Davina McCall (2002)
Melanie Sykes (2003-4)
Gabby Logan (2004: stand-in)
Kingworld/Carlton for ITV1, 11 May 2002 to 31 August 2004 (31 episodes in 3 series)
Well, well, well, it's another big money quiz on ITV. The fact is, Millionaire is the only one that's managed to be really really successful and now they're easily disappointed with anything that doesn't have the same sort of impact - consider Shafted being shelved after four episodes. Well, new year, new format (this one's Israeli), new audience? We'll see.
The public phone up over the week and seven people who have phoned up before midnight Wednesday are picked at random to play the game proper. Anyone else registered might get a phone call live on Saturday night if the studio players don't win the jackpot. And what a jackpot it is, starting at £100,000 and increasing by £100,000 every week it isn't won.
Our seven contestants need to be sorted out into 'players' and 'brokers' and to do that they've got to guess the magic four figure combination to The Vault, randomly chosen by the producer beforehand. The three closest players become the contestants, the other four become brokers. We're not sure if this sort of luck-based qualification is an entirely correct way to pick players but it does its job. Some kind of Mastermind-style code-breaking game might have been more fun.
Back in the studio, with its curvy metallic set, some stairs and the door to the vault at the back, and Millionaire-style computer module stage front. The players are all standing on a desk on the right, whilst the brokers are sitting behind a desk on the left with signs indicating theirs occupations. In each round it's the brokers' job to try and persuade the contestants to give them money to answer the questions they don't know. Because the contestants get a huge bonus for getting all the questions right, the brokers can make a killing if the contestant is stuck on one or two crucial answers.
In Round One, our three contestants each have three minutes in which to answer 10 questions correctly. They're given £1,000 to start off with and a further £100 for every correct answer given, plus £5,000 bonus should they get all 10. The contestant is asked to go through the ten questions by themselves first before being allowed to get the brokers' help. The brokers indicate they want to help by hitting their button which makes their desk light up, then both broker and contestant negotiates on a price. If more than one broker can help then there's normally some sort of bidding war, but if only one can help then there's going to be some sharp negotiation between the contestant and broker. When a deal is struck, the gives their answer which might be right or wrong (wrong answers effectively make the deal null and void). Graphically, the questions come up in a box down the bottom of the screen with little off shoots telling the audience how much time's left, how much has been won and how much has been spent. Music's rather oppressive and frantic, not too bad all told.
The Israeli original clues Hangman-style puzzles so that it was easy to tell if you had the right answer. That's not the case here - it's just another Q and A, and although the questions are satisfyingly difficult. All said, and done, we'd have preferred the Hangman game for interest's sake. It would also stop the brokers offering nonsense answers, thus saving time. Sadly, there are times when the more obscure questions not only stump the player but all the brokers too and this is where the main gripe of the show comes in. It's the... dead air.
Dead air was less of an issue with the Israel original because viewers rang into the show and only got on air if they definitely had the right answers. In the UK show, if somebody runs through nine questions in a minute we will be forced to watch everybody struggle with the last question for ages. Apart from scrabbling around for guesses, there's not a lot that can be done about it. There's also a slight problem with the balance - someone who tries desperately for all ten and is happy to spend a bomb on getting those last answers but, say, gets stuck on one single question can lose out to somebody who, well, just isn't bothered and doesn't answer many correct. This seems a shame and slightly wrong somehow.
The player with the lowest score is out and the other two go head to head in Round Two. They're given another £1000 to play with and this time they're asked questions alternately, £200 per answer. However, they are only given 15 seconds to come up with an answer so if they want to buy answers they'll have to sort it out pretty quick. If no answer is forthcoming in 15 seconds it's handed over for a bonus. Whoever is responsible for the most correct answers within the four minutes wins a £5000 bonus, split equally if they tie.
This is a good round, but our main reservation is the screen. It's far too cluttered having (as it does) both players faces, a timer, both players' cash totals and both players' correct answer total (represented by pretty green lights). It's quite a lot to take in.
At the end of this round, the scores for the two rounds are added up and the least rich player disappears leaving one player to try and unlock... The Vault.
Throughout the rounds we're told how much each broker has accumulated . Some don't do very well but others who have negotiated well and know the answers to questions no-one else does can do very well indeed. Sometimes, they could even earn more than the main players. The broker who has made the most money is declared the evening's 'hot broker'.
Now up until this point, the show has been pre-recorded. After the break, the End Game is quite clearly live. That's because if the player in the studio fails then someone will be rung up at home to play for the cash. Simply: two minutes to answer ten questions correctly, each one being worth more and more cash but crucially no passing (which means - yes! - more dead air). The first one is worth £250, getting to question nine is worth £25,000. Confusingly the, say, £1000 question doesn't add £1000 just £250 (the first questions jump up £250, £500, £750, £1000) so the prize being played for is in fact the total that will be added to the money from the previous rounds. If they get to question 10, the clock is stopped and the player has a choice of three subjects for the final jackpot question with no help allowed from the brokers. If they get it correct, they win the cash (jackpot + money from the previous rounds - cash spent in the final). If they run out of time, they don't win the jackpot.
And do you know what that means? Yes! Someone at home is phoned up from all the people who have registered over the week. They're challenged to answer six questions in 60 seconds for the £100,000 jackpot. Two of the questions have been already asked during the show. If they don't win, the jackpot rolls over to the next episode. It's at this point you realise just how stupid the British public can be because often they don't get questions already asked during the show! Oh well, it means bigger jackpots when they are won, we guess.
The Vault is a lot of fun with some genuinely tense moments, particularly in the final game and in the negotiation. (We were particularly fond of the moment when one broker asked for £15,000 to question nine of the final once.)
Presentation-wise it feels a bit "DIY Big Money Quiz" but Davina McCall is good at jollying things along and seems pretty genuine. Overall, this isn't a bad effort and does have some tense moments. However, the balance still isn't quite right but, to be fair, it wasn't quite right in the Israeli show either.
Gabby Logan: What is the county town of Kent?
Contestant: Kentish Town?
"Let's see if you have the knowledge to unlock the vault"
Based on an Israeli format
In its three series, the show got through hosts at a rate of knots. Davina lasted only one season before being replaced by Melanie Sykes, herself replaced for the last half-dozen episodes by Gabby Logan. The list could have been even longer - press reports in 2001 suggested Carol Vorderman would host the show.