Auckland team wins University Challenge

01 March 2016
University of Auckland's winning University Challenge team (from left) David Parfitt, Sana Oshika, Lucy Harrison, Alistair Kendrick and Hemanth Nair.
University of Auckland's winning team (from left) David Parfitt, Sana Oshika, Lucy Harrison, Alistair Kendrick and Hemanth Nair.

Your starter for ten: which team won University Challenge last Saturday?

If you answered the University of Auckland, you would be correct.

The Auckland team, comprised of students from the Faculties of Arts, Science and Law, beat defending champions the University of Canterbury 345 points to 95 points.

The team of Alistair Kendrick (Captain), Hemanth Nair, Sana Oshika, David Parfitt and reserve Lucy Harrison practised for the famous TV quiz in a way suitable for students. They went to the pub and entered pub quizzes.

“We usually did pretty well at the pub quizzes,” Alistair says.

“We won most of the time and sometimes got second, from memory.”

Team coach Dr Lindsay Diggelmann, a Senior Lecturer in History in the Faculty of Arts, was in Auckland’s victorious University Challenge team in 1985, the first time an Auckland team won the competition.

Lindsay said this year’s team selection process started as far back as May 2015 and involved an initial written general knowledge test open to any interested students. The top eight place-getters then went through to a final trial conducted in a simulated game-show format complete with buzzers.

“This was intended to test not just how much the contestants knew, but how quickly they could buzz in with the correct answer,” Lindsay says.

“Although in the end the show comes down to whether individual players know the answer or not, there is an element of team work, especially in the ‘bonus’ questions where team members may confer on the answers.”

“Creating a team with a wide range of areas of expertise was an important consideration for the selectors. Questions in the training sessions focused as far as possible on topics that were likely to come up on the show.”

Lindsay and the rest of the selection panel (Marie-Jo Wilson, Campus Life; Jessica Storey, AUSA) then chose the final squad of five. Filming for the series took place over one very intense week in Wellington during August 2015.

The team had to get used to any stage fright quickly.

“The cameras made me feel really nervous, and it's probably the most stressed I've ever been,” Sana says.

“On the plus side, I had a great story for when I got asked at a job interview ‘Tell me about a time you've been under pressure.’”

Alistair says that despite the nerves, the filming week was fun.

“We got to know all the other contestants pretty well over the week because we were all in the studio all day and we were all in the same hotel. In the evenings we'd all hang out in the hotel bar and have a good time. A lot of us have become pretty good friends.”

The team had to keep their success a secret since the August filming.

“I was on the 2014 team that lost to Canterbury in the final, so winning this time was particularly satisfying,” Alistair says.

“It's just a huge relief to be able to talk to people about it now. It's cool to be able to say that I've won a quiz show, and to be able to share that experience with the team,” Sana says.

The enormously popular quiz show from the 1970s and 1980s was revived in 2014.

In the first series of its latest incarnation, the University of Canterbury defeated the University of Auckland in the final to take out the title in early 2015.