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UEL students get ready for University Challenge TV debut

Quartet take on the University of Glasgow in first-round match

By Simon Hart

Four University of East London students will make history on Monday night [Oct 10] when they become the first UEL team to appear on the hit BBC 2 quiz show University Challenge.

The brainy quartet will take on a team from the University of Glasgow in a first-round encounter, with Jeremy Paxman (centre) asking the questions.

The team is captained by Jerushah Jardine (second from right), who is studying for a PhD in Peatland Ecology. 

The other team members are Master’s of Research student Kelly Travers (second from left), MSc Civil Engineering student Christopher Ducklin (left) and Rachel Evans (right), an English Literature undergraduate. 

UEL was one of 28 teams selected for the 2016-17 series out of 130 universities who applied.

The 28 qualifiers included six Cambridge and five Oxford colleges. UEL was the only post-1992 university to make it through.

They were chosen after negotiating a tough audition at London’s South Bank Studios which included a 40-question general knowledge test and a team interview. 

Jerushah, who lives just outside Rochester, Kent, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of her husband, Peter, who was a member of the Dundee University team that won University Challenge in 1983.

She said she and her team-mates had been doing plenty of mugging up before their first-round match to try to plug any gaps in knowledge.

“I’m really positive and optimistic,” said Jerushah. “We’ve achieved our first goal, which was to become the first UEL team to be on the show. We’d really like to be the first ‘new university’ team to win the show but we’ll just have to wait and see. 

“We’ve found out a few areas that we’re not too sure about and we’ve focused on those. For example, none of us is particularly competent at classical music so we’ve divided the subject up. I’m doing European composers, Chris is doing British, Kelly’s doing American and Rachel is doing opera.”

Rachel, a mother-of-three from Thurrock, Essex, who only began her English degree at UEL in September 2015, said making it through to the TV show was “really, really brilliant”.

She said, “My reaction when I found out was a mixture of shock, elation and then absolute panic. I thought, ‘What have we let ourselves in for?’ But the way I’m looking at it now, it’s ‘just go with it’. 

“It’s going to be an experience. It’s going to be fun. And there’s no reason why we can’t be quite successful. We watch the show religiously as a family and it’s always about trying to beat the family score from the previous week.”

Kelly, from Westcliffe-on-sea, Essex, said, “We’re aware that we’re the first UEL team to qualify, and we’re very proud of that. 

“I’m a business subject librarian at UEL but also a part-time student in the evening – hence my eligibility for University Challenge. I’ve worked for UEL since 2003 and it’s really nice to do something positive for the University.

“As an employee and a student, I really want to see UEL reflected well in the media.”   

Chris, who lives in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said, “Personally, being the first person in my family to go to university, just making it onto the show is an achievement for my family and also the institution. 

“I think we’ve got a good chance of getting past the first round. It’s not necessarily about the individual but about the team. There’s no pressure if you don’t know a particular answer. You just hope that your team-mates do know.

“We’ve already shown we can be successful by being one of the 28 teams that qualified out of the 130 who applied, so we must have something. Hopefully, we can do ourselves and the University proud.”

All four team members are mature students with an average age of 41, and Jerushah is hoping their broad range of life experiences will give them an advantage.

“Remember Slumdog Millionaire,” she said. “The main character had lots of reasons in his life for knowing the answers to the questions. All of us are mature students. We’ve got life experience behind us, and I think that’s one of our best assets.”