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AppreciationNovember 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Gripping 1988 University Challenge Final

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With the return of University Challenge NZ to Prime this Saturday morning, Alex Casey watches the incredible 1988 final between Canterbury and Waikato. //

toupé or not toupé, that is the question
toupé or not toupé, that is the question (high brow tertiary level shakespeare joke)

Host Peter Sinclair welcomes us to the 1988 final, reflecting on the year that has been. He honestly looks like the perfect combo of Christoph Waltz, a Ken doll and this infamous dog wearing a toupé. “We’ve had fast-moving, high scoring matches. We’ve had some notable contestants.” He then rattles off aforementioned list of notable contestants (mostly just Jim Bolger’s son).

But we aren’t here for the past, we are here here for the present. And, the present is an amazing prize of an Apple Mac computer system, a BNZ duffel bag and an enormous calculator. “I’m sure the prizes will spur on the intelligence of our teams tonight,” Peter Sinclair goads.

surely too old
surely too old

It’s time to meet the contestants, and what a bloody line-up it is. First, over to the Canterbury team. Forget Jim Bolger’s son, these guys are the most notable of all notables. The first contestant of note is an approximately 400 year old Russian man called Lojkine, who describes himself as “interminably doing a BCom and a BSc in language.” His arms? Folded. His face? Really, really grumpy. He actually looks like the Grandpa in that Grandpa’s Assorted Clothing series. Also, I googled the guy – and I think he was a bloody Professor! Can we get a retrospective point of order on that shit please?!

The next contestant I notice is the bright-eyed, high-ponied Captain Wood, who turns out to be none other than today’s prolific writer/twitter personality Jolisa Gracewood. Everything seems to be going really great for this team so far. She holds up their team mascot (a garden gnome that brings more than a passing resemblance to Lojkine) and claims that he will bring them “ignominious defeat.” The audience titters knowingly, I google what she meant.

buttons, who needs em? and other philosophies
buttons, who needs em? and other philosophies

And finally, the Canterbury team’s piece de resistance. Smith, a man with eyes half-closed, long slick hair, and a shirt just unbuttoned enough to see his dangling shark tooth necklace. He went to say what he was studying, and I get to high-five myself when we both utter “philosophy” at exactly the same time. “In reply to a few queries – yes, this my only shirt” he says down the barrel, with the expression of someone finally executing a joke that they have practiced for 6-7 weeks in the mirror. I don’t think he’s joking either. Good to see the philosophy student archetype staying strong throughout the ages. There is no way he is wearing shoes under that table and, if he is – he at least isn’t wearing socks.

planting a feather
planting a feather

I thought I had seen it all before being introduced to Plant, on the opposing Waikato team. At this point I went to wipe a small yet beautifully coloured moth off my computer screen, only to realise that he was actually wearing a feather earring. He turned his head slightly and yep, there it is – a teeny tiny ponytail. He has a large smiley face badge on, and I’m too excited by everything to listen to what he studies. It’s obviously just a Diploma in Being Very Good.

The rest of his team all look the same, so my eye is immediately drawn to their hideous mascot. It’s a terribly grotty troll thing. With not one, but three faces. What are they doing?! Lojkine does not look impressed with their troll antics. Are the Waikato team the original internet trolls without even realising it?


Sinclair starts the questions and I am immediately reminded of the constant hilarious crash zooms on the contestants when they interrupt to answer. Professor Lojkine M.D sits there with his arms remaining firmly folded. He intermittently interrupts, always with the wrong answer. Peter Sinclair asks a question about polar phenomena, and he get our first classic Sharktooth Smitty moment of the evening:

Captain Wood: “it’s refraction”
Peter Sinclair: “Yes but what kind of refraction?”
Sharktooth Smith (butting in): “Atmospheric”
Peter Sinclair: “Yes, but what’s in the atmosphere?”
Sharktooth Smith (exasperated) “Air?!”

Smitty gets a huge laugh from the audience, and I laugh too (despite being pretty satisfied with the ‘air’ answer).

famous jolisa gracewood
Trusty Jolisa Gracewood

Next up is the “play a loud ass noise and guess what it is” round. An deafening engine growl roars through the studio. It sounds like a tractor. “I think it’s a tractor,” Smitty mutters to Captain Wood. “Yeah, sounds pretty rural,” Wood replies. Not content with that calm consensus, Sharktooth Smitty retracts his answer, “oh no, it’s not! It’s a thrashing machine, one for harvesting and that!” Wrong, Smitt. So wrong. You should have listened to Jolisa Gracewood, you’ll be bloody embarrassed when you see how many followers she has on Twitter 26 years from now (3626).

Time for the “close up of an animal’s nose round”. The first one is clearly a cow. “It’s an aadvark or an anteater” Smitty says coolly, smoothing back his hair and letting the breeze cascade upon his now almost completely bare chest. “Pick one” says Sinclair, rightly so. “Well they’re the same.” A) not the same B) it’s obviously a cow. I feel happy for a moment to finally be smarter than these University Wallies regarding animal noses at least.

classic smitty
Classic Smitty Danube blunder

The music round kicks off with Sinclair asking them to name Schumann’s symphony in E flat, which he composed after a trip along the Rhine. Smitty immediately says “Blue Danube” and the audience laughs raucously. I google Danube. I get it, it’s the wrong river. Haha, what an idiot Smitty. Lojkine interrupts again and says something weird and wrong, he loses five more points. A different Smitty (Smyth on the Waikato team) pipes up finally to answer a lyrics question in one breath: “THOSE ARE THE LYRICS TO AN INNOCENT MAN BY BILLY JOEL FROM THE ALBUM OF THE SAME NAME” It’s a great response and great indicator of the cool music of the times. But it’s not enough to save the Waikato team, there is egg on all four of their faces (seven if you count the troll).

the glory
The glory

Canterbury come away with a whopping 205 points and a BNZ duffel bag big enough to fit all of grumpy Lojkine’s troubles in. In a final showdown of the haircuts, Smitty shakes his slicked-back do out like a dog and yells “GOODNIGHT”. Feather-earring Plant, not to be outdone, undoes his tiny ponytail and shakes his head. The hair retains the original ponytail form. Congratulations to you Canterbury, have fun with that old ass computer.

Watch all-new University Challenge at 11.30am Saturday on Prime

Watch real good old episodes on NZ Onscreen here

Keep going!