The BBC has launched an inquiry into whether the team from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, the triumphant finalists in this year's University Challenge, should have been disqualified.
The highbrow BBC2 quiz show, hosted by Jeremy Paxman, has long since ceased to be a competition confined to undergraduates, with PhD students in their early 20s bringing weight and experience to the teams. But now it has emerged that one of the winning foursome had left university altogether when the final was televised, and is working for a firm of accountants.
The revelation has put the BBC in a quandary because if the rules were breached there will be calls for the final to be refought, although the runners up from Manchester University insist that the Corpus Christi team were "deserving and worthy champions".
As the little Oxford College romped to victory, perhaps too much attention was paid to its extraordinary captain, Gail Trimble, the highest scoring contestant in the show's history – because in the final in particular, the young woman now nicknamed "the human Google" had considerable help from her team mates, notably from Sam Kay sitting at the end of the row to her right.
He was the one with the science background, who seized two "starters for 10" when Corpus Christi were trailing, and earned them precious bonus points because he had the entire chemical table mapped out in his head.
But now Mr Kay could cost his former college the competition, as the BBC opens an inquiry into whether he should have been taking part at all. Although he introduced himself at the start by saying: "I'm Sam Kay from Frimley in Surrey, and I'm studying chemistry"– he had in fact graduated last June and works for the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers. He was a student in the early stages of the competition, looking for funding for a PhD, but failed to get it.
In a statement, the BBC said: "We understand the allegations made and are taking the issue seriously. However we need time to investigate fully, so we will do so and report our findings early next week."
If the rules have been broken, the BBC will face a difficult decision about what to do next. In theory, any match in which Mr Kay competed after graduation could be declared invalid and be restaged.
But the Manchester team, who lost to Corpus Christi in a closely fought final, made it plain yesterday that they would prefer to let the matter rest. Their team captain, Matthew Yeo, said: "The University of Manchester University Challenge team has no desire to convene a repeat of the final.
"We are firmly of the opinion that the best team won on the day and Corpus Christi College are deserving and worthy champions."
Trimble answers marriage question
Gail Trimble, the winning team's captain, is to marry. Tom West, a trainee accountant, proposed during a Valentine's Day weekend in Paris, The Sunday Times reported. Since University Challenge turned her into an overnight star, Ms Trimble, 26, has turned down an offer to pose for a lads' mag.Reuse content