University Challenge results, 2009

The controversial 38th series began on July 7 2008 running on Mondays on BBC2 at 20:00 until the final on February 23 2009. On December 27 BBC2 held an evening celebrating the enduring popularity of the show, repeating the Comic Relief show, the "Story So Far" documentary, and showing the film "Starter for Ten". The Mail ran a story on the show's history.

First round
14/07/2008Corpus Christi, Oxford33095Durham
21/07/2008Royal Veterinary College, London95215York
04/08/2008Queens', Cambridge205115St George's, London
11/08/2008Exeter195150Pembroke, Oxford
18/08/2008Selwyn, Cambridge180115St Anne's, Oxford
01/09/2008St John's, Cambridge185220Lincoln, Oxford
08/09/2008Murray Edwards, Cambridge65260Sheffield
22/09/2008King's, Cambridge180190Edinburgh
06/10/2008Exeter, Oxford135190St Andrews
Highest-scoring losers
13/10/2008St John's, Cambridge325110Pembroke, Oxford
20/10/2008King's, Cambridge225150Surrey
Second round
10/11/2008LSE270135Selwyn, Cambridge
24/11/2008St John's, Cambridge345125King's, Cambridge
01/12/2008Corpus Christi, Oxford29585Edinburgh
08/12/2008Queens', Cambridge205125Warwick
15/12/2008Lincoln, Oxford280120St Andrews
19/01/2009Lincoln, Oxford33550Queens', Cambridge
26/01/2009Corpus Christi, Oxford35015Exeter
02/02/2009St John's, Cambridge265135City
09/02/2009Manchester34530Lincoln, Oxford
16/02/2009Corpus Christi, Oxford260150St John's, Cambridge
23/02/2009Manchester190275Corpus Christi, Oxford

Corpus Christi, Oxford thus became the seventh Oxford team to win the series since it returned in 1994. Sam Kay (Chemistry), Lauren Schwartzman (Ancient History), Gail Trimble (Latin Literature) and James Marsden (Ancient and Modern History) received the trophy from poet Wendy Cope.

However, six days after the final was broadcast, the Observer printed a story alleging that one of Corpus Christi's team was ineligible. Sam Kay, a student at Corpus Christi until June 2008, had graduated and was working as an accountant during the academic year 2008-9, and the BBC in consultation with Granada decided to disqualify Corpus Christi, awarding the trophy to the losing finalists instead, citing the rule that "students taking part must be registered at their university or college for the duration of the recording of the series".

The official winners of the 2008-9 series were thus Manchester, who consisted of Henry Pertinez (Pharmaco-kinetics), Reuben Roy (Medicine), Matthew Yeo (History of the book), Simon Baker (Politics and Modern History).

The show had already been receiving a huge amount of coverage before the final took place, primarily due to Corpus Christi's superb captain, so the links above are only a selection of the articles. Try this Google news search for many more.


It was a record-breaking series all in all; there were five new additions to the high-score table, four new additions to the low-score table, and an incredible seven winning margins of over 200 points. Finally, Corpus beat my own team's record for total points, amassing 1510 points in their five games. How will the next series follow that?...

But then the series has already entered the record books for other reasons. The flames of allegations of an ineligible contestant, were willingly fanned by the press to result in the inevitable disqualification.

As a former Cambridge student and member of the last Cambridge team to win the series, I've had to endure seven Oxford victories since, each time hoping that a Cambridge college would bring the trophy back again. So surely, I'd delight in Corpus' demise?

No, and I believe the BBC have made the wrong decision.

"Rules are rules", stated Paxman following the decision, and so they are. The rule that dictates that a contestant must be a member of the institution they represent at the time of application and the following year has been consistently in place since I was on in 1995. Recent contestants have pointed out that the rules they sign say nothing about the year after applying, so if nothing else there is a lack of clarity. But for the sake of the show, the onus has to be on the producers to check the applicants' credentials rigorously, and if a team is accepted then the result on the night should stand.

Still, I understand why the BBC had to act, and it will at least ensure the rule is strictly adhered to in the future, levelling the playing field somewhat. It just jars a little that this clearly would have blown over were the show not already in the news for different reasons.

Which brings me to the saddest part of the tale; the fact that Corpus' series-winning achievements may now be forgotten, as they officially never took place. They scored more points in total than any other team have in the modern era, and gave some of the most impressive displays that have been seen recently. And Gail Trimble's personal tally of 15 starters in the quarter final is a feat that may never be beaten.

So the 2009 series will be remembered for the wrong reasons, but it will return. The fact that the show incites this kind of public reaction shows that there is a place for it in the schedules for many years to come.

Please note this is my personal website, and is in no way affiliated to the BBC or the producers of the show. All the views herein are my own.