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Eric Monkman Reveals What It's Really Like To Be A University Challenge Legend

He doesn't get what all the fuss is about.

20/02/2017 20:00 GMT | Updated 22/02/2017 16:19 GMT

In the space of 30 minutes Eric Monkman went from academically gifted nobody to cult hero, and arguably even University Challenge’s greatest fan favourite of all time.

Loved for his bellowing voice, gritted teeth and endless enthusiasm, the 29-year-old has been heralded as “a hero of our time”, the “perfect man” and the Canadian cousin of Coronation Street’s Roy Cropper. 

And for Monkman, life has definitely taken a bizarre turn since the team captain of Wolfson College, Cambridge, first appeared on the programme back in September.

BBC
Eric Monkman quickly began a favourite on social media after he first appeared on University Challenge back in September 

But despite his incredible intelligence, Monkman still can’t see what all the fuss is about. 

“I did not expect that I would get the reaction I did. Quizzing doesn’t have the same following in Canada. Indeed, it tends to be called ‘trivia’ here, which gives you an idea of how it is seen. I did not expect there would be so many fans in Britain,” he told The Huffington Post UK.

“I was aware that contestants sometimes got mentioned in the British media, but I did not know that University Challenge had such a large social media following,” he added.

He’s not kidding - every time the Economics graduate appears in the series, “Monkman” trends on Twitter as literally thousands of people share their support for the young Canadian.  

But things get a lot more extreme than the odd tweet applauding him on answering a particularly tough question. 

Type Eric Monkman into social media and you will get the picture. From cartoons to sketches to memes, fans don’t seem to be able to get enough of the former Oxbridge student.  

While the unassuming Canadian from Oakville, Ontario became an instant hit in Britain, #Monkmania reached the man himself on delay.

Watching on from the other side of the Atlantic, he soon got a sense of the impact he was having back in his adopted home, although his initial taste of the reaction wasn’t exactly positive. 

“I saw many of the tweets before I had a chance to watch the match. At first, I was discouraged that people seemed to think I was too loud, or otherwise not doing things properly.

“Once I watched the match, I felt better. I don’t think I appeared out-of-the-ordinary. Enthusiastic, yes, and wanting to be certain that my answers were heard and understood.

He soon learnt his lesson, telling HuffPost UK he waited until after watching the next two programmes before checking the social media reaction.

“Mostly, I want to see the match for myself without having my ideas coloured by what other people have said,” he explains, although he clearly has many more fans than detractors, if Twitter is any guide.

For the man himself though, the most “bizarre” thing he has ever seen tweeted about him was a promo poster for the Spike Jonze film Being John Malkovich.

The Canadian’s teammates and fellow contestants, including captain of the Emmanuel College Cambridge team Bobby Seagull, have also been keen to get in on #Monkmania.

He’s even had some fellow Monkmans reach out over social media to see if they might be related. 

“Thanks to some kind information from one of them, I have learned a lot about Monkman family history,” he said. 

“We have traced Monkman history back to a few villages in Yorkshire, but haven’t been able to get any further back to establish a connection.”

Eric Monkman
The 29-year-old, who is originally from Canada, had no idea about the shows cult following before he arrived in Britain 

An adoring fanbase and quiz show fame doesn’t guarantee career success though, with a frustrated Monkman still to settle on a firm career path, despite his incredible brains..  

“I’m somewhat between career goals. I’m a frustrated aspiring academic trying to find something else useful to do with my life,” he told HuffPost UK.

But perhaps a career in television could be on the cards - his grilling by Jeremy Paxman is not the first time he has appeared on the small screen. 

As a fresh-faced 15-year-old, Monkman battled his way to the semi-finals of Canadian trivia show Reach For The Top.  

Despite his insistence he didn’t garner much of a reaction on the programme in the pre-Twitter era, the host still remembered him 14 years on, sharing a photo of the young genius.  

“I met Eric Monkman while hosting Reach For The Top in 2003,” presenter Joseph Motiki wrote. 

“The Oakville Trafalgar alum just went viral in the UK playing University Challenge. 

Joseph Motiki
Canadian quiz show host Joseph Motiki shared his support for Monkman over Facebook. Monkman had appeared on the quiz show Reach For The Top 14 years earlier

“Glad I live in a world where Eric is still on TV answering hard questions to the best of his ability,” he added. 

Aren’t we all?

Monkman and his teammates Justin Yang, Ben Chaudhri and Paul Cosgrove are still in with a shot at the title after winning their first quarter-final match against Balliol College, Oxford back in January. 

But could Twitter really handle a Monkman win?