Paxman accused of University Challenge bias

Viewers of the BBC game show University Challenge have accused host Jeremy Paxman of bias towards Cambridge teams. He studied English at the university as an undergraduate at St Catharine’s College.

Elizabeth and Peter Leonard, writing on the BBC Messageboard, stated that they “were disgusted by the blatant favoritism shown by Jeremy Paxman to Homerton College Cambridge.” Their comment continued with the observation that “he sounded delighted when they were the ones to answer and, although hurrying up the Durham side, gave Homerton much more time to answer. When we checked his details we found that he had also attended a Cambridge college and feel that this may have influenced him.”

Another user of the BBC Messageboard, “MsA”, said that “I started noticing an apparent and occasional bias when, about two years ago, a non-Oxbridge University won and Jeremy Paxman looked quite glum at the end, and his comments to the winning side seemed to begrudge them their win.” The user stated, however, that the bias “is subtle and occasional. It’s in no way blatant.”

The Daily Mail reported on the concerns expressed by the viewers in an article of the 10th November, revealing that “the claims come after Homerton was the subject of a row earlier in the series when it was suggested the college was cheated out of victory by Paxman who had said its students wrongly identified a flag during a picture round. Experts had claimed Homerton student Thomas Grinyer had in fact given the correct answer.”

When asked to comment on these specific allegations, the BBC Press Office told Cherwell that  “Jeremy shows no bias towards any of the colleges on University Challenge. Homerton were the winning team in a close match against Durham and Jeremy congratulated them accordingly and was equally as gracious to the Durham team.”

Kyle Haddad-Fonda, a member of the Magdalen team who won University Challenge in 2011, said that “it’s astounding to me how much the British media enjoys inventing scandals where none exist – and even more astounding to me that people in this country get so worked up over University Challenge, a show that really shouldn’t be controversial in any way.”

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He went on to say that “in the seven games I played on University Challenge, I found Mr Paxman to be consistently fair to us and to our opponents.  In my (admittedly limited) interactions with him in the green room after our games, he was extremely nice to everybody and always equally excited to talk to both the winners and the losers, no matter what institution they represented.”

Robin McGhee, captain of the St Anne’s team which was defeated by Pembroke College, Cambridge earlier this series, said: “It is clear to the merest intelligence that Paxman doesn’t actually favour Cambridge colleges. The exception, of course, was in our game, where victory was snatched from our worthy grasp by his outrageous tendency to award them more points than us for getting more questions right.”

Fellow team member Kieran Hunt said that “I would say that having watched the television replay of the encounter, anyone would fairly conclude that there was no evidence of bias towards Cambridge. If anything, his acceleration during the catch-up near the end would demonstrate his interest in a good competition far outweighs any “misplaced loyalty.”

A second year modern languages student however, reflected that “when I’ve seen episodes in which an Oxford team has gone head to head against a Cambridge college, it’s clear that Paxman gets more excited when the Cambridge team starts to make a comeback.”