A team of students representing St Catharine’s will take on University College, Oxford in the opening round of the 51st series of University Challenge. Their first-round match is due to be broadcast by BBC Two on 20 September (subject to scheduling changes), approximately 6 years since the College last qualified for the quiz programme.
The length of time that has passed since the College previously competed is far from the only reason why the match is remarkable. It is the only Oxbridge head-to-head scheduled for the first round of the competition this year and, for the first time ever for a match featuring coeducational institutions, male competitors were in the minority.
Professor Sir Mark Welland, Master of St Catharine’s, said, “I encourage everyone to join me in cheering on the St Catharine’s team when their University Challenge match is aired in September. It is particularly impressive that they have qualified after our recent run of bad luck and exhibited exceptional College spirit every step of the way. It is good to see alumnus and Honorary Fellow Jeremy Paxman back on our screens hosting his 28th series of the programme.”
The College is grateful to recent graduate Owen McArdle for helping to select the team for the current series of University Challenge. Owen was captain in 2020 and led St Catharine’s to the audition stages of the competition. Sadly, none of the teams in contention since 2016 qualified to compete in televised rounds – until this year.
Team captain Nick Scott explained, “Owen oversaw an exceptionally thorough process for recruiting the Catz team during Michaelmas Term 2020: there was an online quiz to identify the 16 top candidates, who then competed in heats as teams of four. Based on the outcomes in the heats, he offered me the role of captain and selected the rest of the team. He has been a massive support throughout, keeping up morale on our group chat and getting involved with practices.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the team’s first opportunity to meet as a group was on the day of filming at the MediaCityUK television studios in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Jenny Hay commented, “Catz is such a close-knit community so there was no more than two degrees of separation between any of us on the team. Practicing online and chatting in the run up to the match meant we gelled quite quickly, but it was lovely to finally be together on the day itself.”
Emma Dinnage added, “I hope our College pride will be obvious from our Catz sweaters and mascot, Buddle the Catz Bear, who is named after our late alumnus and Fellow Adam Buddle and sports a rather fetching College scarf. I have been delighted to have the chance to collaborate with the University Challenge producers as part of a set of outreach videos designed to encourage wider participation so the show represents the diversity of students today.”
As team reserve, Kit Treatwell had the unenviable task of watching the match live in the green room with the question-setters who knew every answer:
“In previous years, friends and family would have been able to support teams from the studio audience but it was entirely down to me to channel positive vibes from the green room sofa. Everyone at the studio was so supportive given the unusual circumstances, especially Roger Tilling. It was gripping viewing so I hope the Catz community is able to tune in when the show goes out.”
Of course, there aren’t many students in College who remember the last time that St Catharine’s appeared on University Challenge. Lydia Michaelides, who graduated from the Veterinary Medicine course this year, recalled:
“The benchmark has been set incredibly high by the last team who made it all the way to the quarter-finals. Many of us have been inspired by them to apply to represent the College in previous years so it was honestly a lovely surprise, after all this time, when we found out that our team had made it through. We don’t expect to come close to the 2015–16 team’s performance but we have promised ourselves to enjoy every moment.”
Meet the team