23 February 2009

Smartest quiz show contestant ever?

Tomorrow Gail Trimble, captain of the Corpus Christi College, Oxford, team is set to confirm her status as the greatest University Challenge contestant ever.

If form is any guide, when Corpus Christi take on Manchester University in the final, Trimble, 26, will wipe the floor with them, ruthlessly amassing starters-for-10 and cowing the competition with what one contestant described as a form of "intellectual blitzkrieg".

In the Oxford college's run to the final, Trimble has scored more points than her three team-mates combined. In their semi-final, Corpus Christi defeated St John's College, Cambridge, 260-150. Trimble's personal haul was 185. In the quarter-finals, Trimble racked up a record 15 starters-for-10 as Corpus Christi raced to 350 points. Opponents Exeter University limped to 15 points, the equivalent of one correct starter and bonus. It was the lowest score since 1971 and only five points more than the worst of all time.

I've always appreciated and enjoyed quiz bowls, college bowls, "Mastermind" etc, so the story intrigues me. This young woman clearly has unparalleled intellectual skills, but what she seems to lack is an appreciation of social signals. In any sport (competitive knowledge programs included), if one's team has an unassailable lead, common courtesy dictates that one doesn't continue pressing the advantage; or at the least, one allows one's teammates to participate.

I wonder if she has Asperger syndrome or some other autism variant that prompts her to be insensitive to her situation in a competitive setting.


  1. Not that I am interested in sports, but...isn't pulling back during an intellectual contest sort of like signaling that you aren't that smart? It's not just beating the other team in these types of contests, its getting a high score, right? Or am I just a dunderhead? I can see how pulling back in a game of basketball could be considered "honorable". Or in baseball, or any other "physical" sport. But do they "pull back" in chess tournaments?

  2. Teddy Nadler in his day or Ken Jennings might have a claim to the smartest quiz show contestant ever--although smarts and quiz show knowledge may be far from congruent.

  3. I don't think I would doubt her social skill stability because she does not sandbag in a way that hails from physical sports...

  4. Seriously, would you even have considered social skills if she'd have been a guy?

  5. Apparently I should take a moment to clarify what it was I was trying to say.

    In competitive team sports, pulling back or not pressing one's lead is a common courtesy. Some of you may have seen a recent news item where a girls basketball team in Texas won a game 100-0 and not only were roundly criticized for doing so, but have offered to forfeit the game.

    In pro or college football, if your team is up 42-7 in the closing moment of the fourth quarter and the coach sends a receiver on a deep route and throws a long pass, he would be severely chastised.

    With unassailable leads, teams revert to conservative plays or bring in secondary players.

    Note that this quiz bowl was a done in a team format. Even if one player dominates, he/she should exibit courtesy towards teammates even if they don't do so toward the opponent. When I was at KY, if a basketball point guard had come down the court well ahead in a game and repeatedly fired up 3s without passing to teammates - even if he made every one - Rick Pitino or Tubby Smith would have yanked him and talked about team respect.

    For intellectual competitions chess was offered as a comparison. When I play chess, if I'm up by a queen and three pieces, I don't go around the board scooping up all the other pieces and pawns trying to reduce the opponent to a solo king; courtesy calls for going for the checkmate under those circumstances.

    On Jeopardy you can often see at the start of the Double Jeopardy round that two players way in front will wait and give the laggard player the opportunity to ring in first on the first question. I saw Ken Jennings many times during his historic run; he was gracious when he had insurmountable leads.

    Her brilliance is suggestive of (but not diagnostic of) Aspergers syndrome. Those fortunate people, and savants, often have - lets say "different" rather than "worse" so as not to be judgmental - social skills.

    Her sex or gender I would consider to be totally irrelevant (although "if she'd have been a guy" I probably would have been less polite than for this lady and called him a bozo for hogging the spotlight.)

  6. I'm not sure if you've ever watched an episode of University Challenge - there are few situations in which giving a teammate an opportunity to answer doesn't equal losing time or giving the opposing team the same opportunity. There have been more occasions where teams won by margins of 300+ points, and no questions arose as to the social skills of the contestants. It is not a UK tradition to make the other team feel good - losing is a part of life.

    "Hogging the spotlight" is the way to win University Challenge, and that's what she did. Call her a bozo if you must, but don't assume she has a psychiatric disorder just because she's competitive.

  7. I think we all know where you are coming from, but it does not always apply.

    Let's call these "lazy" sports. Ones where you have an oppurtunity to pull back the throttle and coast to the end. Basketball, football, and others.

    There is another category which we could call "jugular" sports. You can't or don't "let off" at the end. The Mayan soccer-like game where the losers die comes to mind. In baseball you can't start lofting softball pitches right down the middle no matter how far ahead you are in the bottom of the ninth. And what you described in chess sounds like going for the jugular... finish it off. And I can't imagine letting an opposing fencer get in a few jabs to prevent a shutout!!

    So a mental prowess game could very likely fall under a don't let them come back unless you want to risk defeat and/or lose an edge type of scenario. I would want my mental skills to be in top gear the entire way through the game, because each one you get right helps hone your skills and improve your memory transfer functions!

  8. Speaking of college football, there are at least FOUR good reasons to run up the score...

    First, it can be insulting to another team when, the win clearly in the bag, you start purposely holding back. If it is discerned that that is happening, it makes a loss that much worse--e.g., "Yep, they beat us 70-6, but fortunately they didn't all they could have done." That pleases no one, I imagine. (On an associated note, there are teams that have 4-star recruits riding the bench...in fact, they may have 4-star recruits way down the bench. And so, even when they take their foot off the accelerator and start playing with non-starters, they still wind up getting points and making the other team look really bad.)

    Second, back when a formula was used to determine which teams would play for the championship, if, say, 'Bama won by only 20 over some minor team, it was looked on (or at least it was perceived that it was looked on) as showing that 'Bama wasn't quite as strong as thought...which could cost them a trip to the championship. So it kind of became important to basically tear the losing team to pieces in order to look good in the formula.

    Third, rivalries always go for the jugular. For one thing, even if the teams are ranked first and thirtieth, a rivalry always tends to bring out the best in two teams, so it is NEVER assumed that this or that many points is "enough." Further, being rivals, they not only run up the score (if they can) to ensure a win, but to ensure some degree of humiliation, I suppose.

    Bobby Bowden in his book, "50 Years of Leadership Wisdom," spoke of some game where his team was totally dominating the other team. Thinking that he had a safe margin, Bowden began playing it safe. The other team came back and WON! Bowden said he wondered if he would get out of the stadium alive due to all the disgruntled fans. He didn't make that mistake again.

    Lastly, it psychological warfare. Especially in rivalry games. You would think that running up the score might make is such that next year, the losers come back spitting fire, inspired to win. But in some cases, what happens is that the other team (or, really, the other coach) comes back trying too hard, being too careful not to blow it this time, or just intimidated. (One reason that Bowden had such trouble with Clemson was that his son was coaching there...and didn't get intimidated by playing the most powerful football team in America--at the time.)

    I don't know if that plays on the quiz games, but it just might!


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