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Canadian economist Eric Monkman came up short in his bid to lead Cambridge University’s Wolfson College to victory in Britain’s popular TV game show University Challenge. (BBC)
Canadian economist Eric Monkman came up short in his bid to lead Cambridge University’s Wolfson College to victory in Britain’s popular TV game show University Challenge. (BBC)

Canadian Eric Monkman’s Cambridge team comes up short on British trivia show Add to ...

Canadian economist Eric Monkman came up short in his bid to lead Cambridge University’s Wolfson College to victory in Britain’s popular TV game show University Challenge.

Mr. Monkman, 29, had become the star of the show with his razor-sharp intellect, wide range of facial scowls and boisterous enthusiasm. He captained Wolfson’s four-member team to the finals, taking the college further than it had ever gone in a competition that is watched by more than three million people every week on British television.

Wolfson faced off against a team from Oxford University’s Balliol College in the final, which was aired Monday night by the British Broadcasting Corp. Balliol won 190 to 140, pulling away in the last 10 minutes after Wolfson took an early lead on the strength of Mr. Monkman’s rapid-fire answers. The match was testy at times and Mr. Monkman was even chastised by the host, Jeremy Paxman. “That was a completely useless answer,” Mr. Paxman snapped after Mr. Monkman guessed at a question. Mr. Monkman smiled and nodded in agreement.

The final generated a huge following online. Twitter lit up with “Monkmania” and The Daily Telegraph offered a live blog, commenting on nearly every question and telling readers at one point that the competition was “swinging like a particularly perspicacious pendulum.”

More than 200 Wolfson students gathered in the college’s lounge to watch the final on a big-screen television. They cheered every correct Wolfson answer and booed loudly whenever Balliol scored a point.

The final had been taped several months ago and Mr. Monkman, who is from Oakville, Ont., has been back in Canada since last summer after he finished a Masters degree in economics (team members were sworn to secrecy about the show). However, two other team members, Justin Yang and Ben Chaudhri, joined the crowd in Cambridge and got a standing ovation when the show ended.

“It’s been incredible,” said Mr. Yang, 27, who is from Vancouver and is pursuing a doctorate in public health and primary care. “None of us expected to make it past the first round.”

Mr. Yang said he’d never heard of University Challenge before coming to Cambridge and he joined the team mainly because he’d played Reach for the Top, a similarly styled trivia game, while in high school. Even now, few people from home seem to know about his new-found celebrity status in Britain. “My parents know about it but even they’re not that excited to be honest,” he said.

University Challenge “is a British national institution,” said Mr. Chaudhri, who is from Cockermouth, England, and is a third-year undergraduate studying physics. “It’s sort of amazing how big a thing in the U.K. it is.”

The success of the team has been a boost to Wolfson, an often overlooked college at Cambridge. The college has about 800 students, most of whom are in postgraduate programs. It’s only 52-years-old, making it by far one of the youngest and least well known colleges at the 800-year old university. And since Cambridge’s 31 colleges are responsible for a good part of their own funding, the success on University Challenge has helped with fundraising, said college president Sir Richard Evans. Sir Richard noted that Wolfson had only made it to the final round of 28 teams once before, in 2004.

On Monday, he raised a toast to the team and told the crowd: “This has done more for Wolfson’s reputation than anything else that’s happened in our history.”

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