Weaver's Week 2005-01-23

Weaver's Week Index


23 January 2005

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

Peter Luff, MP for the middle part of Worcestershire, asked a question in the House of Commons this week about Dick And Dom (which we really must review one of these weeks.) "Is that really the stuff of public service broadcasting?" the honourable member asked after seeing the "lavatorial nature" of their website. He plainly hadn't seen the programme, and certainly couldn't answer the year's most pressing electoral issue: which one's Dom?

No cream this week, but lots more game show foolishness; two of the lowest scorers on University Challenge meet, and - oh yes!

Celebrity Big Brother 3

(Endemol for Channel 4, 6-23 January)

As promised last week, the review of CBB3 that the show demands. We must start with approximate descriptions of those who have left, and those who are still in:

  • Germaine Greer, academic, walked out on 11 January.
  • Approximately fifteen protesters from a media stunt organisation, entered and evicted on the 14th.
  • Jackie Stallone, celebrity mother, entered on 10 January, evicted on the 14th.
  • John McCririck, hands-waving horse-racing chap, evicted on the 17th.
  • Lisa L'Anson, erstwhile radio presenter, removed while playing Hide and Seek on the 19th.
  • Caprice, eponymous car designer, evicted on the 21st.
  • Jeremy Edwards, not famous to begin with, and also evicted on the 21st.
  • Mark Berry, "Bez" in the Happy Mondays.
  • James Mackenzie, "Raven" from ... hang on, no, "Kenzie" in the So Solid Squad.
  • Brigette Nielsen, who has been allowing lazy newspaper headline writers an excuse to publicise the work of UKGS regular "Brig Bother."

But allow us to go back to Germaine Greer, the outspoken academic who walked out of the house less than a week in. In a hastily-called press conference at the show's gates, Ms Greer stated that she had been "naive" in not realising the other participants were there to promote their own agendas. "Caprice is here to raise awareness of her lingerie. Brigitte is a professional reality TV person. Kenzie wants to raise the profile of his band."

The attacks intensified in a press conference that evening. The house is a "fascist prison," and Big Brother has been bullying other participants, especially Mr McCririck and Ms Nielsen. Mr McCririck had been denied a diet cola drink, and refused to participate in some activities; the drink in question was made available to the other participants, who were encouraged to make sure Mr McCririck knew that they were having that which he could not. Ms Nielsen had had to suffer her former mother-in-law enter the contest, with possible repercussions for a child custody dispute that Ms Nielsen is involved in.

Mrs Stallone left the contest after being voted out by the Grate British Public (the same people who voted for Mr Hilton-Potts on Vote For Him last week.) She indicated that the producers had told her she would be "living in a mansion" with "eight brilliant minds," and that her role in the house was so obviously to stir things up with Ms Nielsen that it just wasn't worth her while bothering.

Ms Greer continued, "I would like to look at the epidemiology of bullying to see if the rise and rise of bullying and the rise and rise of Big Brother have anything to do with each other." She said that Big Brother had behaved like a "child rather than a parent," and added, "It was demonstrating the role of taunting in the playground and there are so many children whose lives have been ruined by taunting in the playground. I was worried about the object lesson in bullying I have participated in."

There have been complaints about Big Brother before - Dean O'Loughlin's book is a dossier of how Endemol misleads the participants in its shows, and plays for press coverage and ratings at the expense of any sort of fairness. Similar themes have been aired in the press over the past year or so, and Ms Greer wonders if some of the participants in the current series have clauses in their contract that ensure they won't be shown in an unflattering light. Yet, in the history of Big Brother, no-one else has been sufficiently self-aware to modify their behaviour not by what might play well with the audience, but by paying attention to what's going on. Make no mistake: these tests and trials have the potential to inflict lasting damage on the participants. We saw one of them go badly wrong in last year's fight night. Though it was relatively small in the grand scheme of things, it marked the watershed where anyone could see the Big Brother project had lost its innocence and become an instrument to entertain by malice.

We've seen how degrading ordeals (stinging nettles, vomiting on live television) are described as "challenges." Viewers have seen that privacy becomes a complete impossibility, especially with the too-clever toilet ensuring that people will be walked in upon. Writing in the Sunday Times, Ms Greer describes things they've not seen - the impossibly weak flush, ensuring that the toilet is blocked for half the time. Nor does the viewer see the burnt-on fat, or the grease left over from last summer's extended series. Indeed, any attempt to use wooden plates would have had any restaurant closed down within a day, but not Big Brother. The air conditioning doesn't work, contestants are denied an adequate refrigerator, and are forced to go without meals for the convenience of the programme makers. Nor have we seen the iconic hand gestures that Mr Berry is making when no-one's watching.

There was a fascinating contribution from Ms Julie Burchill, a columnist for the daily edition of The Times. Ms Burchill penned a curious work, in which she seemed to be extracting revenge on Ms Greer for a slight Ms Burchill had perceived upon one of her friends. Suggesting that she had turned Celeb BB down, Ms Burchill attacked Ms Greer, apparently for daring to knock down one of the pillars of popular culture, forgetting that Big Brother had done a very good job of demolishing itself last year. Ms Burchill's work ensured that she was validating Ms Greer's original point.

Ms Greer's comments coincided with a discussion on the UK Game Shows discussion group regarding the increasingly uncomfortable put-downs from the host on The Weakest Link. One correspondent was particularly irked by the abuse dealt out to a worker in a residential care home. This is a very demanding job, requiring an infinite supply of patience, and great emotional involvement. No part of the job description involves stealing jewellery, or having wills altered in the worker's favour. That would be simply unprofessional, but didn't stop the host from using those cliched old stereotypes to form lame attempts at jokes. The Weakest Link 's host, Ms Anne Robinson, continues to remark about people who are old, badly dressed, large, thin, blonde, red-haired, or have had face-lifts recently, as if this were any measure of their performance in a general knowledge quiz.

Is there a connection here? Have Weakest Link and Big Brother been involved in a war of nastiness over the past few years, culminating in the newest episodes of both shows pushing the boundaries of good taste to breaking point? Is there a backlash developing against these feel-bad shows, and in favour of something a little lighter?

It is not Ms Greer's style to tell people what to do, and what not to do. She does, however, have the courage to stand up, to admit her errors, and to call a spade a spade when she sees it. And let us make no mistake; right from its first incarnation at the hands of George Orwell in 1949, Big Brother has been an instrument of mind-control used by a totalitarian state apparatus. The televised show is a totalitarian state, completely ruled by the Big Brother, and with the clear dangers of persuading people to lose contact with reality as we on the outside define it.

Increasingly, television is encouraging people to degrade themselves further and further, and to degrade themselves in the name of entertainment. We've often argued that television reflects society; does Ms Greer have a point, and is television now influencing society? In the meantime, we expect to see the summer dominated by participants in another survival-of-the-fittest competition. Maybe a new literary allusion is required - Lord Of The Flies, anyone?

University Challenge

Second Round, Match 1: Edinburgh -v- Royal Holloway.

Into the second round go three Oxford colleges - Balliol, St Hilda's, and Corpus Christi; redbrick institutions Lancaster, Newcastle, Durham, Sheffield, and Manchester; newer universities Leicester, Reading, and the UEA. Univ London is also in the second round, along with the repechage final between Univ Oxford and Jesus Cambridge. We're rather hoping for a Univ -v- Univ University Challenge at some point, just for the comedy value.

Making up the last sixteen are this week's contestants. Edinburgh ground out a 125-100 win over local rivals Glasgow in November, enlivened only by the Name That Opera With An Annoying Drum Beat Over It round. Their winning score is the lowest of all time, and the 225-point aggregate was the lowest at the time. In the final first round match, mercifully hidden away just before Christmas, Royal Holloway bored their way past Greyfriars Oxford by 135-75. That was a paltry 210 points. Survival of the fittest? Er, perhaps not.

As we've discussed, negative entertainment is so very 2002, so our man up there with his finger on the pulse of fashion, host Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman, starts the show by running through some incorrect answers from the first round, at which we're meant to laugh. It's very slow going into the first picture round, Name That Peninsula, and Edinburgh's lead is 45-20 afterwards.

A cunning thought crosses our mind. Have the producers arranged things so that we get one really, really poor side through to the quarter-finals, giving a team they favour an easier passage through to the last four? These two teams took part in two of the most tedious and low-scoring games ever, and their joint match is so dull that such conspiracy-laden rubbish runs through our mind because there's nothing else for it to do. Apart from note how contestants have suggested that Custer both received the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, and sacked Boston in 1778. The audio round is Name That Composer, during which Holloway continues to sit on their buzzers, and Edinburgh leads 85-20. We're almost - almost! - with Thumper in this exchange:

A: Bach.
Thumper: Which one?
[stunned Edinburgh]
Thumper: You do know there's more than one...?

And then this happens:

Q: Who climbed aboard a tank outside the White House at 12.50pm on 19 August 1991, condemning the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev and calling for a general strike?
Drayson, Edinburgh: Michael Moore
[Thumper collapses in giggles.] One of you may buzz if you have something more intelligent than that.

By the time Holloway gets something right, we've only had one correct starter - and one missignal - in the past six. The teams are taking all night over their incorrect bonuses, so by the time we get to Name That F1 Car And Its Maker, Edinburgh's lead is only 125-35.

In a desperate attempt to push the scores up from the abysmal to the almost respectable, Thumper resorts to the Exceptionally Easy Questions pile. Sometimes it works:

Q: On a typewriter keyboard, which key comes between S and F?

But only sometimes.

Q: How many time zones span the 48 contiguous United States?
Edinburgh: Five.
Holloway: Three.

The show aggregate finally totters up to the dizzy heights of 200 in the final minute of play, and with Thumper reading out very short questions rather quickly, the total is merely just as bad as Edinburgh's last game, they win 155-70.

Candice Donnelly is Edinburgh's top scorer, with a rip-snorting 54.1. Her team managed 11/30 bonuses this time, with two missignals. Claire Nettleton was best on the buzzer for Holloway, who made 3/21 bonuses and one missignal.

The final word must go to this bonus:

Q: What is the Newspeak term for "the rubbishy entertainment and spurious news which the party handed out to the masses"?

The answers were prolefeed, D, Boris Yeltsin, 4, ITV, and JS. But not in that order.

Next: Manchester -v- Newcastle

This Week And Next

The last X Marks The Spot of the series saw the team explore Classical Europe, and Brian Sewell ask "What is a Tweenie?" Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Superstars is back, and we were still wondering exactly why Suzi Perry needs to have any assistance from Johnny Vaughan. Then he introduced the new, super-duper high-tech device designed to stop contestants from injuring themselves in the gym tests, and we worked out why Mr Vaughan is over there. No-one, but no-one, can deliver say in exactly the same way: "a plank."

Apply now if you want to be on Ask the Family, presented by Dick and Dom, who all our readers will instantly be able to tell apart. Or appear on Strictly Dance Fever, which bears a striking resemblance to a previous format, Come Dancing. Curious, that.

Don't bother applying if you want to be on a second series of Scream! If You Want to Get Off. Thanks to the incredibly boring nature of the show, the ITV controllers screamed after just three episodes, and the show's gone to ITV2 at 10 o'clock on Sunday mornings. Seems about right, really.

Next week, watch out on TV5 for a new twist on Des Chiffres et des Lettres. It's effectively a televised audition - some of the best contestants are given a set of letters or numbers, and a target, and they have to stop the clock when they reckon they've got the target. And on BBC2, X-Perimental looks into the adhesive properties of bogies. Will you be watching, Peter Luff?

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