Manchester’s University challenge team brought home the trophy this year after a tense battle against Pembroke College, Cambridge, joining winners from 2006 and 2009. After participating in a program viewed by an estimated audience of 3 million, what lasting impressions has the experience left on the team and what is it like returning to university life? We interviewed 21-year old Michael McKenna, an undergraduate biochemist from FLS and the teams science specialist, about his experience and life following the show.
Michael told us how he has always enjoyed watching quiz shows, but admits to only becoming interested in University challenge relatively recently,
“I watched it a couple of times with my parents when I was younger, but the questions were always so far over my head I never really got into it”.
However, since becoming a fan in 2008 he admitted with a laugh that he now gets particularly involved, often shouting answers at the screen.
As the youngest member of the team, a first year undergraduate at the time of filming, we wanted to know what drew him to try out and how he gained his extensive general knowledge. Already a quiz fanatic, Michael said that soon after joining the university he searched for quiz societies and competitions to participate in. This lead him to compete in Oxford as part of a non-televised competition. It was the contacts he made here who encouraged him to try out for the University challenge team. He was particularly modest about his general knowledge simply saying,
“I think I actually have a pretty bad memory for facts, I was chosen because the knowledge I do have complimented the rest of the team.”
Mike spoke fondly of his experiences on the show noting that,
“although in the first few rounds everyone was quite nervous and didn’t really speak much, as the competition drew on people became more relaxed and friendly and I’m still in contact with some of people we met in the later rounds”.
He also revealed that although Jeremy Paxman comes across as relatively stern on TV, whenever there was a dispute over the acceptability of an answer he always sided with the students.
Mike is now settling back into university life and is close to completing his second year of study. Along with his fellow team mates, he now practices with this years team and has formed (what I assume must be a formidable) pub quiz team. He reflects that Manchester’s rigorous selection process and active community of previous team members was hugely beneficial for himself and the team, probably giving them an edge over other universities.
Sarah Fox (May 2012)