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S'porean geography whiz Max Zeng and Imperial College team win British TV quiz show

SINGAPORE — Mr Maximilian Zeng, the 22-year-old Singaporean student who shot to social media stardom for his prodigious geography knowledge on British television quiz show University Challenge, has helped his team emerge victorious after a thrilling final in the competition.

S'porean geography whiz Max Zeng and Imperial College team win British TV quiz show
Mr Maximilian Zeng (far left) with his team from Imperial College London, at the finals of the University Challenge aired by broadcaster BBC on April 4, 2022 in Britain.

SINGAPORE — Mr Maximilian Zeng, the 22-year-old Singaporean student who shot to social media stardom for his prodigious geography knowledge on British television quiz show University Challenge, has helped his team emerge victorious after a thrilling final in the competition.

His team from Imperial College London staged a late comeback to defeat the University of Reading by 10 points in the final aired by broadcaster BBC on Monday (April 4) night in Britain.

Aside from Mr Zeng, who is a biochemistry undergraduate, the Imperial College team comprised Mr Michael Mays, a doctor of philosophy student in computational fluid dynamics and team captain; Ms Fatima Sheriff, a master’s student in science communication; and Mr Gilbert Jackson, a master’s student in chemistry.

Mr Zeng wowed audiences with his extensive geography knowledge in the previous rounds leading up to the final. He put his side into an early lead when he buzzed in on the first question before competition host Jeremy Paxman had even completed asking it.

“I need the name of an early historian here. Quote: ‘You know as well as we do that right is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can…’” Mr Paxman began.

“Thucydides,” Mr Zeng answered, gaining his side 10 points.

The questions then shifted towards poetry and music before a picture round came up with a map showing the location of the source of a major river.

Contestants were asked to name the river, with Mr Zeng buzzing in just ahead of the University of Reading’s Mr Michael Hutchinson.

“The Niger,” Mr Zeng said, clinching another 10 points for his team.

A map showing the location of Niger River in western Africa, the third longest river in Africa after the Nile and the Congo.

Mr Zeng then went on to deftly answer the subsequent three bonus questions where the teams were asked to identify three three more natural regions that were designated wetlands of international importance by the Ramsar Convention.

The three wetlands were shown on a screen as highlighted areas on a map, but Mr Zeng had no difficultly identifying each region, after being nominated each time by team captain Mays to take the three questions.

Social media users commented that this proved to be a crucial moment in the contest because Mr Zeng was just a fraction quicker than Mr Hutchinson with his buzzer.

The two teams were neck and neck into the final minutes after Reading took the lead 120-105 at one point.

However, it was Imperial College and Mr Zeng who had the last laugh when host Paxman posed another geography question: “Thought to take its name from the practice of lighting fires for signalling, which upland area has Pen y Fan as its highest point?”

“Brecon Beacons”, Mr Zeng replied, taking his team to 115 points.

His teammates Mr Mays and Mr Jackson then secured two out of three bonus questions on planetary exploration to clinch the win.

To reach this year’s finals, the Imperial College team beat Emmanuel College, Cambridge in the semi-finals and overcame other teams including the University of Exeter and St John's College, Cambridge, a press release from Imperial College stated.

The victory marks a historic fourth win of the competition for Imperial College after being champions in 1996, 2001 and 2020.

The team said it hopes that it can inspire future students who compete in the contest, the press release stated.

Ms Sheriff said: “I really hope that we can foster the same level of commitment and enthusiasm for quizzing.”

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Maximilian Zeng University Challenge BBC quiz

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