First Night: University Challenge Final, BBC2
Guttenplan's star performance seals coveted trophy
Tuesday 06 April 2010
"Hello. I'm Alex Guttenplan. I'm from London and I study natural sciences." For followers of this year's University Challenge, not to mention the two Facebook pages dedicated to this unassuming, bespectacled Cambridge student that have been set up by so-called "Guttenfans", the introduction at the start of last night's final was entirely superfluous. For Guttenplan, 19, has been the breakout star of this year's University Challenge. He has been this year's Gail Trimble, the "human Google" of last year's tournament.
This is the second year in succession that the brainy student quiz show has been hit by "the Susan Boyle Effect", with one outstanding contestant generating interest amongst those large swathes of the population who don't even understand the questions, let alone know their answers. The Emmanuel College, Cambridge, captain has garnered the headlines not only for his Wikipedia-sized fact-retention capabilities and his Harry Potter good looks but also for his cool handling of habitual politician-beater Jeremy Paxman.
HM Bateman would have appreciated the pivotal scene in an earlier round, as the caustic quiz-master had suggested that Guttenplan's correct response to a question about WH Auden had been "a good guess", to which our hero calmly and politely replied: "It wasn't a guess." Explaining how he had succeeded in cutting Paxo down to size where some of the biggest beasts in Westminster have hitherto failed, the second-year student explained that, unlike MPs, he wasn't trying to "bend the truth". It was a profound comment that Jeremy Paxman's career has been built on the wall-to-wall mendacity of our elected representatives.
Mind you, you can see why Paxo might have thought that he was guessing, for Guttenplan has a way of looking thoroughly stumped before seeming to pluck the correct answer from the ether. Once bitten, Paxman was, however, shy of cracking that "good guess" gag for a second time. I didn't count but I'd estimate that the lad won well over half of Emmanuel College's points as they trounced St John's, Oxford, by 315 points to 100. St John's briefly got their noses ahead after 10 minutes but thereafter it was all Emmanuel and mostly Guttenplan, as the boy wonder, looking somewhat bemused by his own brilliance, entered what poet Carol Ann Duffy, presenting the trophy, called "the zone". There was a five-minute spell when, answering bonus questions on bioluminescence ("the emission by organisms of light without heat", Paxman kindly added) that Guttenplan and Paxo seemed to be talking in a language all of their own.
There was only one area, the arts, where he seemed uncertain, struggling with questions about singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and filmmaker Terence Davies but soon it was on to inter-war Italian philosophers and the geology of basalt.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 Jimmy Carr's Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 5 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
Poppy Appeal 2014: This is why I won't be wearing a red poppy this year