The team take on Imperial College in the famous quiz programme which will look a little different to normal

Exeter will be one of two teams to take part in the first episode of COVID-secure University Challenge, which will air tonight on television.

The University of Exeter take on Imperial College in the legendary BBC Two programme, famously hosted by Jeremy Paxman.

Producers rejected the idea of hosting it remotely using Zoom, meaning that the contest will still take place in the Salford recording studios.

However, this means a number of changes have been implemented to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

The players will still sit in rows of four, but will be separated by perspex screens. They will also have monitors for picture rounds and earpieces to hear each other when conferring.

To say this has been the biggest challenge in University Challenge’s 50-series history would be an understatement. I can’t think of anything comparable,” Peter Gwyn, executive producer of the BBC Two series, told inews.

Earpieces are particularly necessary during the music rounds when they need to hear each other over Rachmaninov blaring away. We test the sound levels before recording, playing raucous music to makes sure they can hear each over the top.

The current season began filming in early 2020 before the spread of COVID-19 led to a nation-wide lockdown.

However, due to the difficulty of some overseas players returning, some teams have had to use their reserve member.

The rule stating that a player cannot take part if filming clashes with their exams has also been relaxed.

How do you get a TV set out of storage and put it in a studio when it consists of very heavy, cumbersome lumps of architecture, when you don’t want your studio operatives working too closely together?” asks Gwyn.

We divided the whole process into 15-minute intervals to work out exactly what each person would be doing.

We thought a Zoom version would have been difficult to watch with so many people on screen and it could collapse at any time if someone’s internet connection went down.

Even the students taking part have been given individual travel timetables to ensure they don’t meet on their trip to the studios.

Even Jeremy Paxman and announcer Roger Tilling are subject to strict protocols to ensure they are not exposed to any potential coronavirus risk.

Episodes – including the traditional Christmas celebrity specials – will continue shooting until the end of the year, with a final block, taking the competition from quarter-finals to winner, due to conclude in early 2021.

However, with the threat of stringent lockdown measures hanging over Manchester, there could yet be a spanner in the works.

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“The trophy will have to be sanitised thoroughly before it can be passed down the line by the team captain,” Gwyn says.

We’re already planning to start recording the next series in February. It seems a lifetime away but hopefully we just go on and on and on.


Exeter, University Challenge

World news – GB – Exeter to feature in first COVID-secure University Challenge show

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