Beat the Cyborgs




Mark Speight


Jason Tompkins


Prism Entertainment for ITV1, 23 October 2003 to 29 January 2004 (13 episodes in 1 series)


In this game, teams of three youngsters gather in a large industrial complex, under the auspices of the Borgmaster (Mark Speight) and his assistant Menzies (Jason Tompkins). The Borgmaster has been travelling the world, and picked out eight people capable of incredible feats of agility, strength, dexterity, and/or cunning. The teams' role is to select which of the Borgs will perform best in each challenge.

This format sounds fiercely complex, but the show airs in children's television, so it's handled with skill and dexterity. Two teams compete each week, and each game begins with a question about one of the Borg's biography or tastes, and the first team to give the correct answer gets first pick of the Borgs, then the opposition picks their Borg. After they've been picked, each Borg enters the arena from a balcony, displaying their prowess and skills. During the game, the teams can shout instructions to their Borg, guiding them through a maze, or pairing off squares on a grid. In one game each week, progress depends on the team correctly answering further questions based on the Borg biogs.

"Wait, haven't we seen superfit people doing strange things on television before?" you might ask. Indeed we have, and there's a clear influence from Gladiators onto Beat The Cyborgs. Both shows are very much larger than life, especially in the spectacular staging of the challenges. Where else could one see people rolling balls down a chute, having them catch fire? Both feature strong presenters, with Mark Speight's character being perhaps the most deliberately over-the-top host since Phineas T Barnum. Mark Speight also does such event commentary as is required, though for many events this is fairly minimal, the noise of the teams barking instructions to their Borgs makes any commentary superfluous.

The crucial difference from Gladiators, though, is exactly who performs these athletic stunts. On the LWT programme, only the superfit could think about taking part on equal terms. While it made for outstanding television, there are only so many superfit people to go round, and your average viewer could only look on in amazement. That problem is neatly avoided here: the superfit people have been found for the contestants, and all they have to do is pick the better one for the task.

Where it's not influenced by Gladiators, Beat The Cyborgs owes something to video games. Each Borg has been turned into an anime-style drawing, and given seemingly arbitrary scores in a multitude of factors. Once they've assimilated this information, the contestants don't have a huge amount to do in the game, and half the time they're reduced to standing on the sidelines and cheering. Some will make the fair point that the Borgs are little more than two-dimensional characters in a glorified video game.

The scoring system for the games is complex. Each of the first three games is centred on collecting a number of "power ups" (points.) In addition, the teams must risk some points on each game: the team collecting the more points in the game doubles their risk, the losers lose theirs, and a draw returns both risks.

The highest score after the first three rounds has a triple advantage in the final round: they get first pick of the Borgs, they can eliminate one Borg from performing for the other team, and they can choose to go second (or first, if they must.) This is a win-or-bust round: the winners progress to the next phase, the losers go home. In many ways, this format makes the previous three rounds pointless. Perhaps giving the leaders choice of Borg and a time advantage would help reduce the dependence on the final round.

Notwithstanding such minor quibbles, Beat The Cyborgs was always spectacular and entertaining.


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