The Great Pretender



Chris Tarrant


RDF Television for ITV1, 5 November to 21 December 2007 (40 episodes in 1 series)


Or Chris Tarrant's The Great Pretender, as the adverts insisted on calling it. Anyone would think they wanted to trumpet the fact that it's a game show! Hosted by Chris Tarrant! But it's not... oh... what's that other show he used to do? What? He still does it? Could've fooled us!

Nine years after Millionaire began the mania for game shows with far too much bombast, this addition to ITV's 5pm roster was something a little different. If Golden Balls had the glitz and glamour to blow up a disused office block, The Great Pretender couldn't cause an explosion in a match factory filled with gas. The set was functional, the lighting subdued, and the music minimalist. It was quiet, low-key, and subtle. Subtlety on ITV? It happened.

There is actually a quiz amongst all of this. Six people have turned up, and Chris Tarrant will fire off questions to them, initially at £50 per correct answer. Most of the questions go round the semicircular table, though there are a few buzzer questions. Correct answers put the money won into a communal pot, and the person who gave the most correct answers throughout the game will win the accumulated pile. So far, it's a slightly politer version of The Weakest Link.

However, there are some very large twists in the tale. Though there isn't any of that banking nonsense from the other side, there is some voting out. Twice during the game, the panel will be given the opportunity to eject one of their number. It could be someone they believe to be doing very well, it could be someone they believe to be doing very poorly and costing them money. If one contestant receives more votes than any other, they're out of the game, and the reward for a correct answer to the remaining questions is doubled - £100 after the first exit, £200 after the second. The number of questions reduces with the number of people, so it's not always as clear-cut as that. However, if there's no clear loser of the vote, everyone remains, and the cash remains as it is.

The elephant in the room is the correct answers. Or, to be exact, not telling the answers. Tarrant will keep to himself whether each individual question was right or wrong; it's only displayed on screen via a visual effect, allowing the really determined competitor to play along at home. At the end of some rounds, he'll say how much is in the pot, but that's the only progress indicator the team gets.

In the early stages, therefore, it's good tactics to throw a few questions so that one doesn't appear too strong and get voted off. But nor is it good tactics to get everything wrong, because the team can then jettison some dead weight, and the object is to be the strongest link -- er, best performer -- through the game. At the end of the rounds of questionning - they occupy just over half the hour-long show - someone has given more correct answers than everyone else. If necessary, there's a guesstimation question to break a tie. That person is the day's strongest link, and leaves with the prize of about £2500.

Except they don't, and this fills the remainder of the hour. After the quiz, the contestants are taken to a waiting room, and then return to the studio. Tarrant has a chat, and the contestant inserts a plastic sheet into a display that reveals whether they are that day's winner. If they are, they are deemed the Great Pretender. This Pretender must keep their status from the other contestants, because everyone else will have an opportunity to grab a share of the bank. Yes, it's the bluffing elements from PokerFace finding a new home on daytime television.

After everyone's had their chat with Tarrant, they all come back to the studio for a final group discussion, and ultimately a vote. The non-Pretenders must unanimously vote for the winner in order to grab the prize and split it amongst themselves. This sounds quite boring when written down, but it's done by Chris Tarrant, a man who can inject entertainment into even the most tedious situations.

We were particularly taken with the voting mechanism. Rather than writing the name of the person they'd like to vote off on a wipe-clean disk, as happens on the other side, the contestants insert a large plastic chip into the top of their screen, then push a button to reveal their vote. We were less pleased to find that the show had been made in video pretending to be film - the effect always looks dodgy, and it really made the graphics look decidedly poor.

In the end, The Great Pretender fell between a number of stools, combining lots of elements from successful shows without really thinking how they meshed. For all the good visual effects, the gameplay wasn't up to much, and the prospect of people giving deliberately silly answers to rather silly questions didn't last as well as it might have done. Viewers preferred the tried-and-trusted Link on BBC2, or Richard and Judy on Channel 4, and ITV decided not to renew the show after its initial eight-week commission.


Rather bizarrely, as of late 2012 you can still play the pub quiz game based on this show on the machine at our local. Not that we do.

See also

Weaver's Week review


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