A Magdalen student, Matthew Chan, has become the latest University Challenge ‘celebrity’ after his team’s demolition of Durham in the first round of this year’s competition.
Under Chan’s captaincy, the Magdalen team amassed an impressive 340 points, but it was his personal allure more than his sharp mind that spurred Chan, 21, into the elite group of contestants with a Facebook page created in their honour.
According to the description of the page, ‘Matthew Chan: phwoar’, its hero “won [the] hearts” of those who watched.
One fan credited him with having “made University Challenge suitable for 20 year-old girls” while another was sufficiently moved to declare, “I wanna have his baaabies, get serious like crazy”.
Unfortunately for this devotee, Chan is not interested. He said, “Hopefully [she] hasn’t found out my address”.
His attitude may have something to do with the fact that the sentiment expressed by his infatuated follower is not unusual. As Will Wright, Chan’s proud college son, explains, “he’s a sexy man.”
Nevertheless, Chan has not been showered with purely positive comments.
“For the first time ever I want to kill every single contestant on University Challenge. Last to go is Chan – I’d take pleasure in his death,” was one view expressed on Twitter.
Such attention, a phenomenon that peaked in 2009 with “genius” Oxford contestant Gail Trimble, is not something that Chan takes personally, although he does find it “bizarre”.
“It’s not like knowing that Baron Rees of Ludlow is the Astronomer Royal, or that JPL stands for Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or that there’s a geographical effect called Coriolis, has any particular moral value attached to it, good or bad. It’s just knowledge”, he said.
While Chan is not particularly entertained by the tweeter who expressed such interest in killing him, he does enjoy some insults, finding them, “genuinely amusing”.
Moreover, they could even fulfil a social, and potentially a profit-making, function. “It’s nice that University Challenge offers people the opportunity to work out some of their anger. We should charge”, he said.
Such grand schemes are perhaps a long way off. At the time of writing, ‘Matthew Chan: phwoar’ has 115 members and is largely dominated by Magdalen students. This pales in comparison to the followings of previous contestants Alexander Guttenplan or Gail Trimble, who had thousands of supporters on Facebook as well as numerous articles in the national press devoted to them.
Whether Chan can scale such peaks will depend largely on how he and Magdalen progress in the tournament. It is, as Chan is keen to point out, “far too early to tell” if they can ultimately be successful, although they have already made quite an impression.
The ‘Life After Mastermind’ blog, which, reporting on the show, focused more on the contestants’ performance than appearance, lauded the “breathtaking” performance of the whole team, also consisting of James McComish, Kyle Haddad-Fonda and Will Cudmore.
Perhaps a place in the stars awaits Matthew Chan. For now, he hopes, “maybe people will recognise me in the street, ask me to hold their hand, kiss their mouth, write their essays, that kind of thing. Maybe not, though.”