Beg, Borrow or Steal
12 Yard for BBC Two, 25 October to 17 December 2004 (29 episodes)
"Ever thought you'd never win big money on a quiz show because your general knowledge isn't up to scratch? Well, think again. On this show it doesn't matter if you don't know the answers because you can beg, borrow or steal them from your opponents. You might say it's more about who you know, rather than what you know. Good general knowledge might win you respect, but good strategy will make you rich."
One of the more entertaining shows to be slung out in the ex-Simpsons slot on BBC2. Five strangers sit on a bench and are asked four questions. There are three rounds in the main game, £3000 up for grabs in each round, and each player must answer all four questions correctly to get a share of the money. Of course, the more people who answer them all, the lower their individual share.
Before going into Jamie's chamber to give their answers, the players can go into one of two trading rooms to trade answers or, more commonly, bluff like crazy. We get to see some of their discussions, with the occasional cutaway to Theakston, watching proceedings in his anteroom and raising an eyebrow at some of the more outrageous lies. This is a lot more entertaining than it sounds.
When the trading is completed, the players enter Jamie's chamber one at a time to give their answers. Jamie also asks them what they think of the other players, what their own strategy is, and anything else that arises from the discussions. This is where Jamie really shines, using the knowledge that he and we have about what really happened to ask some leading questions, and there's usually a laugh or two to be had from players' misjudgements of each other.
If nobody gives all four answers, then a tie-break comes into play. It's a five-way version of the Prisoner's Dilemma - Share or Shaft... I mean, Share or Steal? Again the five go to visit Jamie, to either Share or Steal. If only one person steals, they steal the money. If not, the people who chose to share, share the money. One might imagine that the odds are so stacked against someone trying to steal that no-one would ever do so successfully, but in practice they frequently do.
The workings of the show are well thought-out. The ideal in each round is for the four questions to be so pitched that nobody will know all four, but they will know all four between them. But it doesn't matter if that plan falls flat, because if one person (or more) does know all the answers without trading, then that's quite impressive, and if everybody's stumped then it goes to the tie-break, which is jolly exciting. Truly, they have every eventuality covered.
So, after three rounds the player who has banked the most money gets to play for it in the endgame. (In the event of a tie, two - or more - players may take part in this round and pool their answers.) The other players are banished to Jamie's bubble to watch proceedings, while the top player sits on the bench and once again is asked four questions. Get them all right, and they take the money for themselves. Fail, and they get to choose who comes out to join them on the bench and help out with the answers. Fail again, they get to pick again, and so on until, potentially, all of theplayers are on the bench. Everyone who's on the bench when four correct answers are finally given gets an equal share of the prize money, regardless of their own contribution.
Despite the vogue among commissioning editors for gameshows based on a "who do you trust" theme, the public doesn't really seem to go for them and it's a brave move to throw something like this on at 6pm. With sixteen questions in half an hour, it's not exactly a fast-moving quiz (about two minutes per question is even slower than 12 Yard's creepingly slow yet strangely popular In It to Win It) but Theakston manages to inject enough humour into proceedings for this to work, and watching people blatantly lying to each other is oddly entertaining in itself.
The show in which every round went to a tie-break, and one player managed to accumulate the maximum £9000 prize fund by coming clean ahead of the third tie-break and telling everyone else to steal while he shared.
The episodes in which everyone went home empty-handed, often having given multiple wrong answers to apparently simple questions, such as "what is a clove hitch?", or one that boiled down to "name a type of Japanese poem". ("A knot" and "haiku" are the answers nobody could come up with.)
A contestant thinks that the London university named after a famous engineer is "Cambridge".
Theako: Where do you think Cambridge University is?
Contestant: Geography isn't my strong point.
Theako: There's a clue in the title.