Weaver's Week 2009-02-01

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"You're laughing because it's too easy!" There are reasons why we break with tradition this week to lead with Thumper.


University Challenge

Quarter-final, match 3: Corpus Christi Oxford v Exeter

Corpus Christi Oxford got here by running up the score against Durham (the 235-point margin was the largest until last week) and Edinburgh (fell by a mere 210). By contrast, Exeter has twice gone to the wire, beating Pembroke Oxford by 45 and Sheffield by 5. For reasons of space, we'll be referring to Corpus Christi as CCO.

We begin with Office of the Week, which is Poet Laureate. CCO picks up the question as soon as Thumper has finished it, not risking a missignal, and that might be the game's first hidden indicator. The side scores perfection on their first set of bonuses, an indicator that really isn't very well hidden. Exeter is tripped up by a question listing things with fewer legs, and another on plants that are almost parasites but not. Even though we've not reached the first visual round, CCO has a lead of almost 100 points, and they're not fazed by a set of questions on calculus. The visual round is on posters for summer Olympics, and CCO leads by 95-(-10).

The Corpus Christi team: (l-r) Sam Kay, Lauren Schwartzman, Gail Trimble, James Marsden

Is it too soon to write "Game over!" in our notebook? The way things are going, not really. The next bonuses are perfect for the Oxonians, then Exeter recovers to a score of zero. The side may be trailing slightly, but they're perfect on the bonuses. And they were bonuses on Belgium, for Belgium's sake! CCO face a set of bonuses on hydrocarbons, but they have a chemist. Exeter's previously surefire buzzer work is falling short this week, with four incorrect interruptions dragging their score down, but the team is absolutely right to buzz in. The audio round is on some classical music (when in doubt, say "Tchaikovsky"), and CCO has extended its lead to 185-5.

CCO are playing a little safely, not always risking a missignal when they're unsure, allowing Exeter to chance their collective arms, albeit in error. Twelve minutes until The Book Quiz, and Lincoln Oxford's huge victory last week (winning by 285) is already under threat. At this rate, so is New Hall's record low score of just 35 points. Eclipses bring CCO's lead up to 200 points, and captain Gail Trimble gets her *tenth* starter of the night. We're not even up to the last visual round yet! Let's take that picture round, it's on politicians and their election manifestos. CCO's lead is 255-20.

With the next score, they notch up their greatest win so far, and the points keep coming. Just to add to the drama, CCO picks up a missignal with the next starter, but recover the points at the first opportunity. Three minutes to go, and CCO needs ten points to break Lincoln's record. A missignal from Exeter, and a question on the Mile High City puts the Oxford side ahead by 290, and the (somewhat later than normal) Shortz Quiz – expanding state abbreviations from their definitions – puts them indecently far ahead. So far that Exeter tries to buzz on the next starter, but Miss Trimble answered it already.

Even Thumper was lost for words.

At the gong, Corpus Christi Oxford has won, 350-15. It's the second largest winning margin in the BBC revival, behind only Open's 415-65 demolition of Charing Cross in the 1997 semi-finals. Open's was the highest score in the BBC revival, but Corpus Christi's score is the highest of this century, since Durham scored 360 in 1999-2000. We've noted previously that questions seemed to get longer, and scores lower, after the turn of the century. For comparison, the record margin for 2000-2008 was Manchester's 275-point win over St Andrews in 2004-5.

Let's not underestimate the Exeter side: no-one makes the quarter-finals without winning two matches, and Exeter can justly feel proud of the way they came back to beat Sheffield in the last 16. In any other series, that would be one of the standout matches. Alas, we must note how Exeter's score finally undercuts the 35 marks of New Hall against Nottingham in 1997-8, equalled by Bradford in 2003-4. If it's any consolation, we understand that a Sussex side once scored 10 points, and this was in a time when missignals gave points to the opponents, rather than deducting them from the offending side.

We've only been keeping detailed records since the 2001-2 series, but cannot find a previous occasion when any player has answered *fifteen* starters for her team, as Gail Trimble did.

The more mundane facts: Corpus Christi answered 35/53 bonuses correctly, picking up one missignal. Exeter had a superb bonus conversion rate, 5/6, but six missignals did them no favours. Jacob Funnell was the best buzzer, with two correct starters.

Trying and Failing to Follow That: St John's, Cambridge v City

Your Country Needs You

BBC1, Saturday evenings 3-31 January

After many years of under-performance, the BBC has decided to bring its Eurovision selection contest kicking and screaming into the 1980s. Viewers with a bit of talent were invited to submit applications, with the best being auditioned, and eventually auditioned in person by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Why him? Well, the man who did for the West End musical what Humphrey Lyttelton did for panel games has accepted the poisoned chalice, and agreed to write the music for the UK entry.

The opening titles evoked the classic comedy Dad's Army.

The opening show of the series aired on 3 January, and saw Mr. Lloyd Webber travel across Europe to try and find why the UK has performed so poorly in recent years. "It's because you send rubbish," was the consensus opinion. "Who is this man / woman / group?" was the refrain. Could the UK send someone famous, someone who they'd actually heard of in the rest of the continent? Well, viewers have been treated to appearances by McFly, Lemar, and The Saturdays. None of them were prepared to appear on the Eurovision stage, they just turned up for the publicity and (in at least one case) to sing their new song in the weakest performance of the night.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The opening show had a completely rubbish plot revolving around a "Euro-bunker", presumably built over where they buried the corpse of Terry Wogan so he doesn't rise again. It also saw Mr. Lloyd Webber visit the arena where May's semi-finals and final will take place, and discuss the propensity of the former Warsaw Pact area to vote for itself. He did secure the promise of a vote from Mr. Putin, the Russian leader, but didn't explore the reason why Russia won last year: they sent their biggest pop star.

Would Mr. Lloyd Webber take the hint? Er, no. He chose six acts, ticking the boxes of a certain other casting show. Sweet young girl, check. Slightly camp man, check. Female soul singer, check. Rock singer doomed to fail in the first week, check. Group of black blokes, check. Obvious gimmick, check.

Flying the flag for us was the host, Graham Norton.

And so it was when, a week later, Graham Norton welcomed us to the round-of-six on Britain's Got the Eurovision Factor And Strictly a New Big on Ice Dancer Out of Here!. The six acts performed songs of their choice, presumably to get them accustomed to the experience of performing live before a national television audience. Some of the performances were interesting, others showed promise, while at least one was so overdone that it would fall flat. All of the competitors opened the night by singing Waterloo, and appeared on versions of various Lloyd Webber compositions for musical theatre. The weakest performance wasn't eliminated, but that's because it came from the interval act.

Inevitably, the Grate British Public is involved in this decision. Viewers were given 20 minutes to send postcards in to the BBC, or to vote via mega phone-in. In addition to the group performances, there was footage of the rehearsals with Mr. Lloyd Webber. The two performers receiving the fewest votes were eligible for elimination, with Mr. Lloyd Webber choosing from amongst them.

At the end of this show, it was announced that the lyric for the song would be written by Diane Warren. To the best of our knowledge, Miss Warren has never worked with Mr. Lloyd Webber before, though if we combine the themes to the 1992 and 1996 summer Olympics (Amigos parasiempre and Reach), we can perhaps guess what the result will be like. The purists won't like it, but it might be popular enough to do something. Was the BBC aiming for a finish in the top half of the table, something to build on in future years?

Simon Cowell shouted at them.

If they were, it didn't show in the instantly forgettable third show. One act, who we're calling Simon Cowell Shouted At Us because that's their selling point, even more than looking exactly the same as each other. The duo delivered a decent rendition of a recent Girls Aloud song, The Promise. Brilliant, we thought, that'll be the song they'll be performing if they go to Moscow. OK, the track might be ineligible because it came out too early last year, and we're not sure it doesn't rip off the theme from Blankety Blank, but the idea is correct.

Then we found ourselves tearing up that idea because there was an even better song in the show, five young girls performing a song about going Up. It's new, it's fresh, and insanely catchy. Yes, the dance needs a bit of work – the five of them can't each have a hunky male dancer, they'll have to flirt with one between them, but the idea is correct.

Sadly, we're not going to get The Saturdays in Moscow, they'd do very well, and their song is eligible for entry. No, they were the interval act and weren't actually competing. If, as Mr. Bother has argued, The Saturdays are the Tesco Value equivalent to Girls Aloud, then Simon Cowell Shouted At Us are the Lidl Saturdays. The other performances – from Panto Boy, Jade The Winner, The Tokens, and Lady Goo Goo – were entirely forgettable. None of them can sell someone else's song convincingly, and though Jade The Winner is clearly being promoted as the winner, we had seen no evidence that she was much good.

Jade had been promoted as the winner since the beginning.

Week four had Panto Boy squeezing out all the emotion from Buttons, and Jade The Winner showing she had a good pair of lungs, but she's yet to show any talent outside soul numbers. The Tokens delivered a better-than-the-original version of a recent Take That number, and Simon Cowell Shouted At Us should have been whisked off stage by the police after killing About you now and All I have to do is dream live on national television. No-one seemed to notice that they were even more off-key and disharmonious than Jemini. Most alarmingly, the Grate British Public went for the gimmick rather than the singing, put SCSAU straight through to the final, along with Panto Boy, which meant The Tokens were eliminated, despite being better than any other performer. Well done, everyone.

All the acts were singing other people's songs, and were pale imitations of other people singing their own songs. If only there was someone of the calibre of Alex Parks or Peter Brame, with enough character and confidence to add something of their own personality to the performance. Instead, we had to rely on Mr. Lloyd Webber throwing a hissyfit on the day of the final, saying that one of the remaining acts was so weak that he predicted disaster if they went through. He's had the opportunity to ditch Jade The Winner, so is it Panto Boy, or is it Simon Cowell Shouted At Us he's talking about? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Andrew Lloyd Webber indicates where the exits are.

The grand final dawned. Jade The Winner performed "Lady mamalade", Panto Boy did something completely forgettable, and Simon Cowell Shouted At Us almost muffed their two-part harmonies. Mr. Lloyd Webber says the last group is like ABBA, but he's not sure whether they're the A or the B. Ooh, nasty. The biggest cheer is for defending Eurovision champion Dima Bilan, and he's not even performing.

So, what is the Lloyd Webber / Warren composition like? It's a Lloyd Webber composition, that much is clear in the first eight bars. And it's a Warren lyric, almost but not entirely trite. It's very reminiscent of The Winners' Song, though. Panto Boy is first up, performing in front of the lasers from The Krypton Factor's erstwhile Super Round, and he gives it the Big Ballad treatment. He does well, but we can't help but think the proper soul group would have done better. SCSAU go on stools, as though they were 40% of Westlife, and really do well in the big orchestral bit just before the end. We were worried about the pair not knowing their song (a la Jemini), but the gimmick of two identical singers performing this stuff could just work. On the other hand, Jade nails it from the start, reminding us (in a good way) of Chiara from Malta, twice in the competition's top three.

Panto Boy performed over a laser green backdrop.

Once the lines opened, and both Mr. Norton and Mr. Lloyd Webber had implored us to make the right decision because it's the most important decision we'll make this month (what's left of it), there was the recap. It showed the same bit from all three performrs, the emotional climax from just before the end of the song. There's a filmed insert showing the finalists meeting with the Commons' resident rock band MP4. The group includes Peter Wishart, who rose to fame in Gaelic superstars Runrig. How come the UK has never considered a song in Welsh, Scottish, Cornish..?

Anyway, that's that, it's clear that Mr. Lloyd Webber wanted Jade The Winner to be the winner. Dima Bilan says hello to his mother and performs last year's winning song (no Stradivarius, no ice-skater), Lulu joins the other three losers on stage, and we wait the result. It's announced with the maximum of fuss: Panto Boy Mark finishes third, and the winner is Jade The Winner. Was it the right choice? With that song, it's hard to see how any of the finalists could have messed up. We're going to stick our neck out and say she'll finish tenth on the night, 16 May.

Don't choke on the glitter, purlease!


Yorkshire Television for Channel 4, 3.25 weekdays

Quarter-final 3: Jon Corby (10 wins 1 loss, 1104) beat Jonathan Coles (10 wins, 1 loss, 998) 96-62

New host Jeff Stelling starts the show by discussing both Christmas and Valentine's Day, and making a crack about Easter. Paul Zenon is Susie's Companion this week, and (to avoid confusion in our little heads) we'll refer to these gentlemen by their surnames. Mr. Corby begins with an ODIOUS winner, but Mr. Coles's suggestion of MOTTLIER* has one T too many. An easy numbers game puts Mr. Corby ahead by 36-23 at the magic trick. The next couple of rounds don't alter the position, then comes one so difficult that ZOMG!!! would have scored had Mr. Coles not offered MOSEY.

Mr. Corby pulls back with a SPITEFUL word, it's clear that he does very well with aggressive words. Another simple numbers game, and Mr. Corby leads 68-52 at the intermission. He extends his advantage with DUNNIES in the next round, and seals his win in round twelve as Mr. Coles's FEINTER* is disallowed. Mr. Coles makes an offer to nothing in the last letters round, but he knows it won't win. Mr. Coles recovers with the conundrum, but it's clear that Mr. Corby will return on Thursday.

Quarter-final 4: Kai Laddiman (10 wins, 1 loss, 1001) lost to Nick Wainwright (12 wins, 1138), 91-94

Kai gets off to the best possible start, finding the only valid six-letter word ORNATE. Nick responds in the best manner available, with AGISTED, to do with livestock and something of a Countdown favourite. Just when we thought the funny vowel selections were long gone, round four ends with I-I-I. Cyclopses need not apply, and Nick leads 30-29 at the magic trick.

Kai comes back in round seven with DISTILS, the only legal seven, and a word even Susie thought wasn't there. Nick gets his own back with ANXIOUS in round nine, again the only valid seven, and restoring his one-point lead; 60-59 at the intermission. The competition gets heavy in round eleven as Nick puts up DEUTERONS, blasting his lead from one point to 19. It's as if the wind's been knocked out of the game, but Kai's PETITE is a winner as Nick blobs the last letters game. Nick has the honour in the last numbers, goes one-large, and gets a decently simple target, and the win is his. Justice is served as Kai gets the conundrum, his losing score of 91 may be one of the highest ever seen in the fifteen-round game.

Competition finalist Steven Briers

Semi-final 1: Steven Briers (10 wins, 1 loss, 1154) beat Nick Wainwright (13 wins, 1234), 87-82

Before the game, Jeff pulls out a Des O'Connor LP, and asks Rachel to listen to it. Aren't there laws against this kind of thing? Both players put on EXACTAS in the opening round, they're bets where people predict the winner and runner-up. Presumably from a bigger field than a Countdown game. It's a strangely flat opening, with everyone getting sevens in every round, but there's never anything more available, and no-one gets the opening numbers round spot on. That'll be 35-35 at the magic trick. Things remain tied until Steven comes up with OARFISH in round seven; there are also GARFISH and RAGFISH in the selection.

Steven goes for double-or-quits in the next round, but TOPLINE* requires a hyphen, allowing Nick to close within a point. Steven's back with CURABLE, but Nick has the honours on the numbers game, gets it spot on, and leads by 58-56. Honours are even straight afterwards, but Steven comes back in the penultimate letters game with LAZARET and a five-point lead. Both players get ANNELIDS in the last letters game, and the last numbers round is easy enough for both players. Almost inevitably, we've come to a crucial conundrum, with Steven going through if neither is right. FCRAVIOLA is the clue, and the clock ticks round, and ticks round, and expires. VARIFOCAL was the answer that no-one got, so Steven makes the final on Friday.

Semi-final 2: Charlie Reams (11 wins, 1 loss, 1258) v Jon Corby (11 wins 1 loss, 1200)

"Don't be put off by the high standard of these people!" says Jeff. Our contestants look around the studio for some decent players in an unscripted comedy moment. Six in the first round, seven in the next, and UNDERUSE for eight in the next, then back to sixes. A simple numbers game leaves the scores tied at 37-37 going into the magic trick.

The deadlock's broken straight afterwards, when Charlie comes up with the winner WHISTLED, and doubles it with DOLOMITE, in its sense as a mineral. Both players cross RUBICONS, and simpler-than-they-look letters and numbers games means Charlie leads 79-63 at the intermission. SPIRITED just about seals the game for Charlie straight afterwards, and he puts up his century in the last letters round. Lest we forget, there was only one nine-letter word in this game, and only Susie spotted it; Charlie's had seven eight-letter words, and perfection on a very tough last numbers game. He's a worthy finalist. They all are.

The other finalist, Charlie Reams

Final: Charlie Reams (12 wins, 1 loss, 1368) lost to Steven Briers (11 wins, 1 loss, 1241), 67-88.

The game gets off to an OPULENT start for Steven, his first word is the day's first winner. It's seven-all in the next round, two men from the MAFIA, then sevens. The numbers game evades both players, so Steven leads 33-26 at the magic trick. After the break, Steven finds that RE(-)ENACT* still has its hyphen, so is not valid for this game. The players are level.

The players spot both valid eights in the next round, GAROTTES and TOASTIER, then the one valid word REPLIERS in the eighth. Sometimes, it pays to have SNOOZED, Steven gets a winner there. Susie explains the origin of the football term, "to nutmeg". Charlie is closer on another impossible numbers game, but he's gone wrong, allowing Steven to extend his lead to 63-49.

We're singing E-E-E again after the intermission, both players hit a seven, but miss ENLISTEE. Nothing more than sixes and fives in the last letters round, and when Charlie blobs on the last numbers game (another impossible round!) it's game over. Steve makes an error in calculation, but hits his target, and the game is already over. Who cares! Give him the points! The conundrum evades both players, ELITEBOUT resolves to OUBLIETTE, and the winner receives a very nice glass trophy.

As we consign the Eleventh Championship of Champions cycle to the oubliette of history, the Twelfth cycle begins on Monday. We'll not be noting every game in detail, but will continue to give updates every six weeks or so. And we'll give Finals Week in June full coverage; perhaps Jeff will have stopped going on about football by then.

This Week And Next

We've gone on quite long enough for one edition, so a recap of this week's Mastermind will appear in the next Week.

BARB viewing figures to 18 January give Dancing on Ice 9.6m, In It to Win It 7m, and Total Wipeout 5.35m. Masterchef had 3.8m, clear of Celeb BB on 3.45m, and University Challenge's 3.15m viewers. The digital tier was led by Come Dine With Me (865,000) ahead of Pop Idle US (780,000) and QI (555,000), but we must note that figures for Sky 1 were not available at press time.

Coming up this week is a new run of Shipwrecked (C4, 12.30 Sunday) and a return for Help! Teach is Coming to Stay (CBBC, 10am Sunday, so you'll have missed it. Sorry.) Viewers in Ireland can avoid the talent show Glas Vegas (TG4, 8.30 Sunday) and those in Wales might enjoy High Tackle (BBC1, 9.30 Friday).

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