UCL reaches University Challenge final in bid to win first-ever title

A photo of the team sat in the University Challenge studio behind their name shi
A photo of the team sat in the University Challenge studio behind their name shields - (1) UCL’s 2023-24 team at the top of the article: BBC

UCL will compete in the final of University Challenge this evening for the third time in its history as the team of four students looks to overcome Imperial College London to secure a first-ever competition victory.

The prestigious academic quiz show is in its 53rd series, with UCL reaching the final twice before in 2004-05 and 2012-13, falling just short on both occasions. Quizmaster Amol Rajan will present the programme tonight at 20:30 on BBC Two, having taken over from Jeremy Paxman who in 2023 bowed out from a 29-year stint as host.

UCL’s team consists of four talented individuals : team captain Tayana Sawh (fourth-year Medicine), James Hall (second-year Law), Ali Izzatdust (History MA), and Jacob Finlay (Master’s in Public Administration MPA). 

Each member brings a unique skillset and knowledge base that has helped them prevail over the likes of Manchester University, who beat UCL in the 2012-13 final, Hertford College of Oxford, and both Trinity and King’s College at Cambridge. This year, the team earned a spot in the final via the shortest route possible, boasting an average game score of 195 points.

In the quarter-final showdown with Trinity, UCL pulled off a remarkable comeback to clinch a 15-point victory despite trailing -10 to 95 at the halfway point. Amol Rajan described UCL’s performance as "one of the most impressive ever seen on the show".

The semi-final against Manchester also proved to be a tense affair with both teams tied on 155 in the closing stages, but a UCL team inspired by Ali Izzatdust’s knowledge of mythical Greek figures featured in George Handel operas managed to open up a 45-point lead by the time the gong was struck.

This year’s final is a hotly contested London derby between UCL and its neighbour Imperial, which has the joint highest number of competition wins with four, alongside Manchester and Oxford’s Magdalen College. A win tonight would give Imperial the title of the most successful team in the programme’s history, for a year at least. 

Speaking to UCL student journalist Caroline Coyer last week , Jacob Finlay offered insight into how the UCL team dynamic works: "When you watch us, especially during our discussions, you’ll notice our unique dynamic. Often, if Ali speaks up, it’s because he’s confident in his answer, and we’ll all let Tayana take heed, understanding the strength of our team lies in recognising when to listen and when to contribute.

"Sometimes, we’re all guessing, acknowledging that none of us has all the answers. Our approach isn’t about ego; it’s about collaboration."

Team captain Tayana Sawh added: "Our community’s support means everything to us. It’s incredibly motivating to know that we have the backing of our peers!"

UCL students can watch the final live at the Institute Bar at the Ioe, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, which is hosting a watch-along party. Coverage begins at 20:30.

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