Weaver's Week 2015-12-20

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This week, an entertainment. A fantasy. A piece of fan fiction about game shows.


Television's Toughest Quiz: The Tournament

A few weeks ago, we were perplexed by ITV's press release. They touted 500 Questions as "television's toughest quiz". 500 Questions isn't the only show to say it's "television's toughest quiz". Many others claim that distinction.

And so we're holding the Television's Toughest Quiz Knockout. Eight shows enter, they face off in a single elimination. After rounds of bruising gladiatorial combat, one show remains to be crowned Television's Toughest Quiz. The winner has to be "one of the most well thought out, well balanced quizzes that's ever been on television."

Round One

500 Questions versus Twenty(-One) Questions Wrong

The new kid on the block comes with high expectations and much mystery. Give twenty correct answers and still leave with nothing? Check. Hosted by an obvious Brit? Check. A fancy whizz-bang graphics package? Check. Pace, speed, precision? Never mind.

Twenty(-One) Questions Wrong has a slightly less fancy graphics package, because it only happens on the radio. And it has a slightly smaller budget, close enough to $0. Ewan Spence (20QW) or Daniel Peake (21QW) ask either-or questions with the one aim: give the wrong answer. Give twenty correct answers and still leave with nothing? Check. Hosted by an obvious Brit? Check. Pace, speed, precision? Check, check, check.

Day 11, and Richard is still explaining the rules.

And so to battle. 500 Questions lumbered into the arena. It's a behemoth of a show, encumbered by a gantry of question categories. Twenty(-One) Questions Wrong was small, lithe, and spoiling for a fight.

500 Questions began with an explanation of its long and convoluted rules. Twenty(-One) Questions Wrong snapped out its simple rules, then attacked. "Piers or Morgan, Blackpool has three of?" By the time he could respond, 2*QW was deep into the bonus round, tying up its opposition in loops and whirls and knots.

Fifteen-to-One versus Mastermind

Fifteen-to-One is a rugged game of quiz survival. Fifteen contestants start out with three lives each. Getting a question wrong loses a life. The last one standing wins.

Mastermind is a solo challenge. Two minutes of hostile questioning on a chosen topic, two minutes of hostile questioning about anything under the sun. The highest score wins.

Mastermind Sit down and shut up.

Both quizzes learned from the first battle, and snapped out questions as quickly as they could. A catchphrase battle began early: "Twelve down, three to go" was countered by "I've started, so I'll finish". A titanic struggle left cards scattered across the arena.

As the battle moved on, the crowd began baying for more, impressed by both quizzes' tenacity. They gave many cheers for Fifteen-to-One. They gave a cheer for Mastermind. But Mastermind already has a chair, and Fifteen-to-One nipped through the confusion, turned its life indicators into light sabres, and cut the arm off the chair.

The Krypton Factor versus Ninja Warrior UK

The Krypton Factor is an all-round test to find the United Kingdom Superperson. It wasn't enough to be physically fit; one also had to have mental agility, intelligence, and a decent general knowledge.

Ninja Warrior UK is an all-round test to find the best athlete in the country. Get from the start to the finish, in the prescribed time limit, without falling off the apparatus.

"This is fine, but where's the quiz in that?" asked Gordon Burns, host of The Krypton Factor.

Ninja Warrior UK Bring on the door!

"What? Gordon's here?" said Ben Shepherd, host of The Krypton Factor – and of Ninja Warrior UK. There had been a double booking, and Ninja Warrior UK was meant to be entering Television's Toughest Challenge (where it would lose the final to Anneka Rice's "The Challenge Programme").

A walk-over for The Krypton Factor.

Only Connect (2) versus University Challenge

The stars of Quizzy Mondays went head-to-head.

Only Connect is a battle of wit, perspicacity, deduction, and being able to sing in a Cardiff studio.

University Challenge is a battle of button-thumping, swift reactions, and being able to last 30 minutes in the same studio as Jeremy Paxman.

Battle was joined from the start. "We're a huge success," shouted University Challenge, waving some huge ratings above its head. "Put me down," said the over-sized gunnery specialists.

"We're a massive success, bar none," replied Only Connect, hoping that none was what its host would order at the bar.

University Challenge One side sent its best hopes.

Only Connect brought out the Eye of Horus, hoping to freeze its opposition to the spot. "This isn't a game of Nethack", snarked University Challenge, unleashing the Host's Withering Snark. "Pshaw, your Withering Snark fell onto Water, and has withered," shot back Only Connect.

And so battle continued, long enough for Newsnight to start tapping its watch and looking anxious. "All your best contestants come through me," thundered University Challenge. "Yeah, they fancy a difficult challenge," fired Only Connect.

That was a mortal wound. University Challenge limped out of the arena in high dudgeon. "Nigella never makes us move," it grouched. University Challenge left the arena to calls of, "Our viewers follow us anywhere, even to BBC2." Might not have heard the end of this.


Twenty(-One) Questions Wrong versus Fifteen-to-One

Two quizzes, both alike in speed. Staccatto questions, rapid responses. Get it right, hear a noise. You don't want to hear a buzz.

It's difficult to write good questions, and both quizzes do it every time. It's difficult to write brief questions, and both quizzes do it every time. It's almost impossible to write questions both brief and good, and both quizzes hit the mark very often.

With their shared quickfire format, the battle was always going to be brief. Twenty(-One) Questions Wrong gathered just the one player; Fifteen-to-One had an army on its side. Twenty(-One) Questions Wrong managed a chain of ten wrong answers; Fifteen-to-One amassed a chain of 13 wrong answers from 13 different players.

Beating its opposition at its own game, Fifteen-to-One accepted the plaudits, and moved on to the final.

The Krypton Factor versus Only Connect

The Krypton Factor enjoyed home advantage for this match. It started with Mental Agility, inserting the vowels into a sequence of consonants to form words and phrases. Only Connect laughed to see such fun, and THDS HRN WYW THTHS PN.

The Response challenge came next, asking the quizzes to pedal their feet forward and their hands backwards. Only Connect quickly got the hang of it, apparently the host can do such feats with her eyes closed. As she demonstrated.

The Great British Bake Off Roar.

The Intelligence round started with some breadcrumbs and butterbeans, and asked the quizzes to make some chocolate biscuits. "Easy," said The Krypton Factor, "we'll make chocolate cake."
"That's nothing," responded Only Connect, "we'll make chocolate pudding as well."
"Sticky toffee doughnuts!"
"A Black Forest Gateau!"
"Tiger bread"
"Lion bread"
"Sachertorte. And we'll count the layers!"
"A Victoria Sponge containing real Victoria!"
"All the cakes in our local bakery!"
"The entire contents of our local bakery, including the pasties and meat rolls."

And so, having collectively made everything on The Great British Bake Off (including an animatronic squirrel complete with nut store), the contest continued with Physical Ability.

"Bring on the wall!" shouted Only Connect. The Krypton Factor hopped over it. "Untangle the Wick of Twisted Flax!" called The Krypton Factor. Only Connect skipped over the tangled webbing. Down the death slide they came, landing in the quagmire of mud. "Ew, we don't do river deltas." Was Only Connect revealing its weakness?

Only Connect (2) Victoria explains it all.

Next came the Observation questions. The Krypton Factor was able to recall microscopic details about everything it saw. Only Connect relied on a series of red rings and arrows, missing the sign marked "Press here to win the match."

Observational skills gave The Krypton Factor a winning advantage. But could it take the final?

The final

Fifteen-to-One versus The Krypton Factor

So final battle was enjoined. Fifteen-to-One came with a massed army: over 1000 contestants to produce one champion. The Krypton Factor sought the best of the elite – it took in less than 50 contestants per year, and stretched them to their limits – and sometimes beyond.

Which was the tougher to win? Luck could get you through to a show final on Fifteen-to-One. Luck could get you a daily victory on Fifteen-to-One. But only the best 25% of daily winners would come back for the series final, and a shot at history. You're not going to win the title through good fortune alone.

Fifteen-to-One William G Stewart.

Luck might get you through a round of The Krypton Factor. Massive amounts of luck, and a very good general knowledge, might possibly let someone sneak through to the group finals. But you're not going to make the grand final without being brilliant in at least two areas.

So let's look at this from a different angle. No-one ever wins an episode of Fifteen-to-One. It's more that fourteen other people lose it. You might answer every question correctly, but if everyone answers every question correctly, the game will continue into infinity. They'll have to reschedule The Simpsons, they'll have to move Channel 4 News, they'll even have to carry on past Benchmark.

Victory on Fifteen-to-One relies on other people's errors, the day's winner is better than the other people in the studio. The only aspect a player controls is their score in the final round, and that (merely) has to be good enough to come back for the grand final.

The Krypton Factor Gordon Burns.

The Krypton Factor ranks its competitors in each round. To win the round, you only have to be a bit better than the next player. You'll control your own performance across many disciplines, and you're ranked in each. Only the final general knowledge round sees direct head-to-head competition.

A suitably tenacious player with a moderate talent could get on the Fifteen-to-One treadmill. Win a game, come back next series. Win a game, come back next series. Win a game, come back next series. By sheer persistence, someone might luck into a place in the grand final, and the quiz gods may reward patience.

People didn't come back on The Krypton Factor: one chance, one shot, that's it. Run up against Marian Chanter in your series? Tough luck, you lost.

The final question: which show came out better from its revival? The Krypton Factor 2009-10 kept many of its familiar rounds and styling. While Ben Shepherd was not Gordon Burns, he was similar and the change didn't jar. Young Krypton was recognisable from its parent format.

Fifteen-to-One has a fixed format, but both Adam Hills and Sandi Toksvig take a very different style. Their shows are stretched to fill a full hour. The questions are longer, the host is chattier. The daily show allows contestants three attempts to reach the daily final, and almost half the winners will reach the series final. The Schools Challenge (1999) was almost a completely different show.

The Krypton Factor The winner splashes down.

We recognise Fifteen-to-One, and it's still a quality show, but it has lost some of its distinctive points. More than that, it seems easier to fluke a win – and perhaps a place in the final – on Fifteen-to-One these days.

For these reasons, we reckon The Krypton Factor must be Television's Toughest Quiz. All the others are just pretenders.

This Week and Next

We were intrigued to read a note about NBC The Voice of Holland of Yankeeland, which said,

"During a conference call Wednesday afternoon, Madi Davis and some of the other eliminated contestants made it very clear that on more than one occasion they chose sentimental favorites over shoo-ins. That's why, say, Amy Vachal chose an 18-year-old Bob Dylan obscurity Monday night ("To Make You Feel My Love")..."

Do they mean "track that single-handedly rescued Adele's career when it got covered on The X Factor a few years ago?" They certainly do. Anyway, NBC The Voice of Holland of Yankeeland crowned its winner on Tuesday night, and they were forgotten by Wednesday morning.

Fifteen-to-One It's lights out and goodbye.

The winner of Britain's The X Factor wishes for that sort of success. Lovely Minipop had a career lasting almost exactly 49 hours before she was forgotten in favour of the latest Justin Beaver track. Producers may be able to tilt The X Factor in favour of their anointed one, but the Grate British Public will not be denied.

The second-biggest selling single last week, Lizzy made number 9 on the CBBC / Radio 1 chart. Last week, chart show host Cel Spellman said that he'd be joined by "The X Factor winner". This week, he was joined by Reggie and Bolly. We'll draw our own conclusions, thanks.

(And yes, we are saying that we watch the CBBC chart show. It's so much more fun than The X Factor, and Cel Spellman has the same star potential as Ant and Dec.)

Sad news from the blue wire, where Best Time Ever won't be renewed for a second run. We looked at Neil Patrick Harris's take on Saturday Night Takeaway just a few weeks ago, and reckoned that it could teach the UK version a thing or two. Mostly, stop faffing about and get on with it.

"Dépêche-toi!" is the shout from France 3, where Julien Lepers has been relieved of host's duties on Questions Pour un Champion. Reports say that this has created no end of a stir, especially amongst the programme's elderly audience. And therein lies the problem. In France, as in the UK, retired people are not attractive to advertisers. France 3 wants to attract a younger audience, one that will bring in some advertising euro. So it's out with the old, and in with the new, literally.

Hmm. Wonder if we can sell them this "Marc de Banque" format we just dreamed up. Estimation questions avec beaucoup du chatteration. Hosted par Paddy du Guinness.

Who said The Krypton Factor was "one of the most well thought out, well balanced quizzes that's ever been on television."? Nicholas Gates and the MFI Tuesday web page, in 1999. Whatever happened, eh?

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow

Quiz Update

With University Challenge moving for Nigella, Only Connect won Monday night by default. The Yorkers and Operational Researchers met in the top half of the draw; the Yorkers had yet to lose. A wonderful group of connections this week: singers with imperial measurements in their name, The Fifth Man, and various people called Steve Jones (geneticist, 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic) host). Great for the viewers, not for the players, as the Operational Researchers led 2-1.

The first shows on television channels, rivers in Paradise, recent Taoisigh, all sequences in the next round. Inflated the score, didn't alter the lead, now 7-6 to the Researchers. The walls proved to be the difference, Yorkers perhaps a little unlucky to confuse cables with electrical conductors, Operational Researchers couldn't tell their Reliant cars from orange things, and fell 13-12 behind.

Missing Vowels turned into another gallop for the Yorkers, extending their lead to 20-16.

Mastermind was close after the specialist rounds – three contenders scored 11 points. It was close after the general knowledge rounds, with Mike Wing, Amanda Calton, and Stephen Adams on 18 or 19 points. Simon Alvey took the victory, with a score of 14 in the general knowledge section advancing his score to 25.

BARB ratings in the week to 6 December.

  1. Strictly Come Dancing continues as the UK's top show, with 11.95m viewers this week.
  2. The final of I'm a Celebrity had 8.1m tuning in to see a win for Craig Joubert. 6.75m saw The Apprentice, and The X Factor recovered, if 5.95m counts as a recovery. A dull panel on Pointless Celebrities brought just 5.6m viewers.
  3. Masterchef The Professionals entertained 3.4m, and University Challenge was seen by 2.95m. Paxo is now less popular than The Beast, as 2.99m saw the top episode of The Chase.
  4. The Apprentice You're Fired (2.4m) was almost overtaken by The Great Pottery Throw Down (2.35m). Simply Nigella still beat Only Connect, but the gap has narrowed to 2.2m vs 2.1m.
  5. Stonking ratings for Get Me Out of Here Now, 1.335m saw Sunday's after-show party. Next on the non-PSB channels was QI XL on Dave, seen by 325,000. Masterchef Australia on Watch followed just behind, 320,000 viewers.

Christmas week sees lots of shows end – Masterchef Australia (Watch, Sun), The Apprentice (BBC1, Sun), Masterchef The Professionals (BBC2, Christmas Eve). Insomniacs are well served as Benchmark (C4) goes out at about 4.30am most mornings.

Christmas specials kick into high gear, with new runs of University Challenge (BBC2, from Sun), World's Strongest Man (C5, from Mon; finals from Sun 27), and Celebrity Mastermind (BBC1, from Tue). Viewers in Wales might enjoy The Really Welsh Quiz (BBC1, Mon 21 and 28).

A Question of Sport gets its Christmas special on Wednesday. Pointless Celebrities pulls a plum spot on Christmas Eve, followed by Would I Lie to You? BBC2 has The Great History Quiz, about the Tudors; ITV sends us Through the Christmas Keyhole.

Christmas Day honours fall to Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1), QI (BBC2), Fighting Talk (Radio 5), and The Quizeum (BBC4).

Shows that were late submitting their Christmas special are left with the dusty slots afterwards: see Big Star's Little Star (ITV, Wed 30), Celwydd Noeth (S4C, New Year's Eve), and The Big Quiz (2) (ITV, New Year's Day).

The week after Christmas is known for The Big Fat Quiz of the Year (C4, Christmas Saturday), and World's Strongest Man (C5, from Sun), with archive shows on Spike. There's also an 8 Out of 10 Cats End of Year Special (C4, Tue), opposite BBC2's tribute to Stephen Fry. The new year begins with Race to Escape (Discovery, New Year's Day), an imported show set in the fashionable escape rooms.

The Week will have the regular review of the year just as soon as we've written it, maybe this year, maybe next. We plan to resume a normal service on 10 January. Until then, our very best wishes for a happy and healthy Christmas, and may your new year be everything you want it to be.

Photo credits: ABC Disney, BBC, Potato, Granada, Love Productions, Parasol, Regent Productions, SyCo / Thames, Initial (an Endemol company). Video courtesy Random Radio Jottings.

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