Apart from wearing shorts or supporting Liverpool, there is no easier way to identify a prize arsehole than if someone sends their kids to private school. It’s inherently unfair: a way to stop meritocracy in its tracks and kick social mobility in the nuts. It’s utterly rotten, quickly showing Diane Abbott up for the charlatan she is, but it does make watching University Challenge something of a bloodsport.
University Challenge is an injection of the Rage virus. The team introductions give you your first hate opportunity. If the team is from Oxbridge, skip the other steps and go straight to contempt. I’m sure plenty of people from these universities aren’t corrupt and insular, with half a blood type and six recessive genes shared between them, but I’ve not met one. Problem’s solved for this round, you’re supporting the other team.
However, if neither of the teams come from Oxford or Cambridge, or they both do, there are plenty of other ways to persecute them from the comfort of your sofa and boost your ego.
Are there any hippies in the team? Yes? Right, support the other team. Being a hippy in 2010 is like being Joe Cole and joining Liverpool. They’ve both missed the point, and you’d happily see them both dead. Is peace and not washing the answer? No. Whatever side of the political spectrum you’re on, I’ll have respect for you if your views of society are founded on a healthy intolerance and dismissal of the worth of other people. Being a crusty is not that. The person you are at university is not really the person you’ll be in five years time, real life knocks that determination out of you. Hippies, however, stay hippies. They opted out of the real world years ago - despise them for it.
"The team introductions give you your first hate opportunity. If the team is from Oxbridge, skip the other steps and go straight to contempt."
Next up, what about an autistic 18 year old with a brave attempt at a moustache? Excellent, then you have found your team to get behind. Whether you’re male or female, affluent or struggling, we can all identify with the young, awkward man grasping at straws to achieve some level of of certainty in the world. Imagine this poor bastard’s plight. Excellent at maths and physics, which is only 5% of the University Challenge’s questions, how do you think he’s going to do with the arts and general knowledge? About as well as James Corden at a dignity competition. This kid is you and I at our jobs - just waiting to be found out - so support him.
The best bit is that University Challenge is essentially Trivial Pursuit. It’s a general knowledge quiz with delusions of importance But you get to feel superior. On the sofa. In your pants. Ten years ago, when I was a student and had only really just started out on life, my scope of knowledge was much more limited than now I’m a Proper Adult. Despite this caveat, do you think that when I know a question the competitors don’t, that I display such awareness? That I don’t indulge in psychotic periods of triumphalism? Of course not. When you know the answer, you get to say, like the arsehole you are,
‘You didn’t know that, did you, you unlined, unfettered, not-yet-broken, happy, fresh-faced, well-off PRICKS?’
The last joy is Paxman. There’s a surfeit of ironic affection for Jeremy Paxman, and when I’m Holy Roman Emperor affected twentysomething irony will be punishable by death. But in this case it’s right answer, wrong working. Paxman is supreme, but it’s not do to do with desperately getting Michael Howard to dodge the same question 43 times, or magnificently but impotently bullying policitians. The reason is that in this half hour you can fantasise about a bromance between you and Paxman, because he’s got the same pastime as you: telling cocky people where to get off. Tell me there is not a nigh-on sexual enjoyment surging through his veins when he puts a competitor in their place? Can any man sound more indignant and simultaneously satisfied than Jeremy delivering a forceful, dismissive, ‘No. Come on!’’
He is your dad, except he doesn’t pretend he doesn’t hate you.
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