Weaver's Week 2004-07-10
Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.
More preserve, sir? - Weaver's Week
"The best line of attack in such situations is to say nothing. Go about regular business, but do so in silence. A whole day where no one says anything makes for an interesting show." - Weaver's Week, 10 May 2003.
HEAD JAM (BBC2, 1900 weeknights)
The last time Vernon Kay featured in this column was with Boys and Girls, and somehow we don't think he'd like to be reminded of that inauspicious show. Not least because Head Jam has an element completely missing from Vern's last outing: entertainment.
The basic premise: a Member of the Public and a BBC Celebrity teams up to answer general knowledge questions. The underlying conceit: "how much useless information do people jam into their heads?"
To determine the useless information count, the two pairs play some slightly silly quiz rounds. For instance, one buzzer round gives brief biographies, but the contestants must answer with the initial letters (or syllable) of the person's name reversed. For instance, "Current Prime Minister" would be "Bony Tlair," or "Blony Tair." Another round asks the teams to identify famous people from bits of their face. Not the usual eyes or nose, but teeth, facial hair, or bald patches. You get the drift. There's a "Name the show from the signature tune" round, a "Year to Remember" round, with questions about a year of the past 25, and a "Guess how well your celeb will do" gamble.
Rather than treat the show as a heavy quiz, the guests are encouraged to banter with the host, criticise the poor state of the buzzers (Claudia Winkleman's calling card), repeat the same answer throughout the show ("University Challenge" - Mark Durden-Smith, naming a programme that's better put-together than RI:SE) and generally entertain a little bit. Even the host gets in on the act, with what appear to be spontaneous and off-the-cuff remarks, which is more than he got to do last time.
Each show contains The Quickfire Finale, in which the teams are given a letter, and a category, and must give one example. For example, a run might go like this:
Vern: "J, Boy's name"
Contestant: "James." Vern: "Playing card." Celeb: "Er, pass." Vern: "Actress Roberts" Celeb: "Julia."
Vern: "R, 'The Bends' band" Contestant: "Radiohead."
And so on for ninety seconds of rapid-fire point scoring goodness.
The team with most points goes through to the prize round. The contestant has to answer eight reasonably simple questions, but they have to hear all eight questions, and then answer them in order. This is a lot more difficult than it might sound; most people have trouble remembering more than about six things in order, as wrong numbers of the phone attest. The celeb can help out, but only once. Success in this round means the contestant leaves with a decent prize, worth perhaps £500; failure means they leave with the satisfaction of television well made, and a small consolation prize.
Of all the shows the BBC has stripped across the week, Head Jam is perhaps the most suitable for a regular early evening slot. It's light, it's fluffy, it's undemanding, and it's thoroughly entertaining. As ever, we're not quite convinced that the show can air every day of the week, but it can certainly take a weekly slot on the schedules.
MASTERMIND - Heat 11
David Piggott, Department of Guadeloupe and its dependencies.
The Caribbean outpost of France is interesting enough for David to score 11 (with 3 passes.)
Thomas Leeming, Moody Blues.
The perpetual rock band isn't an obvious academic choice, but Thomas scores 11 (1).
Paul Moorhouse, Life and work of Mary Anning of Lyme Regis.
For those who don't teach primary schoolchildren, Mary is the woman who found fossils on the beach in Devon, and went on to invent paleontology single- handedly (well, roughly.) Paul is almost flawless, and scores 15 (0).
Hadrian Jeffs, Aircraft carriers from 1912.
Effectively, that's "aircraft carriers" as opposed to "hot air balloon carriers." Hadrian flies through his questions, scoring 15 (1).
In general knowledge, David answers swiftly, sharply, and "Pass" rather a lot. John doesn't quite begin the next question, and David scores 12 (4). Thomas never really gets going in GK, and he scores 8 (2). Hadrian performs well, but doesn't quite carry through his specialist performance. 8 (3) puts him in the lead by just three passes. Paul needs nine to ensure the win, gets the first one easily, but then stops. A few errors is followed by a long stumble on the Williams sisters' names, but then goes on a roll. He finishes on 8 (0), which means he has the win on pass count.
Paul Moorhouse has a chance to progress in the contest, but can count himself a little lucky to have encountered opponents (especially David) who passed rather than guessed. For the runners-up, there is no second chance.
Count 'em carefully, there are eight hundred thousand pounds up for grabs in tonight's show. If this prize were a stack of pound coins, it would rise to a height of roughly 2400m, the height of a decent Alp. We have a new presenter, Gabby Logan, though we have to say that "Gab In Black" just doesn't have the same ring.
Helen, the first contestant, gets a couple of sitters to begin with, and five on her own. She wastes a long time on a couple of the other answers, only buys one, and finishes with £1300. Jeff is up next, and he would have been done well to have faced "What name is given to a road that goes over a mountain," as he has more passes than the Tour de France. Ten, to be exact; he spends so much that Gabby has to point out that he only has £100 to deal with, not the £300 he's offering. A lucky guess at the end means he leaves with £200.
Margaret is next up, and she gets five on her own. She buys the remaining five with moments to spare, and with £5900 is surely going to progress. Andrew gets just two answers on his own, spends a long time thinking and guessing, refuses to deal for less than £200, and seems to be stalling for time. He finishes with five correct and £950 - it's the right tactic, but he needed a few more correct under his own steam. Geoffrey is last up, gets four on his own, and a freebie from a home broker, and buys the remaining five for no more than £250 a question. He also moves on with £5900.
The second round will be decided by a) who knows more themselves, and b) who is better when dealing with the brokers. Geoffrey wins category a) by one question, and category b) by £50. Margaret leaves with £6650, Geoffrey takes through a very tidy £11,900.
Daft Answer Watch
Q: Who is usually considered to have been the first British prime minister? A: Winston Churchill? Oliver Cromwell? Lord Salisbury? Margaret Thatcher?
Q: Who wrote "Tom Brown's Schooldays"? A: Tom Sawyer?
The answers you all knew: Robert Walpole, Thomas Hughes.
Geoffrey sails through the first five questions, buys three answers, but agonisingly runs out of time on the ninth question. The author of "The French Lieutenant's Woman" evades the panel, John Fowels the answer that they weren't going to get. He leaves with £20,500, and two brokers win £3000 and more.
The female home caller gets the first three questions, but doesn't know Fern Britton's husband. The phrase "it's a rollover" springs to mind, and Gabby finishes with a surprise - next week's jackpot will be a cool million. What will BBC1 be showing on July 20 that's worthy of a spoiler?
THIS WEEK AND NEXT
The Monte Carlo television festival hands out its awards, randomly called the Golden Nymphs. The game show of the year nymph went to Millionaire.
We can't let the week pass without mentioning the amazing winning streak of Ken Jennings. He's a software engineer from Utah, and has won over nine hundred thousand dollars on a five-week-and-more run on Jeopardy! After tax and at the current rate of exchange, that's still the not-insubstantial sum of well over
£300,000. Ken Jennings isn't only the greatest trivia king this side of Kevin Ashman or Clive Spate; he adds a little flourish to each of his answers - responding in a foreign accent, or with "What is rap, yo?" If only Sky television still showed the series.
Sport Relief on BBC1 all night tonight, while C4 investigates the history of Saturday Night Television. Raven returns to CBBC on Monday morning, and both Brian of Britain and Just A Minute return to Radio 4.
Celebdaq dividends for July 2 were down almost across the board. Ahmed bucked the trend, his dividend yield of 16% breaks three weeks of non-coverage. Daniel, Emma, Stewart picked up around 35% yields; Michelle, Nadia, Jason, Shell, and Marco closer to 60%. The week's evictee Vanessa had a 97% yield, but Victor earned an amazing 264% return. We didn't notice any particular coverage of the contestant, and wonder if the Daq hamsters have got their paws in a twist again.
The voting to get rid of Marco saw him get an absolute majority of 837,394 votes. The comparison with last series is more difficult, as that was the infamous double eviction, but it's still fewer votes than to remove Sissy in the previous week.
The Saturday Taped task involved the contestants going through some manure and hay bales into a pen, while acting the roles of farmers and cows. Springing to mind is the rather clunky phrase "if you treat your contestants like mature people, they'll act like mature people; if you treat them like animals..." According to the producers, one of the four teams failed to complete the course in the allocated time, so the prize fund rises by £7,500 to £21,500. Or £31,500. Independent verification of the producers' claim was not available, and we have learned to treat all Endemol claims with extreme caution.
Returning to the theme that game shows hold up a mirror to society, we were unhappy to hear reports from last week's eviction. "Nadia's a man," shouted some elements within the crowd, incorrectly. By their chanting, the crowd has demonstrated that trans-sexual people still face great discrimination in contemporary society. Indeed, the attitude of the various BIG BROTHER shows leaves a lot to be desired. We feel that Dermot's perpetually sniggering behind his hand, while Davina reveals a "great secret" about the contestant, as if Nadia's experience were something to be ashamed of. We note that Kat wasn't asked about this aspect of her fellow contestant, as even Endemol could figure out that she would chew out Davina like a small pea. We hope and expect Dan to do the same thing; for a show that has helped to portray gays and lesbians as perfectly normal people over the years, this is as predictable as it is depressing.
In the eviction process, Jason and Victor were not allowed to nominate, as they have been discussing nomination strategies since they entered the house. Whatever Jason and Victor's strategy was, it seemed to have worked, with Ahmed and Bekki up for the public vote. This was, however, Victor's third official warning, and three was enough for Kat to be kicked out of the programme. She broke the house rules on 26 occasions in a week; Victor has broken the one rule - regarding discussing nominations - no less than 34 times. Clearly, Endemol's dream situation - of Jason -v- Victor in this week's nominations - has fallen flatter than a flat pancake that's been run over by a very large steamroller. If anyone can spot evidence that Endemol is not being completely arbitrary and chasing ratings at the expense of any game that might ever have existed, do let us know.
A media gossip site has alleged that there was another contretemps this week. It's an undeniable fact that the E4 feed was cut for over an hour on Tuesday evening for reasons that were not adequately explained in the following night's show.
We may think - nay, we *know* - that the UK edition of BIG BROTHER is staffed and scripted by a bunch of blithering incompetents. However, they've not (yet) made the mistake that took place this week in BB Australia. "Human error" in counting votes led to the wrong contestant being evicted from the house, and the mistake wasn't realised until fully two hours after she'd been turfed out.
The reward challenge ended in the usual farce, as Endemol claimed that the contestants had committed four errors, but viewers of the show could only find the permitted three. Who said life was fair, indeed.
On the upside, this gave the contestants the excuse they needed to fulfil one of this column's dreams - the Day Of Silence. In a protest at Endemol's continuing treatment of them as pawns, all nine pawns - sorry, contestants - refused to speak to anyone all day. A psychological battle raged all day - the producers refused to speak to people in the diary room, placed areas of the house under lockdown, and sounded loud alarms. One contestant destroyed the group's "perfect housemate" model, and held up the head as a symbol of triumph - this latter act was cut from the highlights transmission, as Endemol doesn't want that contestant to be seen in a good light.
Endemol burned the "Save Sheriff Stu" campaign along with the hat (a fine example to set to children at 6pm,) and after the producers refused to speak to the contestants, they removed the symbol of Big Brother by taking the camera out of the diary room and preparing to burn it. About the only thing that didn't happen was a sit-in on the roof, and that would have more to do with the unseasonably cold weather.
In the betting, Dan has drifted out from the prohibitively short 3.25 to 4.25, Stuart from 4.4 to 5.35, and Shell - who was 4.65 three weeks ago - is now in the pack at 8.9. Michelle has moved ahead of her namesake at 8.7, but this week's big money has been for Nadia. The eviction survivor moved in from 24 last midweek, to 11.2 last weekend, and 5.5 now. There's also money for Victor, he's tracked in from 40 after the fight to 10.8 now. Ahmed and Jason have both been pottering around 50, while Bekki Or A Replacement has fallen out from 15 to 50. After being completely stitched up by Endemol and during her twelve days in the contest, Bekki left last night.