Weaver's Week 2004-06-26

Weaver's Week Index

26 June 2004

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

Countdown Finals - Weaver's Week

"It's not about the money, it's about the way they make the decisions" - Liza Tarbuck on how WITHOUT PREJUDICE? works.


The fifty-first series final, and thanks to the Ultimate Champions series in 1996, we're crowning the 50th series champ this week.

Over the series, this column has been working on a more meaningful statistic to compare players. Points, we theorise, reflect the luck of the draw as much as quality play. Comparing the contestant's offerings to words in common usage seemed a more fruitful area, and in late April we settled on the Par score, which has averaged 105 points. In the letters round, it's the second longest word in regular usage; in the numbers round, it's this column's score in 30 seconds; and in the conundrum, it's a flat four points. Then subtract the score from the contestant's valid words (whether they scored for the show or not, and nine letter words count 9, not 18) from Par, and that's their Score To Par. As in golf, a negative score is very good, while a large positive score is not so promising. Par heavily penalises contestants who offer words or numbers solutions in error. We came up with this metric in late April, and could only apply it to two participants in Finals Week. Next series, we'll follow it through all the games.

QF1: Stewart Holden (seed 1, 8w, 870p) v Nicole Hutchings (seed 8, 4w, 444p)

Regular viewers reckon Stewart might be the best contestant since Julian Fell and Graham Nash. Though we were using a previous version of par at the time, we reckon Stewart would have finished slightly negative to par, indicating he performed better than a very good contestant, and that's no mean feat. Nicole looked to be unbeatable until she came across Nik von Uexkull in her fifth game - Nik went on to become an octochamp and fourth seed. An upset is possible.

Honours are even through the first period, with seven letter words all round, and a simple numbers challenge. The tie continues through the second section, with an eight providing a little variety, but both players have scored 77. Stewart strikes at the start of the third wit PENTODE, a valve having five electrodes, and a valuable lead. He goes further ahead in the final letters game with MANICURE, and victory looks assured. A third easy numbers game inflates the scores further, and Nicole secures her century - and a better reflection of a cracking game - with the conundrum. Par is 111, Stewart wins the game 110-105. Stewart is therefore +1 against par; as Nicole was beaten by one on each letters game, she's -7 to par. The par metric shows how closely matched these two were.

QF2: Sweyn Kirkness (2, 8w, 765p) v Steve Graston (7, 5w, 586p)

Cameron Stout fans will no doubt be backing fellow Orcadian Sweyn, who made good work of his eight wins. Sweyn made +20 to par during his games. Steve won three in the last series and two more at the start of this, and might be a little out of match practice.

Sweyn picks up a seven point lead in the opening round, as Steve offers the non- word Lardies. Steve hits back with winners TEASPOON and SMOKIER in the next two rounds, Sweyn sets an impossible numbers game, and goes out of the first period eight down. MISCUED puts Sweyn within one point at the half-way mark, and that point remains at the end of the second period. Sweyn risks Shacier in the penultimate letters round, but the anagram CASHIER was there, and Steve's lead is up to seven. A good performance on one of those numbers games doubles Steve's lead. No one gets the conundrum, so Steve's winning score is 78-64. Par was 96, Steve's valid words counted for 78, Sweyn's for 81.

QF3: John Jeffrey (6, 7w, 693p) v Gary Male (3, 8w, 751p)

Gary ended the challenge of Andy Page, last year's Mastermind champion. John won seven easily, but lost his octochamp match. On average performance, John might be a slight favourite.

It's sevens all the way through the first period's letters games, but Gary gets seven from a tricky numbers game to take a lead. John pulls back six with the winner INDOOR after the break, then takes the lead with DAIRYMEN and PLATONIC in the next two rounds. Gary pulls six back when John spots a second E in the last selection, and the lead stands at nine. Gary picks a difficult set of numbers and gains up seven from his choice, cutting the lead to two. Both players risk WATERMAN in the final letters game - it's valid, another term for a boatman, so the gap remains at two to John. But Gary comes through in a somewhat more simple numbers game and takes an eight point lead into a very tricky conundrum. Gary buzzes on eight seconds, but is in error, John doesn't guess, and it has to go to a Mr Clive Spate in the audience. Gary has won a cracking game, 79-71. Par for the game was 104; Gary offered for 98 (+6), John missed one letters and two numbers so declared for 78 (+26).

QF4: Nik Von Uexkull (4, 8w, 749p) v Richard Pay (5, 8w, 732p)

Nik (his family name is pronounced Uck-SKULL) is this year's young star, at just fifteen years of age. A rematch with Nicole would surely have decided the series winner. Nik was +33 to par in his eight games. Richard won his eight without really breaking sweat, he might have kept something in reserve for the later stages. Richard already has a fan card, from a doting lady of 84.

Richard takes the lead in the third round, when his CONIFER beats Nik's CRETIN, and that has to be the first time anyone has ever mentioned "cretin" in connection with Countdown. Richard offers MISRATED in the next round, but it's not valid, so Nik takes a one point lead. Richard decides not to risk "overlamp" and "overclamp" in one round, so stays within a point. Curiously, STRAINED and its anagrams RANDIEST and DETRAINS appear in rounds one and eight, and are winners both times. Nik risks "bestile" in the next round, and is duly thrown out to give Richard a lead of five. A very good numbers game gives Nik a lead of two. Richard comes out with the winner MATADOR at the start of the third, and is back ahead by five. There we remain to the conundrum, which no- one gets, allowing Richard to win 85-80. Par for the game was 103, both players offered 92 (+11).

SF1: Richard Pay v Stewart Holden

Round two is curious, lots of fives, no sixes, one seven, and BEAUTIES for eight. Stewart spots the latter and takes a large lead, which he doubles with DINOSAUR in the next round. Richard claws 7 back in the first numbers game. Both offer "gelatos" - Italian ice creams. That's no good, but anagram LEGATOS would be fine. The nine point lead remains through the second period, but Richard offers "wireable" at the start of the third. It's not in, so Stewart's six picks up the points. Richard goes for broke in the next round, offering

"medicant," it's still no good, the lead increases to 23, and a pair of sevens in the last letters ends the game as a contest. Stewart wins 93-60. Par for the game is 110, and errors from both contestants lead to large scores to par - Stewart was +12, Richard +35.

SF2: Steve Graston v Gary Male

As a contest, this game took a huge knock in the very first round. Gary offered the valid "listener," but Steve won with RESILIENT; as nine-letter words score double, Gary has a mountain to climb already. Steve moves further ahead with DISARMED in round three, and leads 49-23 after the first period. Gary has to risk to progress, but starts the second with a disallowed eight, "clouters" - valid anagrams include "Coulters" and "Clotures". Gary tries to pluralise Steve's BONDAGE, but Susie says no to "bondages," and that'll be amongst the most-searched terms on the ukgameshows.com website within weeks. Steve remains 41 ahead into the third. Gary pulls back with the winners UNPAIRED and SALUTE in the third, but it's too late. Gary's conundrum brings the score back to a respectable 100-83, but anyone who can go 41 ahead in seven rounds is on very good form. Par for the game was 103; Steve declared for 103 (=0), Gary for 98 (+5).

F: Steve Graston v Stewart Holden

For the second series running, the unbeaten number one seed takes on the number seven seed. Richard is wearing a decent tie - cream, with attractive blue and red stripes. It's politer not to mention what Carol's wearing. Stewart has a tie, Steve a nice brown-to-black shirt, Susie is smart as ever, but DC guest Michael Aspel might have put a tie on. The game gets off to a surprise start when Steve's first word is disallowed, letting Stewart take a six point lead. There's no splitting the two through the rest of the first period, so the outsider retains his lead. Steve gambles on EXACTOR in the second period, it's valid, and the gap remains at six. With two closely-matched contestants, it's going to take an Evil Numbers Game to split the two, and that Evil Numbers Game comes up at the end of the second. Stewart is nine away, Steve five off, and he takes the lead by one point. This is going down to the wire! Stewart pulls back ahead with PROSAIC at the start of the third, but it's still only six ahead. WALDOES is a gamble from Stewart - it turns out to be a remotely controlled object for handling objects, worth seven points, and takes his lead to 13. A simple last numbers game clinches Stewart's win, the conundrum extends his margin to a slightly flattering 104-81. With nothing longer than a seven available in many rounds, Par was 98; Steve declared for 93, Stewart for 109. A worthy, undefeated champion.


With five shows in one week, we can't give the same level of coverage as last year. Instead, we have short-form scores and a quick word on each winner.


Alistair Finch, RMS Titanic. 11 points (1 pass) + 4 (1) = 15 (2)
Sally Budd, Joyce Grenfell. 15 (0) + 6 (0) = 21 (0)
David Battye, Gustav Mahler. 10 (0) + 11 (1) = 21 (1).
John Tweddle, World Heavyweight Boxing 1895-1978. 15 (0) + 10 (3) = 25 (3)

John went superbly through his specialist subject, and put up a slightly more nervy - but still very promising - performance on GK. One of the GK questions that beat Sally was about the authorship of "The Beach" - the same question beat a home contestant on THE VAULT a few weeks ago. Another question concerned the Wheel of Ixion, familiar to viewers of HERCULES.

Tuesday Melvyn Kinsey, Warren G Harding 12 (2) + 8 (4) = 20 (6)
Andrew Lyman, Test Career of Geoffrey Boycott. 14 (0) + 12 (3) = 26 (3)

Chris Wills, Dr Who. 15 (2) + 11 (3) = 26 (5)
Christine Warman, Novels of Tom Sharpe. 15 (0) + 9 (6) = 24 (6)

Chris is a former Countdown champion. Christine, playing last, gets a question about the Augean stables, and we're on the lookout for the remaining ten in this set.

Ruth Atkin, Philip Pulman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy 10 (0) + 8 (0) = 18 (0)
Mike Smith, Western Europe 400-800 10 (0) + 11 (3) = 21 (3)

David Radcliffe, George Gershwin 7 (6) + 13 (1) = 20 (7)
Jim Cook, US Manned Spaceflight 1961-75 12 (1) + 13 (0) = 25 (0)

Jim is a familiar face, probably from Fifteen To One, and a clear winner.

Jim Prendergast, Maureen O'Hara 12 (2) + 13 (3) = 25 (5)
Stephen Porter, Punk 1976-79; 16 (1) + 11 (0) = 27 (1)
Duncan Mitchell, Halifax Rugby League Club 17 (0) + 12 (2) = 29 (2)
Anne Kelly, Only Fools and Horses 10 (3) + 8 (4) = 18 (7)

Let's be honest, we were watching the England match and picked up the result later. It'll be interesting to see if Duncan can do well on another specialist subject.


Julia McLaughlin-Cook, "Witch World" novels of Andre Norton 15 (0) + 11 (4) = 26 (4)
Alan Wynne, Tour de France 11 (1) + 10 (4) = 21 (5)
Marc Hudson, Tom Lehrer 14 (3) + 4 (2) = 18 (5)
Clive Bettington, Jewish East End of London 14 (0) + 8 (0) = 22 (0)

The only contestant from the top three to make a good go of her general knowledge round progresses. Another five episodes follow next week.


Where have we seen this before? ITV's latest reality series is PRESS GANGED, will feature fourteen contestants living on a ship in 18th century-style conditions. They're divided into two teams, which then compete against each other in a variety of challenges to win control of the ship. Contestants who are voted off the show will be made to walk the plank then swim to shore.

Any comparisons with the Tribal Council rituals of SURVIVOR, or the Irish game show that ended up stuck on the rocks after about two weeks (and without a camera crew, too) are clearly coincidental. SURVIVOR ON A SHIP will air from October. [In the event, it didn't. - Ed]

Confirming Saturday night schedules: Strictly Come Dancing at 1930, Innit at 2030, a dramadoc about the Elgin Marbles on BBC2 at 2100, a golden Scrapheap Challenge fills in at 1830 C4 Sunday, there's £700,000 (that's more than a million US dollars) on The Vault, and Vernon Kay brings Head Jam to BBC3 on Friday night.

Speaking on Virgin Radio, host Liza Tarbuck suggested that the end may be nigh for this column's favourite show of last year. Without Prejudice? has got people talking, but too many people still see it as a show that's about someone getting twenty (or fifty) grand, when it's really about the four-hour discussions that lead to someone getting that money. The critics have belatedly come round to liking it, but Channel 4 will be burning off old episodes at 2am Sunday from next week. What about that other show C4 airs, the one that's far more worthy of endless airtime?


Endemol and Channel 4 have found it within their hearts to allow all but one of those who used violence on BIG BROTHER last week to remain in the house. Even though they've broken the rules, they can stay. Oh, apart from Emma. "The other housemates have sorted out their differences," said the statement from Endemol. With Emma locked in the bedsit, she didn't have the indulgence afforded to the others.

Desperate attempts at damage limitation followed later in the week, with one tabloid newspaper claiming that the "nuclear option" came in for serious consideration - chuck the lot out and start again. Everyone quickly realised that the format would bite the dust faster than an international footballer who has come within five yards of an opponent. The next idea was to throw Victor and Jason out with Emma, but apparently someone feared a public backlash. From what? Taking a firm grip over a show that's spiralled out of control and compromised people's safety?

If there isn't a public backlash under way, a private backlash begins here. This column believes the decision to leave Victor and Jason in has fundamentally compromised the show, changing it from a popularity contest to survival of the fittest. We will reduce its coverage to a bare minimum until the public does the job from which the producers have shirked.

Celebdaq divvies for the week ending 17 June didn't include anything from the press coverage of the contest-ending brawl. The house average yield fell from 101% to 77% - that's as much a reflection of the contestants' increased prices as the reduced coverage. The contestants fall into four groups. At the bottom are Kat and Ahmed, who got no press coverage at all. Not a sentence. Daniel, Nadia, Marco, Vanessa, Stuart, and Shell all got some coverage, and dividend yields from 40% to 68%. Jason, Emma, and Michelle all got a lot of coverage, their yields were around 120%. Victor got acres of space, and a whopping 217% yield.

There was no Saturday night task, so there is no Saturday night task coverage. The prize fund may have risen to £17,000, but we're not sure.

Betting on the ultimate winner: with the eviction looking increasingly like a foregone conclusion, Dan moved in from 5.4 to 4.05 - barely 3/1 in old money. Most of his move has been at the expense of Shell and Stuart, but both have been 5.5 or better all week. Marco's remained between 8 and 9, Michelle's come in from 15.5 to 11.5, Nadia's from 33 to 19. Going the other way are Jason (20 to 45) and Any Other (18 to 24.5). Victor, Ahmed, and Vanessa remain above replacement level, phenomenal unpopularity with four weeks gone.

It's not as though the rollover eviction was a foregone conclusion, but by Friday night, Vanessa was 1.03 (that's 1/33 in old money!) and Dan 20. Hence there was a slight anticlimax when we heard Vanessa would be leaving; she had secured 86% of the vote against the betting favourite.

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