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Online virality, friendship and niche interests: Max Zeng and the Imperial College team on life after the college challenge


With each episode lasting just 30 minutes, viewers were only able to see snippets of the team’s personalities. But that hasn’t stopped online commentators from posting “pretty negative comments,” Gilbert shared during a Zoom call with CNA.

The 21-year-old, who is pursuing an integrated master’s degree in chemistry, noted that many of these online comments were directed at him and team captain Michael, and Michael’s perceived habit of generally turning away from Max. and Fatima to discuss possible answers to a question.

“I found it hilarious because those comments were obviously untrue,” Gilbert said.

“Because Michael always turned to me when you saw him on camera, I feel like people didn’t realize we all had assigned specialties. And if there’s a question about science or music, of course Michael will turn to me; with lots of bonus questions you get lots of complex science (questions).

Gilbert pointed out that if Michael always turned to him and neglected his teammates as the commentators said, then they wouldn’t have gotten as high scores as they did.

“We knew it was always a team effort and we did well as a team. And I think people never really saw that, until we had to go out and tell people that we’re actually really good friends, and we really like each other,” he said. .

Several commentators also suggested Gilbert didn’t weigh in, Fatima added in a separate chat with CNA.

“Michael and I are very angry when people say Gilbert is some kind of dead weight. It gets on my nerves; it really pisses me off. People will just be blatantly rude and say things like that. Why do you think it’s okay to insult a teammate to your face?” said the 24-year-old master’s student in science communication.

“Because we know how brilliant Gilbert is, and he has some great moments. But unfortunately, since it’s only six episodes of a very chaotic (subject) cast, the questions don’t always go into its meaning.

Acknowledging people who overlooked his contributions, Gilbert said the team was “fairly equal” and everyone’s contributions were “equally valid” in helping them win the competition.

“(These commentators) don’t really know who you are as a person. They just know what you do on the show. And a lot of people tend to read into things that just don’t exist, or to think that they’re experts in a lot of things, which is really weird. But I guess it’s just kind of a weird dark space of Twitter, the social media you get,” he said. .

On the other hand, Fatima and Michael received comments that the latter was being racist and misogynistic towards her – as it seemed he hadn’t looked up to her as much as he had consulted with Gilbert sitting to her left.

“It wasn’t fun (reading the reviews) after the first night. … Any sort of allegations of misogyny or racism are slightly wild. I think you can reasonably argue that I was rude, but not that it was based on race or gender,” said Michael, 25, a PhD student in computational fluid dynamics.

Fatima added that she would tell someone if they were sexist or racist so Michael would have noticed. But she never had to do that.

“People assume I’m some kind of victim. And I’m like, no. People don’t realize they’re so racist and sexist assuming I didn’t have my own agency and wouldn’t speak up if there was something I didn’t like,” she said. .

Fatima also remarked that people seemed to assume the episodes were “more live than they (were)” based on their reviews.

“They’ll assume we heard the comments between episodes, even though we filmed it all in October of last year. They’ll be like, ‘Oh, the sheriff found his voice.’ And I’m like, ‘I never lost it.’ ”

After the four of them made such comments via a live stream on the All Things Quiz YouTube channel Halfway through the University Challenge season, subsequent online reactions “greatly improved” when people realized they were really good friends, Gilbert said.