Weaver's Week 2008-06-22

Weaver's Week Index

"We can tell it's the grand final – the water's fizzy!"

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Our roll of Series 58 winners would be incomplete without Neil Sneddon (4 wins, 304 points) and carryover champion Tony Gilgun (1 win, 86). In Mr. Sneddon's first game, his opponent Tim Marsh had the most improbable winner, CAT, and Mr. Sneddon led by the unique score of 4-3. Those are the heats, these are the finalists.

QF1: David O'Donnell (8 wins, 878) beat Ben Hanks (6 wins, 580), 92-54

On the left is David O'Donnell, the dark destroyer – he's dressed in black, and has six scores above 110. On the right, young Ben Hanks, whose hair is as variable as Kelly Osbourne's – for this show, the colour is red. The first crack between the candidates comes in the second round, when Mr. O'Donnell offers OVATES from a difficult selection. Both players do well to get within one of a difficult numbers game, and Mr. O'Donnell leads 32-26 as Alistair Stewart gets cross.

David pulls a brilliant word out in round seven, DIAMINES, a molecule with two amino acids (or something along those lines) extends his lead. Contestants don't need to define the words, just know them, and know how to spell them. Ben offers an invalid word in the next round, but David's already come up with the round's maximum, NORTENA. Both contestants fail to come up with anything on the second numbers game, and David's lead is extended to 60-39. TZARINA pushes David further ahead at the start of the final period, and his BRASSIER is allowed when Ben's BRAILERS* is denied. That wraps the game up with three rounds to go, and David gets the last numbers game to secure a generous win.

QF2: Peter Davies (6 wins, 642) beat Michael MacDonald-Cooper (8 wins, 780), 83-77

There's a theory in Countdown circles that it's a slight help to qualify late in the series rather than early. People tend to get a little rusty after waiting six months between heats and finals, it's said. This match could test that maxim: Michael won his eight games at the start of the year, Peter his six barely a month ago, and it's Peter who takes the lead in the first round with the winner POIGNANT. It's the only eight in the round, and is recovered when Michael offers TREADLES in round four – he could also have had DESOLATE, Mr. Eric Morecambe's name for our host, and LEOTARDS, Mr. Whiteley's favourite. An easy numbers game evades Michael and makes the scores 32-22 as Alistair Stewart unites the nation one last time in shouting, "Where's the remote?"

Michael gambles on a five-vowel letters selection, hoping to keep the options down to lots of sixes and sevens, and not affecting the relative positions. His strategy fails when Peter spots COURSES in the next letters round, and Michael reverts to the more usual four-vowel selection – it's the most likely to generate the niner he needs to pull level, or winners like BEETROOT and HUNKIER. From eighteen ahead, Peter's lead is down to just three points. Michael chooses four large, Peter takes seven, and goes into the break nine ahead, 52-43. Peter restores a large lead thanks to RAVAGES at the start of the final stanza, there's no change in the last two letters, and a trivial numbers game ends the contest. Michael gets a difficult conundrum, Peter advances to the semi-finals, and there's grist to the mill of those who think late qualifiers have an advantage.

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QF3: Tim Reypert (8 wins, 773) lost to Richard Priest (6 wins, 697), 90-53

By jove, is that a tie we see around Dr. Phil Hammond's neck? Since we last met, host Desso Connor has been appointed a Commanding Officer of the Order of the British Empire, making him Desso Connor Ceebe'e. Richard takes the lead in the opening round, it helps to be a VETERAN in this game. Richard starts selecting five vowels; whether it helps to level the game is a matter for debate. There's no further difference in the letters games, and both get the numbers with about two seconds to spare, taking the score to 35-28 in Richard's favour.

Sevens all round, but Tim's offer of LIMBOES* in round seven is rejected: the verb doesn't take an E. Richard pulls further away with HEROINES in round nine, but Tim pulls back seven with a Carol-beater in the numbers, but still trails 63-48. Richard restores his advantage with OXIDATES immediately after the break, and that just about ends the game as a contest; the last rites come when Tim offers DECATONS* – scientists know what he means, but don't use the word often enough for it to appear in the dictionary. Another surprise, which means the sixth and seventh seeds meet in Thursday's semi.

QF4: Jonathan Coles (8 wins, 746) beat Barry Smith (7 wins, 648), 101-75

Another test for the theory that newly-qualified contestants, such as Jonathan from June do better than those who played in February, like Barry. Penny-whistles and blue string soup at the ready: a pair of CLANGER in the second round, and Jonathan has IMPACTS and ROTUND to pull ahead 36-23 at the anecdote. Jonathan fires off his PENTODES (like diodes, but going madly off in five directions at once) after the break, and the pen is hovering over the book, prepared to write "game over".

There's DELIGHT all round in round eight, and the classic double play AMORTISED / MEDIATORS in round nine, just about the only nine this column can ever spot with regularity. The players both offer MARDIEST. Jonathan picks up seven from the numbers, leads by 73-45, a score that Des doesn't give (was it a Countdown Botcher Extraodinaire he got?) and we really are reckoning it's game over. BRASSIER is Jonathan's final letters winner, and Barry gets the final numbers a little too late – both players had already scored for being one away.

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SF1: David O'Donnell (9 wins, 970) beat Jonathan Coles (9 wins, 847), 95-82

The last match of unbeaten players in this series, and it threatens to be a corker. David's got to be favoured to win the tournament, but Jonathan has put in solid performances throughout. Nothing much in the first round, a pair of simple eights in the second, but David wins with SAPONIN in the third, another chemical compound. The roles are reversed when Jonathan offers REDLINES in the next round – nothing to do with governmental negotiation, it's overweight trucks. Four large numbers yields an unusually easy target, so Jonathan has a 32-31 lead at the anecdote.

PRONATED comes up after the break, and Jonathan moves further ahead with HEAVE from a diabolically difficult round. Both profit from slightly unlikely sevens – AGOUTIS (friends of gophers) and STIGMAS. David moves back with a seven on a very difficult numbers game to lead by 61-60 at the break. David pulls off more than he can chew – ULTIMATI* isn't the plural of "ultimatum", third declension neuter, ends in m, plurals with a. Jonathan takes five with TOTAL, and the lead. David declares first in the last letters round, and sticks with the safe seven of RELIEFS rather than a dodgy eight – Jonathan only had a six, so David takes the lead, now by three points. A trivial numbers game does nothing to help, so it all goes down to the conundrum, the first crucial conundrum of Finals Week. A handshake before the conundrum is wonderfully sporting, David unscrambles RAPRECIPE into its constituent RICEPAPER, and wins what has been the most engrossing match of Countdown we've seen in a long time.

SF2: Richard Priest (7 wins, 787) beat Peter Davies (7 wins, 725) 100-70

A terrible start, five from both players, though it is the round's maximum. Sixes and sevens in the next two rounds, but oh! Richard offers SPOILER to take the lead. Both players seem to get the numbers right on the buzzer, so it's 35-28 in Richard's favour at the anecdote, where Dr. Hammond asks Susie Dent to inflict pain upon him. It's the wrong part of the city to watch bondage dancing, people. Clearly, their minds were on something else as neither player scores after the break – REDWOOD^ needs two "D"s, and DROWNER* isn't listed as an agent noun.

Another disastrous selection follows – a V, two Ps, and a Z gives both players four points. Richard increased his advantage with LITERARY towards the end of part two, and getting closer on a six-small numbers game. With sixes all round in the first two letters games of the final part, the game's almost in the bag, he leads 60-38. We know it is in the bag when Richard puts his pen down with five seconds of the last letters round to go – he's spotted CHARITIES for nine and an unassailable lead. A more simple numbers game gives Richard the century, but Peter bows out with the conundrum – only the second he's solved in his eight games.

Final: David O'Donnell (10 wins, 1065) beat Richard Priest (8 wins, 887) 91-61

Carol, bless her cotton socks, says our two finalists look like brothers. Which of them will finish top of the Countdown family tree? David's modest first offering, STRATA, gives him a level advantage, and finds the APOGEES of the next. A MALLARD flies across the set in round four, and David pulls off an utterly brilliant numbers game – a Carol-beater, no less – to lead by 37-14.

Just when we think it's a one-sided game, Richard comes back with the brilliant MIRADOR, cutting the gap to 16 points. Sixes, sevens, and eights in the remaining letters rounds of the second period. The second numbers game is another Carol-beater, but David comes within one, and his lead is back to 65-42. David clinches victory in round twelve, with EPIDOTE, and he has the luxury of offering TEAPOT in the last letters round. The last numbers game is yet another Carol-beater, and neither player gets the conundrum. It's not been a classic final – David went 13-0 up in two rounds, never looked in danger, and we had the misfortune of having some of the most difficult selections of the season.

All of that, perhaps, explains why David O'Donnell is such a worthy winner – he can come through difficult games, easy games, and win them all.

Image:Countdown O'Donnell David.jpg The new champion admires his trophy

This Week And Next

It was a closely-fought final of Counterpoint, with little to choose between all three contestants. Geoff Wycombe, Howard Curtis, and Brian Davies took the game down to the very last question, with Mr. Davies winning the silver trophy.

Though we're not going to give Fort Boyard 2007 a full review from its airings on TV5 (we're still trying to work out if the cryptogramme is an ever-so-cryptic clue to the codeword), readers will no doubt be interested in a description of the new games for 2008. Out goes Le Cabestan, the strongman's push-o'-war; the one with the pincers; and the one with the pictures that feels like a direct steal from The Crystal Maze circa 1992. There's Mannequins, a new slide-things-along-a-rail game. There's Target, something to do with balloons. Cyclone uses ergonomic bicycles and fake snowstorms, and Four Pulleys is a tilting-table game similar to some from The Crystal Maze. Twistbowl involves posting tokens through a slot, but the slot's at the end of a passage that turns like a washing machine.

The Cryptogramme is gone, replaced with a nine-colour combination thingummy that we'll have to see in action to understand. Or not. Three new adventures: Unstable Chair is another leap-into-the-void game; Human Crane winches a player above the water where there are bits of the code; and Short Rope seems to be about threading ropes. Full details (in French). Thanks to Brig Bother and his bar staff.

Back in the UK, the BBC has announced that it's going to make Hole In The Wall, a show that invites celebrities to crawl through the titular hole in the titular wall. ITV responded by floating a revival for Double Your Money with Richard Madeley in the host's role.

Ratings for the week to 8 June, and The Apprentice leads the way with a season-best 7.95m seeing the semi-final. Big Brother was next, opening the series with 5.6m, and One Versus One Hundred has 5.15m. HIGNFY has 4.3m, and The Apprentice You're Fired secured 4.1m on BBC2. All of this means that ITV's most popular game show – Millionaire with 3.75m – puts the channel fourth for the week.

On the digital tier, though Britain's Got Talent has finished, America's Got Talent is only just starting, with 990,000 seeing Friday's opener. The highlights of the British series had 450,000 on Wednesday night, beaten by Come Dine With Me's 545,000. We note that Big Brother is missing from E4's top ten, excepting another load of audition tapes. And we note that The Slammer makes its debut in CBBC's top ten, picking up 200,000.

Next week has the return of Round Britain Quiz (Radio 4, 1.30 Monday) and another chance to hear The News Quiz's tribute to Alan Coren (BBC7, 12.30 and 7.30 Friday). And viewers to Challenge can see Les Dennis present Home Video Heroes (8pm weekdays). Alternatively, they can watch some grass growing. And gawp in amazement next Saturday as Ben Shephard manages to host two programmes at the very same time. On BBC1, the still rather fab One Versus One Hundred; on ITV, the suspiciously-familiar Who Dares, Sings! with Denise Van Outen appearing for no adequately-explored reason. They're both 8pm Saturday.

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