Thanks to the miracle of the internet, we've been able to keep up with some of our favorite British television shows, not least of which the cozily old-fashioned, all-for-the-honour-and-glory (ie no monetary prizes) and wonderfully academic University Challenge.
We've been following it avidly, not only enjoying the sometimes absurdly arcane questions, but also enjoying watching the competitive edge sharpen throughout the rounds, culminating in tonight's final between Corpus Christi, Oxford, and Manchester University.
We knew it would be close between these two teams, each of which had consistently been "fast on the buzzer" for that opening question, but our money was on Corpus, led by the rapidly-becoming-a-celebrity Gail Trimble, a Latin doctoral scholar who seems to know well... to know just about everything, and passes on her knowledge with an air of authority and (slightly simpering) charm that has made her the current darling of the series. She would have made Dorothy Sayers proud as the perfect embodiment of the educated female, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if she turns up as a television presenter in a few years; the camera seems to love her, and (judging by her performances), she it.
It was a close run and Manchester very nearly left the favorite in the starting gate by buzzing in correctly on most of the first questions and thus grabbing the bonus rounds, but at half time the Corpus horse finally got out of the gate and bolted. Manchester fought back, however, and it wasn't clear until the final 5 minutes or so that Corpus had indeed lived up to their odds. The excitement was palpable - Even the voice-over announcer was on the edge of his seat, as you he SHOUTED (literally) the name of the contestant who had buzzed in.
While few matches are as excitingly neck-and-neck as this one, the program is great intellectual fun, as much for Jeremy Paxman's asides as anything else (he's kind enough not to treat the students with the same tar-and-feather handling as his political interviewees, but a lifetime of presentational scorn is impossible to eradicate completely, and the occasional withering remark slips in between questions, usually to the amusement of the audience as much as the consternation of the contestants!). And you even learn a thing or two if you pay attention!
And now, if you'll excuse me, it's high time I went and swotted up on Italian painters since, judging by my own performance tonight, I apparently don't know my Botticelli from my Giotto....