The nation was willing him to win, but Eric Monkman’s University Challenge dream ended in noble failure - and a dressing-down from Jeremy Paxman for a “completely useless” answer.
Monkman’s Wolfson College, Cambridge team lost a nail-biting grand final to Balliol College, Oxford by 140 points to 190.
Displaying the fierce intellect - and fierce delivery - that has earned him a devoted social media following, the Canadian economics student was responsible for almost every point earned by his team, with a breadth of knowledge that encompassed opera, Whig politicians, Harper Lee and 17th century Swedish queens.
But he also lost points at crucial moments in the game by buzzing too early and giving wrong answers.
The questions that flummoxed Monkman
When Paxman began the question about the Iron Crown of Lombardy, Monkman interrupted too swiftly without knowing where the question was going. “It’s housed in Italy… somewhere… sorry,” he said.
“Yes, I’m afraid that is a completely useless answer,” replied Paxman. “Yeah, it is,” Monkman replied sadly. “And you lose five points,” Paxman said. Balliol then heard the question in full, and correctly identified Monza as the site of the cathedral housing the holy relic.
That slip-up opened the way for Balliol to take the lead. And while Wolfson briefly regained the upper hand, victory was denied them.
Despite his earlier dig, Paxman praised Monkman and his team-mates at the end of the programme. “Wolfson, bad luck. You’ve been one of the more entertaining teams in this year’s contest,” he said.
The Balliol team - Freddy Potts, Jacob Lloyd, Joey Goldman and Ben Pope - were presented with their trophy by Prof Stephen Hawking, who told them: “I have said in the past that it is not clear whether intelligence has any long term survival value. Bacteria manage to flourish without it.
“But it is one of the most admirable qualities, especially when displayed by such young minds.”
Monkman, 29, became an unlikely star after Twitter users noted his lack of an “inside voice” and his permanently furrowed brow, and women began confessing their love for him.
For the final, he wore the same blue sweater and shirt combination he has sported in all of the heats, with the addition of a tie. In an interview with the Telegraph last week from his home in Oakville, Canada, he explained: “I wore the same outfit for every recording because it was one fewer thing to think about. I try to keep all my mental capacity [for the questions].”
Of his heart-throb status, he said: “I certainly don’t think of myself as an object of desire.” His girlfriend, he added, “thinks it’s a bit strange”.