Weaver's Week 2003-09-06

Weaver's Week Index

6th September 2003

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.

This week, it's the search for the new Astrognat, some more news, and a double dose of this.


Now: Gavin Fuller -v- Michael Penrice

Later: Clive Spate -v- Dee Voce.

Readers are cautioned that the result of last night's show is given away here.

Once again, Carol claims that during next week's Week, we're going to be crowning the greatest television quiz player of all time. No, we're going to be crowning the greatest player of GRAND SLAM this year. That sort of language precludes a second series. She's billing this match as a battle of MASTERMIND champions; there are those who argue that the 2001-2 version on Discovery was not part of the television canon.

In his second question, Michael Penrice says that the medical term for short sightedness is "hypermetropia." The production team reckon "myopia," and they're correct - hypermetropia is long sightedness. A frame-by-frame analysis shows that they stopped recording to discuss the answer, just three questions into the show. The rest of the round progresses without incident, until Michael Penrice makes two errors in a row, and his clock stops with 0.71 seconds remaining. He's a little lucky to run down Gavin Fuller's clock further, but Gavin Fuller still takes 17 seconds.

Numbers is Gavin Fuller's round, thanks to such stinkers as 7/9 of 162. The word "Pass" springs to mind. Michael Penrice tries these questions, fails these questions, and Gavin Fuller has 49.5 seconds. A killer of a round.

This week's keyword is "Black." Again, honours are even until midround; again, Michael Penrice falls away quickly. However, Michael Penrice gains a little luck, his clock stops with 0.05 seconds remaining, and Gavin Fuller loses five seconds. He still keeps 22 seconds. As this column argued last week, 0.05 seconds is far more precise than any human can be. Competitors at the world athletics championships are deemed to false start if they react once in under 0.1 seconds, never mind the half dozen changes in play one has in a round of Grand Slam.

"Contemporary" knowledge is our third general knowledge round, so expect someone's clock to stop with a piddling fraction of a second. That's been the pattern so far. Not too impressed with the question "Who won the 2003 Tour de France for the fifth consecutive year," as it implies the 2003 Tour de France has been run in four previous years. Michael Penrice confuses "Miles" for "Niles" as Dr Frasier Crane's brother, but then Gavin Fuller falls into the pass trap. His clock stops with 4.17 seconds, Michael Penrice gets the next question to stop his clock on 1.10 seconds, Gavin Fuller stops his with 0.05 seconds, and both players almost fall about the floor at the ludicrous nature of the situation. The vagaries of human error have combined to award Gavin Fuller the round. He takes one twentieth of a second (!) to the final round, but Michael Penrice must start the next round and incur a 4 second penalty. Even Carol can't take the situation seriously. The question Michael Penrice didn't get to hear: which sportsman's autobiography is entitled "Serious."

It looks as if Michael Penrice has given up, and is playing for the hell of it. He looks set to win the Words round, until he confuses his Morse letters S and O, then fails to answer another question correctly. Gavin Fuller takes 23.5 seconds, Michael Penrice mutters something and moves his hands as if he's driving.

Gavin Fuller has accumulated a 112 second lead, and plays a relaxed round. Michael Penrice plays hell-for-leather, and there's just an inkling that he might trouble Gavin Fuller. The final round has always been anticlimactic, and so it proves tonight, though Gavin Fuller's lead is cut to 98 seconds. Michael Penrice mutters something about "never recovering from myopia," and it does sound as though they had one heck of a ding-dong about that question.

Now: Clive Spate -v- Dee Voce

Dee Voce misses three questions early on, and she's down by more than 30 seconds at one point. Then Clive Spate drops three of four and uses a switch, and wins the round by just 10.1 seconds. Carol and James talk up this "amazing recovery," and don't dwell on the fact that Dee Voce actually lost the round. The question that flashed up on screen at the end of the round: what name is given to the so-called "soft spot" on an infant's head.

In previous Numbers rounds, Clive Spate has gone 20/20. His opening question - 20% of 505 - is insultingly easy, and after a strong start, Dee Voce falls away quickly. A lucky finish means Clive Spate wins by "only" 32.73 seconds. He'll beat himself up in the interval for switching on the question "add the number of signs in the zodiac to the number of men on a dead man's chest," but that's not numbers, it's general knowledge.

Tonight's keyword is "New." We get such tenuous links as Duran Duran (a "new romantic" band) and Frank Sinatra's shoes (as they're described in "New York New York.") Again Dee Voce falls behind early, again she recovers later, again Clive Spate wins - this time by 10.7 seconds.

Which brings us to Contemporary Knowledge. Dee Voce starts with the person found guilty of cheating in NICKED, who we cannot name for legal reasons. Ahem. Clive Spate doesn't know Russia's entry to Eurovision 2003, that country's best vocal group since - ooh - Premier Minister. Clive Spate gets three passes in a row, but still manages to scrape a 0.22 second win in the round. Readers can insert their own comment here. What's worse, the show is now clearly going to go to Clive Spate, the last two rounds will just be marking time.

Carol and James talk up Words and Letters, as both are seasoned COUNTDOWN players. Perhaps Clive Spate against Graham Nash, whom Dee Voce beat in the quarters, would make a closer round. Dee Voce loses her last switch early, and it's one-way traffic from there. Clive Spate keeps 35 seconds to the final round.

In the final, Clive Spate has a lead of 88.7 seconds, there's no drama, no tension, and that is going to be how we'll remember Grand Slam. Great quizzing, but such dull and anticlimactic television. Clive Spate's winning margin is 103.6 seconds, he'll face Gavin Fuller in next week's final. There have been only two really good matches out of fourteen so far, and that doesn't bode well for next week.

STARFINDER (Carlton for CITV, 1559 weekdays)

Four children are invited to spend a week aboard a space station, training to be an astronaut. They carry out drills involving practical skills, reactions, and hand-eye coordination. At the end of the week, the winning cadet will go to Star City in Russia for some real cosmonaut training.

Unlike any regular children's game show, Starfinder doesn't have some sort of points system for determining the winner. The person who does best at the training tasks won't necessarily be the winner. Instead, the contestant who most impresses the voting public will emerge triumphant. Children (and adults) send their votes via SMS and premium rate phone votes, or via the station's website.

ITV has pulled out all the promotional stops for this series, and for good reason. The special effects are something quite amazing. They bring to mind the ill-fated series SCAVENGERS in their depth and quality, though we do have to remember that the John Leslie vehicle is now nine years old. The set is large, with slides and remotely controlled doors and complex lighting.

Tom Zikas is the host: he has a mainly American accent, but with a trace of something from Central Europe. It's certainly an exotic voice, and fits the out- of-the-world nature of the show very well. Less impressive is the computer's voice, a dull monotone that hasn't advanced from early 1980s sci-fi programmes.

The contestants aren't alone: a friend from home can talk to the contestants in their daily major missions. They act as a second pair of eyes, helping the contestant see things and not become overwhelmed by the experience.

Commander Zikas isn't completely impartial, on one occasion he spoke to camera to disagree with a contestant who blamed his playing partner for his poor performance. It's all about communication, said the Commander, a message borne out by the most successful candidate.

The games divide into two parts - one is a superior arcade game, one that vibrates the chair and gives realistic feedback, uses a realistic virtual reality glove, or a space suit, and some of the greatest computer simulations on display. The other games are practical, with robot arms and simple but effective reaction tests.

Starfinder fills a very peculiar space in the game show continuum. It's the first children's game show where the audience votes on the winner, but it's radically different from BIG BROTHER and its clones. It has the competitive edge and clear fantasy element of INCREDIBLE GAMES, yet without the finale of the show with the talking lift. Indeed, Starfinder doesn't easily invite comparison with any other game show, primarily because there is no elimination, no overall scoring system, merely four contestants working together, working apart, and being judged by their peers.

Starfinder has to be appreciated on its own merits, and it will go down as a quietly radical departure from the game show norm.


Mastermind this week was all about some potentially confusing specialist subjects.

Stephen Beckett took The Simpsons. That's not the family of the man whom Wallace divorced to marry Edward Windsor, but the cartoon series. Ten points and two passes - not so much asking tricky questions about pop culture as asking questions about individual episodes and guest stars rather than the meat of the show.

Catherine Gillespie offers Nero. That's not the sidekick of Baron Greenback and Dangermouse's fifth deadliest enemy, but the Roman emperor. Fourteen points and one pass - she knows her onions.

Steve Kidd, who appeared on University Challenge in the recent past, is telling us about Who. That's not the doctor of BBC sci-fi fame, but the seminal 70s band. He gets off to a bad start, interrupting John and being ticked off in his own time. Eleven points and one pass, not a bad recovery.

Chris Phillips has Laurie Lee. That's not the bloke out of Wolverhampton rock band Slade, he was Jimmy Lee, Laurie was an author. Chris does well, scoring thirteen points and one pass.

Stephen Beckett doesn't know that Detroit is a big city in Michigan, and advances his cause to 19 points with a third pass.

Steve Kidd does know about the Minotaur and the Alamo, but is still interrupting John slightly, and doesn't know about the Steiff company. He's no arctophile. He finishes on 18 points, but racks up another five passes.

Chris Phillips is surprised to find that Google's only been around since 1998, and does well to guess Nicosea from its Greek and Turkish names. He finishes on 23 points and a second pass.

Catherine Gillespie appears to ask John to repeat the question about the SI unit of power, but "Watt" is the correct answer. She takes her score to 25 points and no passes, and is this week's winner. Only 37 points came from general knowledge, compared with 48 from specialist subjects - a wider gap than usual.


Gopherman was surprised to welcome back a familiar face to this week's WINNING LINES show, returning after just three weeks and using her mobile phone. He was even more surprised to find that she went through to the Last Six for the second time in as many appearances. For the second time, she fell in that round.

Next year's Eurovision Song Contest will take place on May 15; the semi-final will be the previous Wednesday, May 12. The UK and Ireland both have automatic entry into the final. Turkey, as hosts, will also be performing in the Saturday night party, and they've already selected punk/ska band Athena as their entry. Britain needs to pick Peter Brame from Star Academy now, before every other country in Europe sends someone whacky.

It's Eurovision night tonight, as ITV airs the national final of Junior Eurovision at 1820 tonight - Mark Durden-Smith and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson take on the roles of Wogan and Bruce. Mark Jessop will return to gain admission to The Thirteen Club at the start of Millionaire at 2035, while Gopherman and Annie Test The Nation's general knowledge at 1930. Star Academy shifts to Sunday teatime, C4 plays The Games all week, QI is Quite Interesting is Stephen Fry's new quiz 2200 Thursday on BBC2, and it's the Grand Slam final next Friday night.

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