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SOAS University Challenge team wins nation’s hearts

4 April 2014

SOAS achieved a triumphant success by reaching the semi-finals in the national competition University Challenge, broadcast on BBC Two, this year.

Losing only to the grand finalists, Trinity Cambridge and Somerville Oxford, the SOAS team who faced the notoriously unforgiving quiz show questions consisted of four undergraduates and one Master’s student.  

They team consisted of captain Peter McKean, MA Historical Research Methods, together with James Figueroa, BA African Studies and Development Studies; Luke Vivian-Neale, BA Chinese Studies; Maeve Weber, BA Ancient Near Eastern Studies, with Filippo Gabriele La Verghetta, BA Arabic and Politics as the reserve.

SOAS University Challenge team 2013

SOAS' University Challenge team with quizmaster Jeremy Paxman


Team leader McKean said: “Members of the crew and other teams mentioned that we seemed to have won the hearts of most people, which was very touching and perhaps due to the fact that we are such a small and comparatively unheard of institution.

“In true SOAS style, we were very relaxed in the green room – particularly compared to others - and I think this enabled us to enjoy the experience of being on the show. Our preparation schedule consisted of one hour a week, asking general knowledge questions, using an iPad placed in the middle of a table as our buzzer, followed by drinks in the JCR!"

“There was definitely a strong sense in the team of wanting to do the university proud, and, following the Reading match, we felt that we had a good chance of progressing further in the tournament!”

Figueroa added: “For me personally, this was a close as I would have come to representing SOAS at a sport and it was a privilege to be an ambassador for a place we are all so proud of. I felt a lot of pride in introducing other contestants to SOAS, especially as many hadn't heard of us before.”  

The team also attributes some of its success to Weber’s ‘super brain cake’ which was present during their practice sessions. They also spoke of how friendly and welcoming the ITV team was and that Paxman was “charming”.

To mark the end of their run, Figueroa recalls: “We were the only team to stay for the after filming wrap-up party – true SOAS style  –  and half way through a conversation, Jeremy Paxman handed me a bottle of champagne and said: "do something useful and open this!".”

Director of SOAS Professor Paul Webley said: “A huge congratulations to the team for doing so well, the SOAS community was behind them every step of the way! We’re very proud of their spectacular performance and achievement in reaching the semi-finals.”

Quizmaster Paxman praised the team’s “very impressive performance”.

With average viewing figures of around three to four million on University Challenge, the SOAS team has certainly made its mark among the academic community – we may be small but we certainly pack an academic punch!