Weaver's Week 2010-07-25

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Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.


101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow

Endemol for BBC1, Saturday evenings

What is the recipe for the perfect summer Saturday evening? According to the BBC, it involves eight contestants and that Welsh bloke off of T4. They've been flown half-way around the world, all put up a half-finished oil-rig, and the ladders have been removed. That's it.

Oh, have they got to come down? Blast, we completely forgot that bit. Er, anyone good at flying? Never tried it? This is a brilliant time to learn.

And if contestants are worried about hitting the ground at high speed, they can be assured that that's simply not a problem. This is 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic), where nothing happens at high speed. Gravity is only acting at half its normal force, so the terminal velocity of your average Brit falling through air wouldn't even get you a speeding ticket in a built-up area.

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow Way 1: falling into the water.

In fact, dear contestant, let's cushion the landing even more, by ensuring you land in something very large and very soft. The head of the person who commissioned this show was not available, but the BBC crew dug out a hole in the ground just large enough to fit that organ, and filled it with water. The result is one very large and very wet swimming pool.

But wait, there's more! No very large and very wet swimming pool is complete with this summer's essential accessory, a former Radio 1 DJ on the side. Please let it be Steve Wright and have him drenched on a regular basis because it's both cruel and funny. Or Zoe Ball, because drenching her would be entertaining in other ways. Or Zane Lowe, because that would mean he's a former Radio 1 DJ. Nemone Metaxas? She's a bit too good for this job, and doesn't get to do anything. They could have replaced her with a parrot, and she deserves better.

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow Nemone Metaxas. Wasted on this show.

So, that bloke from T4 and eight members of the Great British Public are up a half-constructed oil-rig in the middle of Argentina, by a massive swimming pool, by someone criminally underemployed. And what's going to happen? Bloke from T4 is going to ask some questions. In fact, he's going to begin by asking one question, with eight possible answers. For instance, "which of these are real British place names?"

As the more astute readers will already have noted, there are eight contestants, and eight possible answers. Eight into eight does go, and each contestant will end up representing precisely one answer. No player will have two answers, and no answer will have two players. A perfect mapping between player and answer, between candidate and candidate...

Unfortunately, contestants being contestants, the chances of each picking a different answer is small. There will probably be some ties, some people picking the same answer. These are resolved by asking more questions until someone gives a correct answer, and that player gets to keep the answer they originally picked. The remaining contenders must pick from what's left – and not only will this be without the popular answer, but it'll be without the answers only one other person picked.

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow Which of these isn't a place in the UK?

Rinse and repeat, pick and question, until everyone has a single answer, and every answer has a single person. Then we find out which answer is the wrong one.

Actually, no we don't, first we find out one of the right answers, complete with the inevitable long and drawn-out pause before confirmation of the right answer, and Steve telling us who is safe because they picked (or were left with) that answer. Then there's some footage of the person being led away to the next round, and usually a brief piece to camera from that contestant who is still in the game.

And then we find out the second right answer, but not before another pause. Honestly, this game has more pauses than hokey-cokey night at the Millipede Club. Eventually, we're left with two players, Steve's reminded us of the answers they picked at least twice, and then he begins this show's catchphrase:

"I'll reveal the wrong answer in five... four... three... two... one... The wrong answer is..."

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow Way 1: falling into the water.

At this point, we find ourselves tendering an apology to Davina McCall. Four weeks ago, we suggested that "Move your money back" wasn't the greatest catchphrase in game show history. By comparison with the lumpen spiel spouted by Mr. Jones, we can see that Davina really is talking in poetry.

Back in Argentina, Steve Jones has finally revealed the wrong answer, indicating which contestant is about to leave the competition. He actually says that they're going to leave the game "forever", but this includes some rather small values of forever, as the defeated contender is going to be interviewed by Nemone Metaxas at the edge of the pool in about 20 seconds time.

But how are contestants going to get from the top of a failed skyscraper to the microphone of Ms Metaxas? Like a lemming on top of a tottering tower of bean cans, they're going to plummet, without so much as an umbrella to break their fall. No, they'll have a high-specification modern bungee cord attached to their body, ensuring that their velocity on impact is slowed from the 38mph of freefall in this show's reduced gravity field to about 10mph.

This round is played five times during the course of the show. Just when we're thinking that we've seen it all, there's an Emergency Exit round, with a guest appearance by the star of the show, the Random People Picker from In It to Win It! If we don't ask, we'll never get any interviews with cool game show stars, so here's our exclusive chat with the Random People Picker from In It to Win It:

"How did you get this job?"
"My ball came out."
'"You mean that there was a random draw between yourself, a bingo machine, a tombola, and Ernie the fastest premium bond drawer in the west?"
"No, my ball came out and rolled away. I chased it until I caught up with it, and ended up here."

Random People Picker from In It to Win It, thank you!

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow A shot of the tower, taken by someone falling in the water.

The star of the show, wearing a special Argentine suit, picks out one of the contestants to answer a question. If they get it right, their ball goes back in and we draw again. But if the contender gives the wrong answer, they're dropped down the emergency exit with all the speed of a feather through air. The contestant goes down a narrow tube of metal bars at a death-defying speed of almost 2mph, while hired goons throw buckets of gunge over them.

At this point, we find ourselves invoking the First Law of Children's Programmes: use of gunge indicates that the programme has run out of ideas. Indeed, the rest of the programme adds nothing new to the mix: the final round has one right answer and two wrong ones, and, er, that's about it. The person who picks the right answer wins £10,000. If they're unlucky, they'll have the obligation to do it all again in an end-of-series final, that's unless they pass out with the sheer tedium of it first.

There are actually some things done well in 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic). The questions are well-pitched, it's not obvious which is the bluff answer, everything is a plausible option. And there are tactics: should contestants engage in battle for an answer they're sure is right, with the risk that they'll be left with the dregs of the selection? Or should they play safe, and go for an unlikely answer that no-one else is likely to pick? Having the intermediate questions loosely linked to the subject of the main question is also a stroke of genius. Even asking "which of these was a Christmas number one single" wasn't quite so daft, they couldn't have known the show would go out on a day so hot it made the Macarena look sensible.

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow Steve is still on the same question from thirteen paragraphs ago..

But there are two things tremendously wrong with the programme. First, there aren't 101 ways to leave the programme. There are, in fact, just two: falling into some water, or being lowered at breakneck speed down a metal tube. Yes, there are different ways of falling into some water, but whether it's by bungee rope, by sticky fasteners falling off, by a trolley or a bicycle or an Atlasphere, it's all falling into water. "It's the craziest thing I've ever seen," says the host after each round. If he were a worse actor, we'd wonder if he was being sincere, but Steve doesn't deliver the line with enough gusto to make it a catchphrase.

The other thing wrong with this programme: it's so slow. It takes almost thirteen minutes for the first round to complete. It takes twenty seconds for Steve Jones to recite the show's catchphrase. The programme could be completed in 35 minutes without losing anything of value. Perhaps fifteen minutes, if they really wanted to make it a quick programme.

101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow Way 1: falling into the water.

In fact, we could probably apply similar compression techniques to this review:

Random People Picker from In It to Win It and him off of T4 ask questions of contestants. Whoever gives a wrong answer is dropped into a pool of water. Nemone Metaxas spends the show by the pool. The last person standing wins £10,000. It's all done terribly slowly.

University Challenge

Round 1, Heat 3: Balliol Oxford v Queens' Cambridge

Shall we begin with word of the week? Let's begin with Word of the Week, "little". It's taken by Balliol Oxford. The college was founded 1263 by John de Balliol, who did a lot of work for charity and didn't like to talk about it. That's why they named the college after him. The original students received an allowance of 8d per week, which (if it had grown in line with earnings, and according to measuringworth.com) would now be a stipend of £395. Per week. Alumni include economist Adam Smith, professional meme Richard Dawkins, and reigning Brain of Britain Ian Bayley.

Hay-on-Wye is twinned with Timbuctu? We learn something new every day. Queens' get off the mark with the third starter, various words that are all pronounced "air". Queens' was founded 1448 by the wife of Henry VI, and again in 1465 by the wife of Edward IV, hence the apostrophe – it's the college of two queens. It's the home to the Mathematical Bridge, and alumni include Erasmus and professional cleverclogs Stephen Fry.

University Challenge Queens' Cambridge: Mark Jackson, Simon Wallace, Sam Gilbert, William Belfield.

Balliol do well on questions about statues of Stalin, mostly sold off by the Stalin Statue Liquidation Company. They also know rather a lot about Olympic games from the medal tables, that's the first visual round and Balliol leads by 70-15. On a question about the Portland Vase, we get Quiz Legend-Baiting Answer of the Week.

Q: In 1790, Josiah Wedgwood displayed his copies of which Roman artefact made of violet blue glass decorated with a single continuous white glass cameo, now known by the name of the family who purchased it in 1778...?
A: Elgin Marbles

Er, no, those were brought to the UK by a Mr. Marbles. Hence the name. We'll move on to a set of questions introduced as "salad vegetables in literature". The teams don't know that lettuce makes one sleepy. The audio round is on performers associated with the Sun record label, including a Mr. E. A. Presley. Whatever happened to him, eh? 85-55 is Balliol's lead. It's a low-scoring week, getting lower when Balliol pick up a missignal on prime ministers.

The Oxford side impress with their knowledge of Canadiana (or is it Anne of Green Gables) by knowing their Charlottetown from their Charleston. Queens' impress by getting the definition of quantative easing, or printing money and throwing it out of helicopters. This week's questions on local playwright Little Billy Shakespeare are about "Twelfth Night" and not his short collection of sonnets.

University Challenge Balliol Oxford: Ollie Murphy, Ciaran Hodgson, Michael Slater, Marine Debray.

Knowledge of Desmond Morris brings the sides level, but only for a moment, as Queens' picks up a missignal. And then they take the lead by getting the next starter, but know nothing of opera libretti. Chess players form the subject for the second visual round, it goes to Queens', and they extend their advantage to 130-100. Questions on Australian state capitals help to extend their lead, but then Balliol prove they don't know much about alcohol. There's our hidden student indicator of the week.

A very good speculative buzz on the polio vaccine gives Balliol the advantage, and their knowledge of England cricket captains puts them ten in the lead. Mr. Tilling is over-heating again, and Queens' prove to know more about the Galilean satellites – or just better guessers. They also get that 3.6 km/h equates to 1 m/s, and the bonuses give them a 25-point lead. The "paragon" seals the side's win, by 190-155.

A strange match, Balliol led for the first part, but never quite pressed home their advantage, allowing Queens' to take it with superior buzzer work. Not that Balliol were bad, 15/27 on the bonuses, but two missignals may just cost them a place in the repechage – Michael Slater by far their best buzzer. Mark Jackson was quickest for Queens', six starters on the night, but the side made just 13/37 bonuses, and that's not particularly promising. 50/90 the overall accuracy rate. Still, you only need beat the people you're up against, and Queens' Cambridge did that.

Next week: Peterhouse Cambridge v Exeter

This Week And Next

In surprising news, we learn that Channel 5's flop-rated game show Heads or Tails has been axed. The programme proved so popular that its repeat run saw the programmes extended from an hour to 30 minutes, then replaced by coverage of the International Blow-Football tournament. No, the surprise was that the programme hadn't bitten the dust last year.

Big Brother this week: it was Singing Week. It only took 40 days, but Corin finally showed the country what she's made of: a rendition of "Goldfinger" that was off-key, out of tune, and not in a recognisable tempo. Missed cues, no obvious sense of timing? Still too good for the BBC's Eurovision entry. Then there was a task to learn and sing "Don't stop believin'" in the style of the Glee Cast, a nifty piece of Channel 4 cross-promotion there. And it was all done with a bloke from a dance studio named after one of the elements in "Agadoo". Thanks for the memory, mate.

The ghost of Mercutio was avenged as Romeo decided to leave, and newbie Keeley followed her out after breaking her ankle, and there was much moping. We have to note that Big Brother has given more ways to leave a game show (elimination, giving up, retired hurt) than 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic) (being dropped in water, being dropped down a metal tube.)

Ratings for the week to 11 July give BBC1 the top three places. In It to Win It bowed out with 4.8m, 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic) debuted with 4.2m, and A Question of Sport Uncensored attracted 3.7m people. Nothing quite so became Shabby as the manner of her exit from Big Brother: 2.85m saw the final hours on Tuesday night, and 530,000 the combined score for the exit interview on Big Brother's Little Brother with Emma and a plank of wood. No planks on University Challenge, which came back with 2.35m; Antiques Master followed close behind with 2.25m.

No surprises on the digital channels, 705,000 for Come Dine With More4, 465,000 for Britain's Got Talent Us, and 440,000 for QI on Dave. Britain's Next Top Model returned with 400,000 viewers, making it only 35% more popular than Only Connect (260,000), and no-one ever accused the Greek letters of rotting your soul.

Coming up: a new series of Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum (BBC3, 9pm Sunday). Ten Mile Menu (ITV, 5pm weekdays) challenges cooks to work using local ingredients, and Diwedd y Byd (S4C, 5pm Wednesday) is another Young People Save The World show. Radio 2 profiles Bob Monkhouse (10pm Tuesday) and finds an opera star on Friday Night is Music Night (8pm Friday). And if you're bored of Come Dine with Me, Channel 4 spends next Saturday showing Come Dine With Me Down Under (from 3.55). Do remember to turn your television upside down.

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