It was always going to be a special final for a very simple reason: it was between two teams that, until now, had remained unbeaten. It’s much less common than you would expect and made for an exciting match.
The lenient nature of the show’s current format, allowing the best-performing losers to return and holding the best of the quarter-finals, means that it’s actually quite rare to see two teams sailing. Of the 10 finals since the introduction of the current format, only two have seen a confrontation between undefeated teams. In fact, the same number of finals have seen both teams lose on their record, and bouts to end are as likely to end in upheaval as not.
This time the two teams had virtually the same record. When they faced Durham each, Corpus Christi won 185 to 130 while Imperial won 185 to 115. Against Trinity, Cambridge, Corpus Christi scored 245 to 80 while Imperial accumulated 235 to 80. You couldn’t ask for two more equal opponents.
Imperial took the lead at the start of the contest with Brooks, McMeel and Brandon (appearing under his first name, not his last name, Blackwell) by taking appetizers on tea, asteroids and Pirandello, among others. In addition to showing the teamwork that brought them to the finals in the first place, it brought their score to a 100 lap before Corpus Christi was even out of the mark. Corpus captain Wang then sent his team away with a buzz about Matisse and Picasso. With a lot of ground to catch up on, they did exactly the right thing and quickly responded to pop music bonuses, dispensing with their usual style of enthusiastic ambiguity.
The start of the match set the tone for the rest of the competition. The Cambridge quartet of Russel, Stewart, Wang and Gunasekera was not the team we have known in previous games. They wasted no time arguing between responses. Questions about world cinema, 17th century science and classical music were sent at an unusual speed, but with familiar skill, which brought them to just over three digits by the end of the match, with 105. This was enough to let us know how far they could have done if only the buzzes had fallen on their way.
Imperial Oil, on the other hand, was in unstoppable form and wouldn’t give an inch. They gave the bonuses well, their star player Brandon – the best individual scorer in the series – dropping some of his usual gems (“This is the post-colonial African American theory. And I’m about to be wrong . On the television “). Meanwhile, their dominance over the buzzer continued after the music tour, with captain Caleb Rich who won with six amazing starters in the second period, which brought his team to an astonishing 275 gong points .
To put that into perspective, it’s more than the combined score of the two teams in some finals. And that’s what made this final so special. With Imperial progressing with confidence and Corpus Christi doing everything in their power to catch up, their combined score of 380 was higher than what we have seen in the final for 10 years, and it is unlikely to be matched anytime soon.
For the second time in recent memory, the awards ceremony did not take place in the studio. Instead, the finalists were taken to Oxford to meet Abel Prize-winning mathematician Andrew Wiles, famous for solving Fermat’s last theorem and a classic response to the full-fledged academic challenge (always of good quality in a presenter of trophies).
Thus ended another excellent series of University Challenge. Hats off to both teams for a stellar match to top it off and congratulations to Imperial Oil on its well-deserved victory – I know how good it is!
• The subtitle of this article was modified on April 21, 2020 to correct a homophone wrack / rack.