St John’s college lost the University Challenge final 215-30 on Monday evening, after an incredible performance from Peterhouse College, Cambridge brought an end to their impressive run. Having beaten a long list of contenders, including Bristol, Liverpool, and other Cambridge colleges on their way to the final, St John’s faced Peterhouse for the second time. Having very narrowly lost the ﬁrst meeting between the two colleges in the quarterﬁnals, St John’s seemed to have a fair chance to win. However, an impressive display from the Peterhouse team left St John’s and their captain Angus Russell playing catch up very quickly.
A few good answers from theology student Charles Clegg on the Fairy Queen and Shostakovich as the ﬁnal drew to a close ensured that St John’s were not shut out completely. Historians Alex Harries and Angus Russell, and chemist Dan Sowood were unable to build on their performances earlier on in the season. Instead, Peterhouse’s team of three historians and a geologist were able to dominate the ﬁnal, with geologist Oscar Powell and captain Hannah Woods putting in particularly strong results.
St John’s now have the unfortunate record of being the institution to reach the ﬁnal the most times without winning in the Paxman era. This is their third time taking part in the ﬁnal, having lost to Imperial College London in 2001 and to Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 2010.
Captain Charles Clegg , discussing the diﬀerence in the two encounters between St John’s and Peterhouse, told Cherwell, “We were oﬀ form and Peterhouse – a strong team in any case – were very much on form. In a way, it’s reassuring to know that we could never have won that match on that set of questions.”
The trophy was presented to Peter house captain Woods by Marcus de Sautoy, the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a fellow at New College. He called the ﬁnal a “phenomenal performance” and a “well-deserved” win for Peterhouse.
As with the rest of the series, almost all of St John’s, including Clegg, Sowood, and Harries, packed the TV room to watch the ﬁnal questions together, with one John’s ﬁrst year student describing it as taking place in a “good atmosphere” despite the defeat. Both teams ventured to the bar together following the ﬁnal. As one Merton student who was present said, “They lost by an arm and a Clegg – if it had happened to me, Sowood I.”
The reception of the results at Peterhouse was more jubilant, with students overﬂowing into the bar to watch the ﬁnal, and free drinks for the team all night. Julian Sutcliﬀe, an historian on the Peterhouse team, was overjoyed and told Cherwell, “It was only really at the end when I was convinced we’d won it and it didn’t feel real.”
Clegg also said, “I have been recognised quite a few times – which never fails to make me smile – and the team have been sent some lovely letters of support by St John’s alumni. I’m sorry St John’s didn’t bring the trophy back to Oxford this year, especially as it’s on the wrong side of the Fens.”