her specialist subject the Mitford Sisters?


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