LONDON (Reuters) - She’s being hailed as Britain’s cleverest student, a shy, bespectacled and amazingly quick-minded Latin scholar who has romped away to win Britain’s hardest quiz show almost single-handedly.
Gail Trimble, 26, is playing down the excitement surrounding her team’s victory in the annual University Challenge on Monday, but the nation is abuzz at her polymath performance on the quiz, a favorite on British TV for nearly 40 years.
Coming from behind, Trimble’s four-person team from Corpus Christi college at Oxford University raced away to beat sharp rivals from Manchester by 275-190, with Trimble answering most of the dauntingly difficult questions without hesitation.
It was a typically barnstorming performance from the team captain, who has a tendency to laugh excitedly when she knows the answer, even if she seemed nervous at the start as Manchester moved into the lead and the pressure was on.
“The realm that according to Aristophanes was built by the birds to separate...” the questioner asked, getting only that far before Trimble buzzed to interrupt and correctly answer “Cloud Cuckoo Land” to impressed gasps from the audience.
“Which letter of the alphabet occurs most frequently in the line ‘To be or not to be, that is the question?'” she was asked, buzzing immediately to correctly answer ‘T’. Her quiz answering technique has been described as “intellectual blitzkrieg.”
After identifying Dante in a painting, she went on to answer a series of absurdly challenging questions, winning a wealth of points for her team, all of whom seemed at times equally stunned by her brilliance. She identified shapes created by the position of elements on the periodic table, without seeing the table.
In previous rounds she has supplied instantaneous answers to questions on opera, art, history, mathematics, chemistry and physics -- seemingly well outside her Latin-scholar background.
Even the quizmaster, Jeremy Paxman, a well-known figure in Britain, feared for his razor-sharp interviewing technique on the BBC current affairs program Newsnight, has expressed amazement at her skills, raising a single eyebrow at times as if to say, ‘How on earth did you know that?’
Trimble, who is studying for a PhD in Latin literature, smiled a toothy, dimpled smile as newspapers hailed her team’s victory on Tuesday under headlines such as: “One-woman winning machine rises to the challenge again.”
Appearing on BBC radio, she was asked whether she was clever enough to solve the financial crisis, a question she ably deflected with a laugh, saying she just happened to have a good mind for remembering lots of obscure facts.
But the acclaim she has received for her stellar knowledge -- “In the cautionary poem by Hilaire Belloc, what was the ‘trick that everyone abhors’, practiced by Rebecca...” to which she correctly answered “slamming doors” -- hasn’t been one-way.
She has been ridiculed on social networking sites for being too geekily smart and one newspaper this week asked: “Why do so many hate this girl simply for being clever?”
In a week when Britain was transfixed by the wedding of Jade Goody, a reality star known for her incredible ignorance, one newspaper asked what was wrong with modern Britain when a clever quiz contestant is utterly loathed and a dim reality star loved.
The Sun, a British tabloid, even poked fun at Trimble’s out-sized brain, asking her five trivia questions, none of which she managed to get right, including: “What is the name of the British lead actor in Slumdog Millionare?” (Answer Dev Patel).
Editing by Paul Casciato