Weaver's Week 2005-02-06

Weaver's Week Index


6 February 2005

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'

Has there ever been a quieter week in game show land? We can't remember one.


(BBC2, 1830 weekdays, 17-28 January)

Anecdotally, it appears that the most popular part of Scrapheap Challenge is the end of the show. As enjoyable as is the construction phase, the explanation of the science behind the machines, and as annoying as are Robert Llewellyn's sniggering puns, most people only tune in for one thing: the denouement. Will the two yoghurt pots and elastic band prove a more reliable train engine than the adapted tank? Will the whole contraption spectacularly collapse around everyone's ears?

That conclusion to the show attracted BBC producers, and the Royal Academy of Engineering. They threw down the challenge to budding engineers: build a sand digger, a penalty-kick taker, a sand and sea-racing contraption, or a long-and-high jumper. Teams of up to ten could enter, and after a little pre-judging on some contests, eight to ten machines rolled up for each challenge.

Host for the show was Fearne Cotton, trying her best to avoid being typecast as a children's television presenter. She lacks the obvious gravitas of Carol Vorderman, but brings along bags of infectious enthusiasm. Her co-host is Dick Strawbridge, who appears on screen as the stereotypical British eccentric. His inventions competed in each event, and his handlebar moustache provided the inspiration for the trophy awarded to the winners. The main prize was the kudos of winning the event.

Even though the show didn't show the machines being made, there was some brief discussion of how they worked, and why they worked, and how they might have limitations. For instance, one of the sand-diggers was effectively a blade that channelled sand up a manually-propelled conveyer belt and over the sides of the machine. Would that prove more efficient than a motorised blade that chewed up the sand and let it fall where it may?

During filming, each contest took place over two days. During transmission, each contest was shown over two consecutive days. The first day was qualifying, with each of the machines being put through their paces, and the top half of the field progressing to the second day. Different but related challenges determined the winner, with marks rolling over from the first to the second day.

The judging was mostly, but not entirely, based on the performance of each machine. A few marks were in the gift of the independent judge for style, ingenuity, and general entertainment value.

About twenty years ago, the BBC aired The Great Egg Race in this slot. We're not going to see that construction-based programme again, but some footage of the construction process - perhaps in the video diary format - would help to explain how the machines worked, and bring home the underlying principles a little more clearly.

Geronimo was aimed at the tea-time audience, and reached its target very well. It wasn't a particularly heavy programme, with plenty of scope for machines going wrong (or, in some cases, going too well.) The science content was rather on the light side, but was seamlessly incorporated into the competition, while there was an appreciable building of tension towards the end of each contest. It's probably not strong enough for a full series, but its short run of programmes made entertaining and illuminating viewing.

University Challenge

One final word on Manchester's quiz demon Nick Mills: over the first two rounds, his buzzing and bonusing has been worth 294.8 points. The entire Edinburgh side has combined for 280.

Second Round, Match 3: St Hilda's Oxford -v- Leicester

Leicester won the season opener back in September, squeaking past Jesus Cambridge by just five points. St Hilda's also notched 150 in their match against Portsmouth.

The opening exchanges bring money laundering, the song "Ilkley Moor Bah 'Tat", Mary Whitehouse, and a pyramid into an unusual juxtaposition. The long bonuses are back - a very long quotation from a book boils down to "Who wrote 'The Sign of Four'?" Though long, the bonuses are generally answered correctly, and only the first bonus - Name That Pharmacy Sign - lets Leicester take the lead, 50-40. Thumper seems very harsh to disallow "the Hippocratic symbol" in this round - he was looking for "cadeusa."

Leicester get the second question this year about the beginning and end of Offa's Dyke. It's neck-and-neck through this section, and by the audio round - Name That Vehicle From Its Engine - St Hilda's has a 90-70 lead. Leicester confuses a propeller-plane with a World War I tank, and a chainsaw with a moped. Memo to self: do not accept lift with this team. And of course that was a tractor engine, Thumper; does he never listen to "The Archers"?

St Hilda's has the strange idea that snails are aquatic invertebrates, and one of the team confuses Humphrey Bogart with Ronald Reagan. This is in the second picture round, Name That Actor-President, after which Leicester has a 125-100 lead.

With three minutes to go, St Hilda's has cut the lead to nothing, but long bonuses are running down the clock. Leicester loses badly when confusing "Yum-Yum" with "Yummy"; a missignal, a correct answer from Hilda's, a bonus answer, and another minute off the clock. Hilda's throws the game back to Leicester with the incorrect answer "seven day's war," but Leicester can't work out the duration of the six day's war. St Hilda's run out the winners, 155-120.

St Hilda's have certainly run their luck, winning two matches with fairly low scores. Samantha Warnakulasuriya topped the buzzing for St Hilda's on 68.3, just ahead of Katherine Roskelly's 66.9; the side made 11/31 bonuses and two missignals. Andy Tullett's 48.7 led for Leicester in a 9/24 and one missignal display. None of the sets of bonuses was answered completely correctly.

Next: Sheffield -v- Corpus Christi Oxford

We're Not Nicking Rounds From Isihac Circa 1990, Honest

Good news! Dick and Dom are to bring Ask the Family to BBC2's early evening slot.

Bad news! There's also a plan for Eggheads in the same slot.

Good news! There will be no return for Pop Idol.

Bad news! ITV is bringing back its flop The X Factor, though.

Good news! Simons Cowell and Fuller have reached an out-of-court settlement over their spat about who invented the show.

Bad news! The second series will be on for nineteen tedious, buttock-clenchingly dull weeks.

Good news! No more Doctor "Neil" Fox on Pop Idle.

Bad news! But he was on the ITV Memory Test.

Good news! We forgot to watch it.

Bad news! "Foxy" will front a "great" Saturday night format on ITV "that will knock you off your seat."

Good news for superglue shares, then.

Good news! Antan Dec is really polishing up his rebellious image.

Bad news! By hosting a pro-celebrity golf challenge.

Good news! It'll pit the best of Europe against the cream of the USA.

Bad news! It'll go on for two whole days over the August bank holiday.

Good news! Fifteen hours of Antan Dec.

Bad news! Fifteen hours of golf.

(That's quite enough "good news, bad news" - Humph.)

This Week And Next

We were going to give a quick re-cap of this show, because it tickled us, but we shall let the letters page of the Daily Telegraph tell the story:

Sir - A team of serving military men recently took part in BBC2's Time Commanders, re-enacting a battle fought by Alexander the Great in India. In 326 BC Alexander won, but our present day soldiers lost the computer-generated battle. While no one expects Alexander's military genius to be in common coinage, the fact that the military team was defeated largely because it was crept up on from behind by hundreds of war elephants does give concern. Previously, military boffins had not rated the elephant's potential as a stealth weapon. Time for a rethink, perhaps? - Nick Williams, London NW3.

From this week's Masterteam:

Peter Snow: Name three people who have presented Mastermind on television or radio?
London: Magnus Magnusson, John Humphrys, and (er) (conferring - did he present it once?) Er, and Michael Parkinson.
Snowy: No, Magnus, John, Peter Snow or Clive Anderson.

After the laughter subsided, and Peter had stopped reminiscing about Bob the Builder's friends, the Goodies, and Blue Peter presenters of the 70s, Grimsby had confirmed their place in next week's final, alongside Staffordshire.

Our comedy highlight of the week is surely Family Fortunes. It's got Lord Bob of Monkhouse at the helm, and Thursday's edition was an absolute classic. The largest cash prize in UK game show history, of £3000. A man so tall that Bob went to him on bended knee, and made a crack about "Bring on the third shredded wheat," which will make no sense to anyone under about 25, and plenty of sense to everyone else. In a round asking for a job people wouldn't like to be, one contestant suggested "prostitute." It was there. "Name a popular but rarely-achieved ambition" "Become a millionaire," which allowed Bob to sing a snatch of the programme that would make his top prize look like chicken feed, and to which he would deliver a masterclass in spinning out tension, with a classic slow reveal of the second set of answers during The Big Money Game.

The UK entry for Eurovision will come from: Gina G (did "Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit" in 96), Javine (fell out of Popstars 2, moved to musical theatre), Katie Price (the car-driver formerly known as Jordan - incapable of singing, but that didn't stop Jemini), Andy Scott-Lee (sister of Lisa Steps, fell out of Pop Idle 2), and Tricolore (a three-piece light opera act previously known as Tenors Unlimited.) We're still booking our tickets for Ljublijana. Make Your Mind Up night is March 5.

Before then: a week of Bargain Hunt, The Brain of Blue Peter, and the return of Antan Dec on Saturday.

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