Hong Kong duo help propel London college to record-breaking triumph in UK’s ‘toughest team quiz’ University Challenge

Hong Kong duo help propel London college to record-breaking triumph in UK’s ‘toughest team quiz’ University Challenge

How many Hongkongers could say who the daughter of the 12th-century King Sancho VI of Navarre was? Which landlocked African country speaks Bambara? Or what mineral when melted is used as a solvent for bauxite to produce aluminium?*

These were just some of the head-scratching questions the city’s Justin Lee Cheuk-wah and Adam Jones Yung-jian answered that led to their college’s victory for a record-breaking fifth time in the 62-year-old British quiz show University Challenge.

Dubbed “TV’s toughest quiz team tournament” by the BBC, the duo’s team from Imperial College London came out on top against 27 other British universities to propel the institution to triumph.

“It was a fun experience,” Lee, who is studying chemistry, told the Post after the four-person team beat University College London in the final.

“I never thought I would actually win until we went to the quarter-finals.”

Jones added: “A lot of my friends and family were very proud and that’s nice.”

(From left) Lee and Jones confer with team captain Suraiya Haddad and Sourajit Debnath on University Challenge. Photo: BBC

University Challenge first aired in 1962, but took a break between 1987 and 1994, and has notched up 53 seasons.

Lee and Jones, both 22, were born and raised in Hong Kong before they moved to the UK – Lee when he was 17 and Jones at 14 to attend boarding school.

The two maintain close ties to Hong Kong and have very different perspectives on what it was like to grow up in the city.

Lee said “Hong Kong was quite a tough place to grow up in”.

He was brought up in Hung Hom and educated at La Salle Primary School in Kowloon City, followed by La Salle College, where he first took up quizzes.

Lee admitted it was a struggle to juggle academic pressure with a variety of extracurricular activities. But he said his schooling contributed to his eventual success on University Challenge.

“I owe a lot of my knowledge to [La Salle], and I made a lot of friends there,” he said.

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But he added he got some relief from the pressure of work after his family moved to Brighton, on the south coast of England.

Jones, who grew up in Central and went to the Chinese International School, painted a rosier picture of academic life in Hong Kong. Jones, who is studying computing, said he believed an international school brought with it a less “draconian” approach to academic study.

“I was having fun. I was carefree,” he added.

The pair are both taking integrated master’s programmes at Imperial College London and neither of them knew about University Challenge before they moved to the UK.

The two excelled in the tense beat-the-buzzer rounds of the game, which pits two teams of four students against each other.

Each round begins with a “starter for 10”, the first question worth 10 points. The team that answers correctly gets three related bonus questions worth five points each.

The Imperial team early in the final answered eight starter questions in a row correctly, giving them a commanding start that would see them notch up a convincing 285-120 win.

Lee answered a trio of questions about historical sackings of Rome in the bonus question rounds, and Jones jumped in on those related to art and literature in the final, held earlier this month.

Justin Lee of the Imperial College London University Challenge team in his trademark lucky hoodie. Photo: BBC

The two, at times, answered correctly before the announcer even had time to finish asking the questions.

They said the keys to their success were persistence and having an interest in the subjects, as well as the backing of a strong team willing to spend time together to get prepared.

Jones, Lee, and their teammates watched reruns of episodes of the show and tried to outperform previous seasons’ winners.

Their team also boasted a wide range of interests. Jones is a keen reader and committee member of the Imperial book club.

Lee added he had an interest in history and read Wikipedia articles for fun in his spare time.

“A commonality with people who do well is they are genuinely interested in certain subjects,” Jones said. “If you’re really interested in something, it’s not at all a chore to be learning about that thing.”

They also had help from a few lucky charms and mascots.

After they won their first few games with Lee wearing a hoodie, it became his signature look in the hope the team would continue its winning streak.

Lee also provided the team’s mascot, a stuffed otter named Carole, which became an online hit because of its regular changes of wardrobe.

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Before each match, their team’s reserve member would hold Carole up, which would give each a “kiss” on the forehead for luck.

Jones was commended for his calm demeanour in the spotlight online – but he admitted he was actually very nervous.

“Before our first episode I had a nosebleed,” Jones said. “The nurse had to come and check my blood pressure and she said I had the blood pressure of a 50-year-old man.”

The pair both said their best memory from the season was one weekend when they had a day off to hang around in Manchester, near where the series is filmed, in between shoots.

They added they had enjoyed the experience, despite the stress of competition.

“I think a lot of the fun wasn’t necessarily just winning, but the whole process was very enjoyable,” Jones said.

The two will now not be allowed to appear on the show again under its rules, but Lee and Jones said they would now be able to focus on their studies again.

They added they would encourage others to follow in their footsteps and that it was important to stay motivated and to continue learning every day.

“If you want to do this, it’s entirely possible,” Jones told other students. “Just stay persistent.”

Lee added: “Knowing more things shouldn’t be a source of shame. The desire to know more about the world and yourself is always a good thing and should be encouraged.”

* The answers in order: Berengaria, who married English King Richard the Lionheart and became Queen of England. Mali. Cryolite.



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