With the University Challenge make-or-break match against Manchester on our screens tonight, we had a chat with the team about their favourite Soton hangouts, what Paxman’s REALLY like, and, of course, how they manage to acquire SO much knowledge.

Southampton university challenge

Southampton University Challenge team, L-R: David Bishop, Richard Evans, Bob De Caux (captain), and Matt Loxham.

ST: Hey guys! So what year are you all in at Southampton Uni? What courses do you study?

Bob De Caux:   I’m in the third year of a PhD in Complex Systems Simulation.  I build computer simulations to aid with banking regulation and how to make the banking system less sensitive to large shocks.

Matt Loxham:   I did study for a PhD in Respiratory Toxicology, looking at whether air pollution in underground railways might harm the lungs.  But I’ve finished that now, and am still working at the university.

David Bishop: I’m a second year Physics student.

Richard Evans:  I’m reading Chemistry and I’m in my second year of a four-year Masters course.  I hope to undertake an industrial placement in my fourth year.

ST: Do you train for the show? How?

Bob:   It’s tough to train for the show, as the questions are so diverse (although not diverse enough to include much Sport or Pop Music sadly!)  Once we discovered that we were all scientists, I made an effort to brush up on Literature, but quickly realised it’s pretty hard to do that in a few weeks!  Richard has the University Challenge board game, so after we lost our first match, we had a good go practising with the buzzers.

David: I sort of trained, particularly in areas I was stronger in like History and Mythology.  A fair bit of Wikipedia, and reading any useful books I had lying around. But I just try to remember any random bit of trivia I hear.

Richard: I’ve enjoyed memorising information for many years now, particularly things to do with modern history and politics.  I kept casually reading up on these areas and more generally.  It’s impossible to prepare for everything that the show might throw at you, so there’s only so much you can do – but I did buy the Complete Works of Shakespeare and attempted to memorise the key essentials about many of the Bard’s plays!  I would say, though, that the best way to prepare for the show isn’t to try and binge-learn information – you just have to pick it up casually.

ST: Sounds like a mammoth task. So do you get recognised around campus and in lectures?

David: I don’t think I’ve been recognised at all (by people who didn’t already know me), I’m only the guy on the end…

Matt:   Nope!

Bob:  I got recognised in a football match last term by the intimidating, opposing centre-back when I went up for a corner.  Luckily he was nice to me after that!

Richard: I’ve only ever been recognised by lecturers and postgrads within the Chemistry department – never by any passers-by, unfortunately!  That said, I am at least vaguely well-known in the community of University lifesaving clubs, because I wrote a quiz to entertain all the competitors at Southampton’s lifesaving competition in November, and I had to mention that I’d been on University Challenge.  Then last month, when I was competing at the University of Birmingham, I heard two of the Birmingham lifesavers mentioning me and the show!

ST: Wow! What’s your favourite thing about Southampton? Any embarrassing stories?

David: I think my favourite thing about Southampton is probably the people I’ve met down here. But I once somehow got stuck on one of the turnstiles trying to get into the library, and in trying to get through I ripped a large hole in my trousers in a rather awkward place.

Bob:    I cannot compete with David’s story!

Richard: The people I’ve met over the last two years have certainly been the best part of the Southampton experience.  My friends from my Chemistry course and the Lifesaving Club are particularly fantastic characters – thank you to all of you for some terrific experiences.  In lifesaving, we like playing Would I Lie to You, where one of us tells a ridiculous story about ourselves and everyone else tries to work out whether or not it’s true.  This has resulted in me pretending to have gone to school with Harry Styles, and admitting picking up a cabbage in Sainsbury’s when I thought it was a very well-wrapped cauliflower.

ST: Haha! Believable mistake to make. A lot must go on behind the scenes at University Challenge – what’s Paxman like off-camera? Any interesting items in his dressing room?

Matt:   A top man!  Likes his job, I think, and likes to meet the teams.  We didn’t get to see inside his dressing room though!

Richard: Paxman is quite a character off-camera – certainly not the iron-fisted man that you might expect!  He would always thank the contestants for a “good game” after the end of each recording session, and after our second-round match, he had a good time talking with one of the Bangor team about her unusual area of study!  My favourite moment with him was when he kicked David out of the chair in the make-up room.

David: Yeah, I got booted out of the make-up chair one time so that he could get his done quickly. Off camera he’s really alright, happy to have a drink with the teams after the show backstage in the green room.  I think he plays the character up a bit on screen. I never saw in his dressing room!

Bob:    I remember one of the make-up ladies had made him a lemon tart, which he was very pleased about!  All the crew seemed to like him a lot.

ST: You guys must get pretty nervous. Do you have any pre-show rituals/superstitions?

David: Yeah, it’s kind of nerve-jangling. Before each show, I just try to relax, so I just sit down and close my eyes, and try to stay focused before/during the match. Unfortunately, people have told me I just looked grumpy instead on the shows.

Matt:   David meditating!

Bob:    Lots of teams were scared by David’s meditation!  I was absolutely terrified before each show and went on a tea-drinking frenzy.  We chatted with the opposition before most games as well, and we managed to intimidate Queen’s Belfast by finishing their cryptic crossword.

Richard: David’s meditation became a running theme very quickly.  I also insisted on having my University Challenge quiz book in my bag in advance of every match and leaving it in the Green Room backstage, without actually reading it on match days!  This goes back to when I had it in my bag for our initial team try-outs in November 2012, and it paid off then, so I thought it could pay off again for the real thing!

ST: Which is the hardest University team you’ve been up against in University Challenge?

All:   Somerville. We knew a couple of their players were supposed to be really good, and sadly they were!

Richard: We just couldn’t get a word in edgeways against them for most of that match!

ST: It was sad to see you lose, but it was against a uni that are allowed 4 teams for one University – that can’t be fair! So when it comes to going out, where do you prefer – Jesters or Sobar?

Matt:   How dare you.

Richard: No comment!

David: Sobar (I haven’t actually been to Jesters, ever…).

Bob:  I’ve only been to Sobar once and have had a few fun nights in Jesters, so I’ll go with the latter.  I prefer the Hobbit though.

ST: Teamwork time! We thought you’d be grateful for some fun questions as a break from the notoriously gruelling brain-busters you face on the show. Specialist subject: MODERN SLANG. What do the following colloquial acronyms stand for? No Google-ing!

Bob: Matt and David got these, I’m rubbish at them!

– HMU             Hit me up

-LMAO            Laughing my ass off

-BYOB             Bring your own bottle

-BNOC            Big name on campus?

-FTW               For the win

-LOBNH         Lights on but nobody’s home

-ROFL             Rolling on the floor laughing

-TFC (hint: sarcastic.).   Thanks for coming/contributing.

ST: It’s ‘coming’ – we’ll give you that one. Nice one, you scored 8/8! Thanks a lot guys! 

You can catch the team on University Challenge tonight on BBC2 at 8pm, Monday 10th March. The Bridge Bar on campus will be screening the episode. 

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  • Fancy Pants

    Did Richard mention he saves lives enough times?