Unlike Love Island, you don’t go on University Challenge expecting to become a TV star.
But that’s exactly what happened to Eric Monkman and Bobby Seagull, two Cambridge University students, representing rival colleges, who became social media sensations in 2017 as a result of their enthusiastic appearances.
Now the pair are a double act and they present radio and TV shows together, including Monkman & Seagull’s Genius Adventures, which returns tonight on BBC2. Bobby has even admitted he’d like to branch out and be part of this year’s Strictly!
RadioTimes.com caught up with the clever duo – Eric is currently in Canada, while Bobby is in the UK – to find out how lockdown is treating them, and why S Club 7 were pivotal in helping them film this series.
How is lockdown treating you both?
Eric: I’ve been taking a lot of online courses lately and trying to add to my skills. I can read books and I have, but it’s nice to have something active, with problem sets to complete and discussion topics to write about.
Bobby: I’ve created quizzes online in aid of the NHS and I had a Skype chat with Eric the other day about the state of Canadian politics!
Are you excited to be back for more Genius Adventures?
Bobby: Yes! I hope our show brings a bit of cheer to people’s households during lockdown because it’s like a cross between QI, Top Gear and Friends that will enrich your mind. I always describe it as a triumvirate of knowledge, banter and biscuits! People learn a lot about inventions along the way but there’s an awful lot of fun, Eric and I having our inane chats about the origin of jelly beans and custard creams. I know I’m always turning down Eric’s biscuits in the car, but I just find it hard to eat them while I’m driving…
Eric: I’m proud to be part of this programme. The idea is to explore the scientific and technological achievements of Britain over the period of 1750-1900 – we give you a lot of information, but we do it in a light-hearted way. What surprised and impressed me the most was how much work Britain has put into preserving the past.
Did your friendship survive the test of long filming days?
Bobby: Yes, although we have different personalities we both have a natural curiosity and neither of us have met many similar people who crave learning, Eric is such a generous character, we’re kind to each other, even though we can be filming from 7am to 10pm. I’m driving pretty much the whole journey and we’re always having conversations about knowledge. The car radio is interesting because Eric loves classical music, but I will listen to grime and Dua Lipa. Eric is a good sport, there was one bit of the trip where I was tired and feeling a bit down and he played S Club 7’s song, Reach for me, because he knows I love them.
Eric: We do have a lot of shared interests – maths, knowledge, learning and finding things out. I learn about things I didn’t know about from our friendship, like British football. Hopefully he’s learned a bit about Canada! We have a lot of fun being together, and we have interesting conversations in the car. It’s nice to have him as a driver. I don’t drive in Britain because you drive on the other side of the road.
What’s the weirdest thing that happens this series?
Bobby: Eric and I do the dance of a steam engine, it’s quirky, people will love it or hate it. I can imagine science teachers in my own school having to do it, so that was my personal highlight even though I’m terrible at dancing.
Eric: There’s a lot of fun along the way, we have a lot of costumes – top hats, breeches, frock coats…
What would you be doing if you hadn’t landed TV careers?
Bobby: I used to be an investment banker, then a chartered accountant but I went to Cambridge to do my teacher training. When I appeared on University Challenge and went viral all my students were talking about it the next day and I realised life might be different! I still work part time as a classroom maths teacher at a school and it’s really important to me. I was invited onto Celebrity Big Brother but I turned it down because I didn’t think it was right. I want to have credibility as a classroom teacher but also get young people excited by education and into the profession, to be a positive ambassador for learning.
Eric: I had worked for the Canadian civil service before going to Cambridge to do my Masters, I had been thinking about going back and doing that. I started to look into journalism – I had an internship with The Economist after University Challenge. The truth is I don’t know what I would have done!
Monkman & Seagull’s Genius Adventures returns to BBC2 tonight at 9pm. To find out what else is on TV tonight, check out our TV Guide.