Weaver's Week 2015-03-29

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Ninety-six started. Six remain.




BBC Salford for BBC2, 27 March (28 March outside England)

We've been wondering why this year's Mastermind is ending in a messy transmission. Sports commitments mean BBC2 in Wales and Northern Ireland regularly opt out and show the Black Chair Show on Saturday evening. This week, Scotland also has an opt out, so the final's shown in England alone.

We can only assume that the general election is to blame: at least one of the semi-finalists has been a Westminster candidate in the recent past, and we think another is a councillor up for re-election. Neither could appear between the start of campaign on 30 March and the close of polls on 7 May. It's not perfect – next week has no rugby and the rare chance for a network transmission – but it's in the election season.

Mastermind Gareth Williams.

Gareth Williams begun the final with The Falklands Conflict, a remarkable British victory of 1982. As is traditional, the finalists have been given a travel budget to make a short film about their specialist subject. Gareth has gone to Portsmouth, and is filmed on HMS Bristol, one of the ships active down there. The round starts with a very long question asking after the scrap merchant who raised the Argentine flag, and a pass from Gareth. He does recover, but even before the round is over it appears he's in trouble. After the two minutes, Gareth has 9 correct answers (1 pass).

Marianne Fairthorne is taking Caterina Sforza, Lady of Imola, Countess of Forli. Marianne heads to Forli, and recounts her youthful memories of haring around castles defending the inhabitants from invaders, as Caterina did. After her husband was assassinated, Caterina noted that she could still produce more children. A bold and tempestuous woman. Back to the game, where Marianne is swift and fluent and correct. Two minutes later, we have a perfect round: 15 right. Follow that!

Mastermind Marianne Fairthorne.

Liz Gore takes the Raj Quartet of Paul Scott. It's the series of novels including The Jewel in the Crown, and we're treated to a clip from the mid-1980s drama. Perhaps that explains why her piece is filmed at the British Library in St Pancras. A portentous start to a great time? This is promising. This is very promising. Two minutes later, we have another perfect round: 15 right. Follow that!

John Benyon has the 3rd Viscount Palmerston. His film is another long-distance effort, having gone all the way to the Palace of Westminster on Thorney Island. Palmerston was prime minister in the second half of the 19th century, he's remembered for ending the Crimean war, nationalising the East India Company, and (however briefly) understanding the answer to the Schleishwig-Holstein Problem. All of the contenders talk about what winning the Mastermind title means to them – Liz gave us one line, John told us much about his seven appearances over three series. He still has nerves, and takes his time – the final score is 8 (1).

Mastermind John Benyon.

David Greenwood tells us about The Ashes cricket, 1964-81. "It's not much to look at, but it represents the ultimate contest." David is at Lords' cricket ground, and he's describing the Ashes trophy itself. He could almost be describing the Mastermind trophy, a glass bowl. Like the cricket sides of that era, David is here to win. His round starts strongly, but loses a few wickets early on. A revival in the second minute steadies the ship, and David closes on 12 (0). In cricket terms, that's an Ireland performance.

Diane Hallagan has drawn the long straw for this year's films; Rudolf Nureyev has let her fly to St Petersburg, the school where the ballet dancer Nureyev trained, and later to a theatre where he performed. She seeks to do Nureyev justice, and we think he'd be pleased with 10 (2).

Mastermind Diane Hallagan.

And so to the second round. John Benyon is first to face two-and-a-half minutes of general knowledge questions, and we've already seen that he's tremendous at general knowledge. But seven points is a huge gap to overcome – it's a minute before he's level with the leaders, and in spite of a near-perfect round, he can only reach 22 (2).

Gareth Williams steps back to the chair, and snaps out the answers when he knows them. Some of his answers come before John Humphrys has finished the question, and interruptions here aren't allowed. Gareth snaps out the answers, but not many are right; his confidence has fallen away to not very much, and the round peters out to 16 (2).

Diane Hallagan drags out some answers, including the sequel to Life on Mars, and visibly slumps as she gets a couple of questions wrong. On about the third error, the wind goes out of her sails, and Diane finishes on 21 (3).

Mastermind David Greenwood.

David Greenwood comes next, needing a "mere" ten correct answers to share the lead. His round starts strongly, struggles towards the middle, and he blows hot and cold in the final minute. A general knowledge round here is a marathon, not a sprint, contenders need to pace themselves. The final of 25 (3) is enough for a podium place.

By virtue of going first in the first round, Marianne Fairthorne will set the target for the general knowledge round. It's one thing to knock back the easy questions at the start, more difficult to hit the ones later – especially when it's clear she's guessing. Most of the zigs are correct – the treaty on the breakup of the USSR a particular hit – but her luck runs out towards the end of the round. The final score: 25 (0). She might know she's in the lead right now.

Mastermind Liz Gore.

So Liz Gore knows the score: eleven to win, ten and no passes for a tie-break. One hit in the first four questions doesn't bode well, and a pass shortly afterwards means we won't have that five question shootout. Liz is always scrabbling around for points, missing as many as she hits, passing liberally. In the end: 22 (3).

Which means we have our winner. Marianne Fairthorne has been shaking her head through the last hour, the not passing was no strategy, and none of the above matters. The quantitative analyst and festival-goer is the 2015 Mastermind champion.

Mastermind Marianne Fairthorne, Mastermind champion.

Mission Survive

Mission Survive

Bear Grylls Ventures / Electus / betty for ITV, 20 February – 3 April

Or, "Bear Grylls: Mission Survive", as the press release put it. It's a programme about Bear Grylls, starring Bear Grylls, made by Bear Grylls' production company, and in a slot to ensure that Bear Grylls is part of your weekend.

The programme's shown on ITV, so we can take a guess as to the sort of contestants with Bear Grylls. Is it going to be Bear Grylls taking a bunch of nonentities, random joes, and members of the public around the jungle in Costa Rica? Of course not, Bear Grylls is going to be taking a bunch of ITV celebrities around the jungle in Costa Rica.

Mission Survive Bear Grylls (centre) and a bunch of ITV celebrities obscuring our view of the jungle in Costa Rica.

Who are these people? There's brother-and-sister acting duo Emilia Fox and Laurence Fox. Kelly Holmes turned down Gladiators for her career (good call), but didn't turn down this challenge. Max George and Tom Rosenthal passed us by, and Jamelia has to have something to do now that I Love My Country has finished. There's Vogue Williams, the Stepping Out finalist; and there's Mike Tindall, somehow deprived of victory on The Jump.

There's something for everyone, the younger end of the audience might identify with, or otherwise relate to, these contestants. Older people will admire the determination and bravery of the participants, whoever they are. Their grandchildren are left a bit adrift, but this doesn't matter: Mission Survive goes out at 9pm on Friday night, after children are meant to have gone to bed.

"Gritty" and "realistic" turned up a lot in the press release, but only to a point. The players have all been trained before setting out, and there's a team of medical staff to make sure nothing too nasty happens to them. Bear Grylls rations his appearances, he sets a challenge and then scarpers. Watching over the party are Megan Hine and Scott Heffield, expedition and survival experts in their own right. They fill a role similar to Margaret and Nick on The Apprentice, present but not participating.

Mission Survive Saralun and his acolytes pass judgement.

So, in this slightly sanitised world, Bear Grylls sets challenges. Follow a compass bearing until you reach a stream, then follow it downhill. Bear will meet them halfway down, for a lunch of local delicacies: live scorpions. Then the players will abseil down a sizeable waterfall, before striking camp. As the days progress, the amount of camp diminishes: hammocks went early, sleeping bags went later, cover disappeared towards the end, and for next week's final we expect the players will spend the night floating in space because even the ground's been confiscated.

By setting the challenges, and then scarpering, Bear Grylls provides room for the players to make their mistakes. Not following the compass bearing well. Getting bruised when coming down the waterfall. Injuring themselves while lighting the fire. Bear Grylls had his own agenda: of course he was looking for someone resilient and fit. But he also sought someone who could handle pressure, work on an empty stomach, do televisual things (eat scorpions, drink their own urine), and balance teamwork with solo effort.

Mission Survive Mmm, lunch.

The result was a strange brew, elements from The Apprentice and Fort Boyard, quite a bit from Survivor, and the judge sought someone to demonstrate the qualities he most prizes. Unlike The Big Painting Challenge (see last Week), Bear Grylls is credible, we can see that he lives his values. It was a serious show, one that demanded sustained attention through its hour. Adverts have this tendency to break our concentration, and we had to work to come down from the gaudy adverts to a drab reality. Sheridan Smith's voiceover helped, but her script tended to lead us, it told us what to think.

And the slot – 9pm Friday night, repeated at 10.30 on Sunday night – was strange. This was a gritty show, not the sort of gloss we expect from ITV, and certainly not the shiny start to the weekend we'd expect from Friday. Thursday at 9 would have felt more apposite, but they hoped to show football there most weeks. Credit where it's due, ITV are counter-programming, defying our expectations and giving something dark in a place we don't expect.

There have been a lot of new shows this year, we've reviewed something new each week and we plan to continue with new programmes at least until May. Some have made a lasting impact for good reasons. Others we'll remember because they're rubbish. Mission Survive falls between the two extremes: well-made and entertaining, but we didn't get enough of a hook to make this show a part of our busy week.

It's Debateable

A series of short pieces somewhere between game shows and British politics.

Total Wipeout

9) Total Wipeout

The big red ball of Iraq. The big yellow ball of student fees. The big blue ball labelled "Europe". The big purple ball of racism.

Can anyone bounce past their problems and reach dry land? Or are we all going for an early bath?

Only Connect

Semi-series final Z: Orienteers v Qi Elves

This week, the Orienteers seek a mental and physical challenge; the Qi Elves are capable of drinking pints in three seconds.

Pictures for the Elves are unhelpful: who she, who she, who she, and Salford Lads Club. Not all from Salford, but people from record sleeves by The Smiths. Yootha Joice, Pat Phoenix, Candy Darling the other three. Do the Orienteers remember what Circe's island home was? No; the third-largest Jovian moon gives it away, it's words with no consonants. Tw pnts, 3-0.

"Oh dear" Music for the Elves: some flute, a trumpet solo, something pastoral, and a piano sonata. Not pastoral, not night: that's all pathetic. Pathètique, to be precise. The peak of our cardiods: an algebraic code, a unicode character, and the We Less Than Three the question writers campaign. Two points, 5-0.

Victoria Coren We Less Than Three Victoria, too. Do we have an emojus for this?

The Elves need to gamble, and go for three on people who went barefoot. And it works! Pressure's back on the Orienteers, who have Birmingham (1976-), Stratford (2009-), Harwich (1995-), Waterloo (1994-2007). It is International railway stations, the team could have had three points but settle for 1. 6-3.

We disagree with Victoria: you can go to lovely places from Stratford International. You can get a DLR to Abbey Road.

Sequences! Working backwards, it's reed, bible, bonnet; this goes over to the Orienteers who get the point for stomachs of a ruminant. "They only use it on the second lap" says one of the Orienteers about 1st water jump in a 3000m steeplechase. Then 2nd the Chair in the Grand National, and 3rd Tiebreak in Wimbledon Ladies. The Elves go for something that is present in the 4th lap, but the question wants something missing in the 4th round, such as sm vwls ltr n. 7-3.

Orange three. Yellow six. Green six. So, obvs, we're after blue five. It's colours of the rainbow, with the number of letters of the previous colour. Orienteers take it for a bonus, and scare Victoria by giving a word-perfect answer. The Socialist Internationals were (from 4th) Pèrigny, Moscow, Paris, and London. The Orienteers get it, without knowing they got it. 10-3.

Red #ff0000, purple #ff00ff, so we're talking hex colour codes. Yellow is #ffff00, so what's #ffffff? Cyan? Really? No, that's #00ffff. Orienteers are right that #000000 is black, but it's as wrong as the Elves' thing included on the 4th lap. We're after #ffffff in white.

Since this show was recorded, we've heard that Victoria Coren Mitchell has engaged in hexual intercourse of her own, she's expecting a child with her husband David Mitchell. Congratulations and best wishes to all of them.

Over to the Orienteers who get Malta for 1000, Germany for 500, and reckon it's 50 for Luxembourg. Not their expected points score in the next three Eurovision contests combined, but the Roman numeral equivalent of their car nationality plates. 13-3 to the Orienteers.

Only Connect (2) Anne Miller, James Harkin, and Andrew Hunter Murray have been the Qi Elves.

That's a lead. Orienteers go to the wall, spot some fictional abbeys, and some organs. Then they have the Tricksy One: add a letter to make a boys' name (so Uke becomes Luke, and Avid an Egghead-killer). The team misses a group of England wicket-keepers, and musical instruments isn't precise enough – they're electronic keyboards. Six points!

Lots of fictional kingdoms for the Elves, and some ballet dancers, and some types of wool. Lots of ideas, many of them overlapping. Is there a bunch of racehorses in there? The team go down sidetracks – the Morte d'Arthur, words ending in boys' names, but nothing comes out. Model answers: Derby-winning racehorses, fictional lands, ballet dancers, and words ending with man's names. Four points!

So it's 19-7 to the Orienteers. Missing Vowels won't decide the winner, we fear. Not An Orange goes 3-1 to the Orienteers. English-language national anthems ends 1-0 to the Orienteers, and we'll join in a chorus of "Forever Marshall Islands". Alternative names for fruit and veg is a 2-2 draw, and the bell ends the match.

By 25-10, the Orienteers progress to the series final. A shame the Elves have left, they've been a thoroughly entertaining team.

Coming next Wednesday: QI does Boggle. Then it's the History Boys against the Orienteers. Two-thirds of the Orienteers were the Cambridge Quiz Society, who lost to the Rugby Boys in the series 2 final back in 2009. The Rugby Boys' semi-final victims were the Chessmen, and they beat the History Boys first time out.

University Challenge

Actual Viertelfinalrund, match 4: Liverpool v Durham

So, this week we've got the side defeated in the final from the bottom half of the draw against the winners from the elimination match in the top half. Winners will face some other side in the actual semi-finals.

"One of the greatest masters of claptrap who ever lived." Not a description of the host, but of Rossini. That's one of nine questions Durham gets right to open the match, and from the traditional 0-0 start, Durham reaches 75 points by the visual bonuses; Liverpool have retreated to -10.

And so the game rolls on. Two missignal penalties for interruptions for each side before the music round, then Liverpool find their buzzers do work and close to within 20 points. Durham continue to press their buzzers, and emerge clear winners, by 175-100.

This Week and Next

Zayn Malik has left One Direction. Finalists on The X Factor in its imperial phase (2010), One Direction have now ceased to be the biggest five-piece boy-to-rock band in the world. Mr. Malik's decision appears to be for personal reasons, and we send good wishes.

Dermot O'Leary has left The X Factor. A press release attributed to the presenter said, "I'd like to wish the team all the best for the future, especially whoever takes over from me. You're about to be the conductor on the most brilliant, runaway train in showbiz. Good luck you'll love it!"

Brain of Britain reached its semi-final stage. This week's first match turned on a question asking after Betty Cooper, Reggie Mantle, Veronica Lodge, and Jughead Jones. Not which comic book they appeared in, but which hit song of 1969 they recorded. Neil Wright got that correct, and it formed the third of a five-in-a-row in the opening round. He didn't have much of a lead – Mike Mooney had already made his five-in-a-row, and the two remained close for the first half.

Roderick Cromar and Jessica Eastwood didn't get fives in their opening go, and would never close the cavernous gap. Neil Wright prised open a lead, almost literally at one point per round, and he pulled away in the final moments to win by 21-12. The comic was Archie, and the song was "Sugar sugar".

We don't get to see The Price is Right in the UK, it's far too commercial for our regulators. We have to make do with deep and incisive reviews.

BARB ratings for the week to 15 March.

  1. Comic Relief was the week's most popular programme, but 8.5m is a low score to win a week. The Voice followed with 8.3m.
  2. Masterchef returned to entertain 6.15m viewers. Takeaway posted 5.15m, and 4.65m saw Comic Relief Bake Off on BBC2. The Sewing Bee final had 3.6m viewers.
  3. ITV's Saturday night success story is You're Back in the Room, the hypnosis show interested 4.25m on its first outing. Mission Survive is one of a number of ITV shows on around 3m.
  4. Slack ratings for BBC2's Monday quizzes, 2.45m is down a half-million on previous weeks. Channel 4's top game was Four in a Bed, it plays to 900,000.
  5. Top digital channels game show was a repeat of Catchphrase on ITV2, which pulled 475,000 viewers. Dancing Dermot averaged 66,000 on BBC Red Button. Cor Cymru returned to S4C with 26,000; London Live's show Cookery School attracted 15,000.

Eurovision Song Contest memories on Eurovision's Greatest Hits (BBC1, Friday). The grand final of Only Connect (BBC2, Monday), the final of ITV's BBC The Voice of UK (BBC1, Saturday), and the start of Relatively Clever (The Satellite Channel, Friday), which we're really looking forward to. Some shows begin, others end: I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse morphs into the undead (BBC3, Sunday into Monday), and the very last episode of Perfection (BBC2, 6.05am Monday). We never loved the show, but it deserved better than a graveyard slot.

Photo credits: BBC Entertainment Salford, Bear Grylls Ventures / Electus / betty, Initial, Presentable.

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