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‘It was an incredibly strange feeling seeing the familiar set, with our names on’

Trinity’s 2019 University Challenge team takes up the cudgels from Monday 9 September. Team captain is Maths student, Joseph Webber. He is joined on the set by Lillian Crawford, who is returning to Trinity for an MPhil in Film and Screen Studies this autumn, Liam Hughes, who will begin a PhD in Maths in October, and Nadia Hourihan, who graduated with a degree in English this summer. The team describes what it’s like to take part in one of the UK’s most popular television quiz shows.

Why did you want to take part in University Challenge?

Joseph Webber

Joseph: I’ve been a big fan of the show for a while. My GCSE Maths teacher introduced it to me, as a show that seemed to fit in quite well with my keenness to learn and retain pretty useless facts about pretty much anything. From then on it became a regular topic of discussion in our Tuesday morning maths lessons, and I’m embarrassed to admit I did start keeping score. I realised that I could actually answer a few of the questions, so I thought I may as well give it a go when I came to Trinity in 2016. Three years later, I eventually got there…

Lillian: The show got me through secondary school – in the same sense that the aspiration of going to Cambridge did. Its heroes and champions inspired me, and when I got to university and joined the quiz society, I was thrilled to meet many of them in person. It has been rather fun to see friends taking to the buzzer on a Monday evening, so I thought it was high time I had a go.

Liam: On the application form, I gave some stock answer about it being a way to represent the College that didn’t involve physical exercise. Ultimately I think most contestants have the same reason: we’ve enjoyed watching the show and thought it’d be fun to appear on it. It certainly has been for me.


It’s a really popular show with three million viewers. You didn’t think twice about signing up?

Lillian Crawford. Photo: Nicholas Clanchy

Lillian: Oh, more than twice – it’s bloody terrifying! Not for the reasons one would think, such as Paxman or the spotlights, but because it is still incredibly difficult to be taken seriously as a woman on television. I was delighted to learn that more women took part in the show this year than ever before, but we still struggle to encourage female students to try out. There are multiple reasons as to why, although I can only hope that seeing such a magnificent cohort of female contestants on the series this year will encourage more women to take part in future.

Nadia: Oh gosh, I’m still thinking about it.


On the show, was it nerve-wracking or exciting?

Liam Hughes

Liam: My teammates say I was the calmest of us. I’m pretty sure my leg was shaking under the desk when we took our seats. Anyway, the producers and the floor manager, Lynn, did a good job of looking after teams, and we were given some practice questions using the buzzers before starting the actual quiz, so during filming I was perfectly fine, if a bit lost in the surreality of the moment. Hearing my name read out when I buzzed was probably the most exciting part for me.

Joseph: The fact that filming largely fell during term-time means that studying kept most of my excitement under wraps. I felt hugely nervous before the start of our first match. From then on, there wasn’t much else to think about other than Paxman’s questions, so the excitement only truly took over then. It was an incredibly strange feeling seeing the familiar set, with our names on.


What was the most important thing about taking part in University Challenge?

Nadia Hourihan

Nadia: My teammates were, without a doubt, the greatest take away from my University Challenge experience. We’ve passed the true test of modern friendship: our Facebook group chat remains active.

Lillian: My teammates will mock me for this, but it was watching the set being adjusted for hours on the monitor in the green room. A masterpiece of slow cinema.

Liam: They let you keep your nameplate after the series finishes filming, so that’s quite exciting. But it turns out each team’s reserve also has one made, so if you’re just in it for the nameplate that’s probably your best option.

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