Balliol to battle Wolfson Cambridge superstar Monkman in University Challenge final

Jack Hunter assesses the teams’ chances and this series’ strongest memes ahead of Monday’s historic showdown against internet celebrity Eric Monkman

Published in Cherwell, 9 April 2017.

It’s being billed as the “final showdown” between two quizzing heavyweights. Balliol behemoth Joey Goldman is set to face off Wolfson College Cambridge’s internet sensation Eric Monkman, in what looks set to be a legendary University Challenge final on Monday.

The hype ahead of the series’ finale is no doubt largely thanks to Monkman’s online superstar status – the Wolfson captain has been the inspiration for an astonishing number of memes. Variously described as “the quiz show king”, “clockwork-jawed”, and “the most intense contestant ever”, his dog bark-like answering instantly made #Monkmania a serious social media movement.

Brow-furrowed columnists and puzzled Radio 4 profilers have pontificated the significance of the Canadian economics masters student’s ascendancy to semi-stardom. Is he a “standard-bearer of expertise and intellectualism” in our inane post-Brexit political climate? Is he the bespectacled anti-hero against a “homogenous celebrity culture”?

We are set to discover in Monday’s highly anticipated match. Yet Balliol have a polymathic genius of their own in “sassy” Philosophy and Theology student Joey Goldman. Not only has he impressed viewers with his astonishingly quick processing speed – effortlessly answering questions correctly on cognitive scientific literature and English kings in last week’s semi-final – but also for his taste in puppy printed shirts.

The Balliol team – which also encompasses second-year Historian Freddy Potts, DPhil English student Jacob Lloyd, and Australian Benjamin Pope, who is reading for a DPhil in Astrophysics – are looking to win the series for the first time and end three years of Cambridge domination.

Speaking to Cherwell ahead of the final, Pope — who has since been offered a NASA Sagan Fellowship to New York University — said: “We played Wolfson in the quarters where they beat us, so we were certainly very apprehensive going into the final match.”

He added: “I don’t think University Challenge helped get the NASA fellowship, but it was certainly fun to do in the second last year of a DPhil. It was a great experience, in that as an Australian I’d never even watched it before – and somehow wandered into a fantastic team of people who became fast friends.”

Based on their respective semi-final performances, the winner of Monday’s showdown is anyone’s guess. In their previous quarter-final encounter in January, Wolfson were victorious – but only just. They took 165 points to Balliol’s 135 in a tightly fought contest.

My analysis puts Balliol ahead on an average score of 214 to Wolfson’s 185 per match across the series (I am taking this seriously). But the Cambridge team impressively beat Emmanuel College’s intellectual giant (and brilliantly named) Bobby Seagull in their semi-final, and who knows what “The Monkman” can produce when the heat is on?

Naturally, Twitter is struggling to contain its excitement.

Many are admiring Monkman’s entertaining facial expressions.

He’s also been the inspiration for several potential blockbuster ideas.

However, others have lamented the show’s continued lack of diversity.

University Challenge, BBC 2, 8pm, 10 April.

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