Weaver's Week 2010-12-05

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We make no apologies for the esoteric nature of this week's column. The lead review is of a show broadcast in Welsh to literally tens of thousands of people. After that, this column tries to review a music concert, part of a tour that played to literally hundreds of people and was curtailed by this week's snowfall. Next week, we look at something seen by even fewer people – BBC1's Drop Zone.

Turning into a music critic for the week means we don't have enough time to construct a television game show review to our usual standards. Mercifully, the Week's readers are far better than we'll ever be, and Simon Lott writes our latest guest review. It's from a channel that this column doesn't get, in the sense of "cannot receive".


10 Jonathan

Avanti for S4/C & S4/Clurlin, 2 September – 4 November

The ultimate aim of 10 Jonathan is to find the fittest Welsh speaker in Wales, and the competition was between ten women and ten men (competing separately). Leading the series is the 'Jonathan' of the show’s title: Jonathan Davies, the famous rugby player.

He also had judges in the form of Tim Lloyd, adventure racer and head of training at the North Wales Fire Brigade; and Non Evans, a former rugby player. Non has also represented Wales at weightlifting and judo and has recently captained the Welsh women’s team in freestyle Olympic wrestling at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Additional personnel come in the form of Sarra Elgan, acting as interviewer, Trystan Bevan (fitness coach for Y Gleision) to introduce each challenge from a small studio that was made to look like a personal gym, and Alun Wyn Bevan, who was event commentator.

After an opening show introducing the ten men and ten women competing, subsequent episodes showed, firstly, the ten women complete four challenges, with Tim and Non acting as event referees, but with Jonathan being absent. Each challenge was scored with first place getting ten points, second place 9, third place 8 and so on to 1 point for last place. After the four challenges, the three women with the lowest score were sent for judging by Non, Tim and Jonathan (there to provide added Sugar) and between them decide which of the three woman would be eliminated.

The next episode showed the ten men complete their four challenges, bottom three get judged, one is eliminated. Then on the next show, nine women and so on. Now, this format is a direct copy of Born to Win, broadcast by the BBC back in the summer of 2002. There are some differences: in Born To Win, the bulk of the series took place abroad (St Anton, Austria), before a final showdown in London. Here, the bulk of the series was shot in south Wales, with the finals (for five women and five men) taking place abroad, at the T3 Training Camp in Tenerife.

The UKGS page on Born to Win said, "for one reason or another the show turns out to be less compelling than expected." You can make the same case with this series, although actually using challenges that are at least familiar to a watching audience did help, unlike Born to Win, which relied too much on inventing new events. To add confusion, the competitors all wore the same colour, either black or fluorescent orange.

The scheduling of the programmes led to confusion – the Friday repeat wasn't always the same show as had gone out on Thursday. By the final show based in Wales, there were six women and six men, and both (separately) completed a 200 metre run up a sand dune in Merthyr Vale, followed by a paddle through the white water course at Cardiff’s new facility near the Bay. Jonathan was at each event to see the competitors 'live' for the first time. After this, judging and this time, the competitors’ performances in the whole series to date was considered, not just in the episode being recorded. This was followed by decisions to eliminate one woman and one man, and the remaining ten players would all go to Tenerife for the finals.

The remainder of this review summarises the women's final. Taking part were Anna Leyshon, Catherine Williams, Elinor Kirk, Rhian Roxborough and Siân Kirk. There were five events, with 5 points to the winner, down to a single point for last place. Trystan introduced the event by stating that, 'what the series winner needs (and Jonathan agrees with me on this) is good hand-eye co-ordination.'

What followed was a 'run-and-shoot' challenge, with the players taking a three-point shot to a basketball hoop, before running 30 metres, then taking the next shot. One mark for hitting the hoop or backboard, two marks for scoring a basket, most marks in 60 seconds won. Anna went first and scored three. Siân did not have the arm power to get the ball even close to the basket and failed to score. Alun Wyn said in commentary, 'The Chicago Bulls won’t be offering her a contract.' A bit harsh, I thought, and as the final progressed, Alyn Wyn’s statements became even more surreal, which may have spoiled things. Elinor scored single marks with every attempt to put seven on the board. Catherine recorded two misses, then potted a shot for two. Three more single marks followed and five put her second. Rhian also lacked arm power, but found two singles near the end of her attempt. So that was Elinor getting 5 points, Catherine 4, Anna 3, Rhian 2 and Si?â?n 1.

Event two was the one event I would love to see more of on TV: The players start each phase by laying on their stomachs, facing away from the goal. On the signal, players must get up, turn around, then run for a line of small flags at the goal line. There are always more starters than flags in each phase, and the player without a flag is eliminated. In other words, a simple beach sprint, beloved of lifeguard games in Australia. In phase 1, Siân trips over her own feet and this small lapse is enough to leave her behind. 1 point for her.

In phase two, Elinor and Anna found easy paths to their flags, but the replay showed Catherine has pushed Rhian off-line while both aimed for the one remaining flag, leaving Rhian devastated that she deserved more than the two points she got here (while there are some no-nos in beach sprints, pushing rivals aside is not one of them). Phase three and Catherine’s lack of speed up the beachside saw her lose and take three points. It was Anna who won the final against Elinor, and bonus marks to whoever covered the flag with five miniature cameras, seeing Anna come in on one and just as she grabs it, the view pans between the cameras, Matrix-style, before the last camera showed the aftermath. Post-event analysis by Tim stated that, while conditions were the same for all competitors, Anna was the only player to wear shoes (the others were bare-footed) and this 'made a difference,' he said. So at this point, Elinor has a total of 9 points, Anna had 8, Catherine 7, Rhian 4 and Siân 2.

In the second programme, there were three more events, starting with a 3.5km cycle race, a weight carrying discipline on the sand, then a 2km dirt track run up to a viewpoint on the top of a hill. The cycle race was up the volcanic Mount Teide and the altitude was from 1200 metres to 1400 metres above sea level. Commentator Alun Wyn clearly did not have enough to comment on, referring to the girls 'erupting' up the mountain and resorted to 'pedalling, pedalling and pedalling' at one point while a competitor was seen pedalling. The finishing order was Elinor, Rhian, Anna, Siân, Catherine. Indeed Catherine was so exhausted that she needed medical attention, but was fit to continue.

For the weight carrying, competitors had to carry a 20kg weight in each hand 30 metres down to the water’s edge, turn at a flag, and 30 metres back up the slope to the start point. Fastest time won. Elinor and Catherine went in heat 1 and confusion over which flag to circle led to a mix-up between the competitors. Both had covered the required distance, so their timings were allowed to stand: 20.5 seconds for Elinor and 21.4 for Catherine. Anna and Rhian went in heat two – no dramas this time and finishing times were 18.7 and 23.3 respectively. Siân had to go on her own, and said afterwards that, with no-one to chase, she had no idea how fast to run the event. Her 21.5 seconds would put her fourth. Couldn’t Non provide 'virtual' opposition for Sian’s heat, while Tim manned the stopwatch? So that’s Anna, Elinor, Catherine, Siân and Rhian in that order.

The overall placing had not changed since event two, with Catherine on 11, Rhian 9 and Siân 7. Up top, Elinor led Anna 18-16, and Anna needed a miracle on the final dirt-track run to claim victory. But the last event was basically 2km of fell running without the mud and fell running was Elinor’s 'spare time' hobby. There could only be one winner and When she reached the top and touched the giant crucifix at the viewpoint to stop the clock, even I felt Elinor’s victory was well deserved. Ten seconds later, Rhian arrived to claim second. Another two minutes elapsed before Catherine could claim third in this event, with Siân fourth and Anna closing out this competition.

Overall, Elinor finished with 23 points, Anna 17, Catherine 14, Rhian 13 and Siân 8.

Thanks, Simon. We've no idea what scheduling games S4/C were playing, but we can see that this sort of show cuts across language barriers.

Readers! If you want to write a review for this column, do get in touch.

Voodoo Hussy

The Flapper, Birmingham, 29 November

As we noted earlier, this column has no history of reviewing live music concerts, as the overlap between game shows and popular music is slim. But we aim to be honest, to report and investigate without prejudice, and that nose for a story took us to a cellar in central Birmingham. And a sneakily downloaded copy of The Cheatsheet: How to write a typical pop music review for lazy hacks. Step one is to give a potted biography.

How did we get here? Back in June, there was this obscure programme called Big Brother. No-one watched it, it won't be coming back, but the basic premise was to put a dozen or so strangers into a house, film them, give them silly things to do, and put the results out on the telly. One of the strangers was Shabby Katchadourian, a film-maker and musician from London, and former member of Voodoo Hussy. The band had split about a year earlier owing to creative differences and a sense that they weren't getting anywhere.

To cut a very long story short, the band re-formed, polished up some of their previous songs, wrote some new ones, and went on tour. In this column's view, none of this would have happened without Big Brother, and it's solely on that basis that we deem the group to be relevant. Well, that and the way the ticket said in big shouty letters "Voodoo Hussy (Featuring Shabby Off Of Big Brother)".

At this point, The Cheatsheet says, "describe the band". Well, there's Martin on drums, we barely got to see him as he was behind a drumkit. Then there are guitarists Pyro and Liz, and bassist Naj. These people had been scampering around before the show, having pictures taken with the fans waiting outside, signing all sorts of paraphernalia, and Liz had something on her cap – one of those dot matrix display boards as seen on Mission 2110, scrolling the message "SAYU♥ME".

The bulk of the audience wasn't here to see these people perform, even though each put in a flawless performance. They were waiting for singer Shabby; two nights previously in London she'd strained her voice, that led to the Bristol gig on Sunday being cancelled, and it was immediately clear that there was still some damage, aggravated as the night wore on. Not that this made the slightest difference to the experience. The instrumentalists were under warm red lights, the singer under a spooky green light that combined with her makeup to appear eerie and not entirely of this world. A Hallowe'en monster, if you like. A monster wearing Winnie-the-Pooh dungarees, for reasons never explained.

What does The Cheatsheet say next? "Appraise the musical highlights of the set." Voodoo Hussy specialises in songs about the moment, freezing time at a particular instant and describing exactly how the writer is feeling. Tempo, lyric, melody all combine to shape and enhance the emotion. This is a whole lot more difficult than it sounds, especially when there's no simple love song in their repertoire. It seems that anyone can write a picture postcard song about love, writing one about loss of identity ("20441") or foiled aspirations ("Lifeline") is much harder.

For our money, three songs stood out as particular examples of quality. "Threads" is a new work, with some fascinating chord sequences and tempos, and we're looking forward to deconstructing the lyric. Current single "Say you love me" (Caution: contains strong language) is the exception to test the rule, apparently a simple love song with subversion in the lyric and nuance in the instrumentation. "How'd ya like that" is probably going to be the group's encore for the rest of their career, containing some remarkable syncopation and chord structures. If the charts were decided on artistic merit, this would be a surefire topper for anyone brave enough to sing it, and infinitely better than anything ever given on The X Factor.

Never mind the musical theory, these songs cut through the crowd like a knife through warmed butter. The crowd was small, and knew their place: cheer wildly, bop a bit, and deliver the most cringeworthy call for an encore we've ever heard. The set was short but perfectly formed: the band came on stage, did what they wanted to do, and then left. Yes, Shabby still has a remarkable, almost mesmerising, stage presence. But this is a team sport: without the guitarists, this would be a much less entertaining spectacle.

What does The Cheatsheet say to do next? "Summarise by saying the band will never make a difference."

[scrumples The Cheatsheet up into a very small ball and tosses it into a bin.]

It's too late for that, Voodoo Hussy have already made a difference. Remember how we said that no-one watched Big Brother? We lied. Three million people did watch Big Brother, and the bulk of those will have formed an opinion of Shabby. Some disliked her, some found her more entertaining than other contestants, and a small segment started to examine and find themselves by comparison and imitation. On the night, this led to some slightly alarming scenes: a scheduled Poetry Corner interlude was abandoned when the poetry book was lost amongst the crowd, The Hat was briefly detached from its owners head, and the show finished with one attendee leaping on stage and giving Shabby the tightest of hugs.

Being a responsible and sensible column, we cannot encourage or condone stage invasions. Not at all. Don't do it. We can almost understand why it happened: for far too long, there has been no cultural icon that queer and sexually questioning young women can relate to. Fictional plots are fictional, and if they're not driven for ratings, they're progressing a particular dramatic point. Voodoo Hussy is a real band, actual flesh-and-blood people talking to other real people. It's a sad reflection on the rest of society that young lesbians are starved of role models, in a way that straight girls are not. It's hardly surprising that they'll rally around and help out and (in this case, quite literally) cling on to the one they do have. Everyone has come for something: for the music, for the community, for the experience. Watching someone else hog the singer, and perhaps jeopardise people's safety, certainly isn't that something.

It's our considered opinion that the group's fans tend to be loud and well-meaning, but it's never wise to take this for granted. So if you're at a gig and want to go on the stage uninvited, don't. Here endeth the patronisingly obvious public service announcement.

This column has long argued that television does not change society so much as it chronicles its change. Perhaps we're looking too much at the broad picture; for individuals, the most unlikely things can make a difference. A series of coincidences, chance events, and unrelated decisions by many people led to this tour with her band. By appearing on network television, and by being true to herself afterwards, Shabby has provided a centre of attention for a highly marginalised social group, a rallying point for the community to express itself and to find out about itself.

That's why Voodoo Hussy have already made a difference, and that's why this column hopes they carry on doing what they're doing. That they make very high quality music is a bonus.

University Challenge

Second round, match 5: University College London v Sheffield

While we were out, the regular Monday night quiz hour continued, beginning with Jeremy Paxman asking some difficult questions. UCL overcame Hertford Oxford on 6 September, by 155-125. Sheffield won their heat at a canter, defeating Newcastle 315-70 a week prior.

We begin here with the new head of UNESCO, and Sheffield kick off with bonuses on the sons of prime ministers. Babylonia pushes them further ahead, and can anyone imagine a modern government white paper selling hundreds of thousands in a few weeks? Happened with the Beveridge report. Limits in mathematics are a limit of Sheffield's knowledge, and the first visual round is on the religious affiliations of people in the USA. At this point, Sheffield have the advantage, 60-40.

It doesn't last long – UCL pick up a couple more starters, and take the lead, particularly helped by bonuses on car safety devices. Indeed, it looks as though UCL have turned on the powerplay, sweeping the board on authors associated with the Royal Mail. But then Sheffield make a good buzz to answer "archetypes" and they're back in the hunt. The audio round is upon us, it's 'cello concerti this week, and UCL has pulled out a handy little lead, 115-90.

The etymology of "dadaism" is more grist to the London side's mill, but they miss the obShakespeare bonus. It's Sheffield who get this week's question about mosses, something we know Jonathan Ross knows about, but they've not heard about the TANSTAAFL law. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch! Gresham's law and national parliament bring Sheffield back into the lead, and they remember ο. No-one remembers ο! Various definitions of "Manhattan" push Sheffield further ahead, and the second visual round – singers portrayed in film – sees Sheffield extend the lead to 190-130.

Sixty more points should see Sheffield home, and they pick off a third of that from one starter and bonuses on chemical processes. Where was T S Eliot buried? Ah, wrong audience. UCL pick up the sneaky geography – midway between Bristol and Cambridge is Oxford, and full marks on some cryptic definitions of European country names. UCL also score well on Blenheim, and Thumper is quite clearly turning up the speed.

Enclaves and exclaves are more points for the London side, the Voiceover Man is shouting again, and UCL are doing their best to get out some answers on questions about "red". It's given them the lead, but only for a moment – Sheffield pulls back with a starter about Keats, and moves away with bonuses on the US. A couple of starters are dropped, and Sheffield has their win, 250-230.

University Challenge UCL: close, but not quite.

Very good play from both sides, it's a shame there has to be a loser. Christopher Hale was best on the buzzers for UCL, six right, and his side made 24/33 bonuses. Tristram Cole again led for Sheffield, he picked up eight answers and the team combined for 24/39 bonuses. With just three dropped starters, the overall accuracy rate was 72/99.

Next match: Downing Cambridge v Magdalen Oxford

Only Connect

Quarter-final 4: In Laws v Alesmen

No cartoon dungarees for the night's other frontswoman, who is turning a pub quiz into tertiary education. Without the debt, or the drunkenness. The Alesmen have dressed in bow ties for the evening's entertainment, and marked their heat win with ... a glass of water. The In Laws (husband, wife, brother) aim to avoid the match going down to the last question.

But before the last question, we need the first question. Alesmen have "early return from transportation", "destroying a fishpond", "sacrilege", and they think they know it. Offences for which one could be executed? Indeed, that's worth two points. In Laws have "Moe's Tavern, 1993" and think it's about The Simpsons. The appearance of "Broadcasting House, 2009" throws them, but only until Savile Row 1969, when some group called The Beatles played. Two points there. Back to the Alesmen, who have to keep their feet on the ground to score a pair.

Wick o'flax o'doom o'music has Ace of Base, Ben E King, and yields three points. Alesmen get the picture clues – a cycling helmet, a cake, a number of books, and washing on a line. No, we're as stumped as them. At the time of recording, they're all zero-rated for VAT. And still are. In laws have elements – blue Mn, yellow Cd, green Co – and these are colours of acrylic paints. It puts the In Laws ahead, 7-4.

Round two is upon us, and Alesmen have a list of companies, and suggest the fourth is ITV. Adam Crozier is the name on their lips, and indeed these were the companies he was the chief executive of, and three points. In Laws have more piccies – Milli Vanilli, a child's scooter, and then spend a long time debating what comes after the Pearpod Nano. Pico mountain is what the editor's chosen, two points for the team. Alesmen find 2 = "Seven", 3 = "Eleven", so we're clearly in name territory. Well, we say "clearly" for values including "we've not a clue" – it's syllables in the name, so 5=77. No points.

In Laws have Stephen, John, Anne, and reckon it's to do with monarchs who have never had a regnal number, even retrospectively, so the next is Victoria and two points. Wick o'flax start with 401:Unauthorised, and we'd have claimed five. They go for it on five, and say "404: Not Found". And that's five points! From the Wick of Flax of Doom!!!!!! In Laws have the characters from "Penny Lane", and can't describe the barber. That's a bonus to the Alesmen, who have leaped into a 13-11 lead.

To the walls, and In Laws have stand out clues Repton and Cwm Rhondda. They begin by finding a group of Bond villains in no time at all, then have some chairs. They can see three hymn tunes, and reckon the others might be gardeners. Or characters in "The Scarlet Pimpernel". Eventually, they complete their hymn tunes, and reckon the final group is alter-egos of fictional characters. No, they really are gardeners. Bad luck. Seven points!

Alesmen pick up a grid with Euston Road and Swalk. They also get a set in no time at all, which turns out to be places with sauces named after them. and find the locations of schools of art, acronyms used on telegrams, and finishes with types of kiss. That'll be ten points!

Going into the final round, Alesmen have pulled out a 23-18 lead. Mssng Vls commences with stage works banned by the Lord Chamberlain. That goes to the In Laws by 3-1, and People known as Q is a 2-2 draw. Road junctions also ends up 2-2, and Cube numbers – another 2-2 draw. Dialects and accents goes to the In Laws 2-1. Seafood yields a point each.

Only Connect (2) The In Laws always have each other.

It didn't go down to the final question. Quite. Alesmen win it by 32-29. And to think we were amazed when the Crossworders scored 33 last series to win their game – In Laws reached almost that score in a losing cause.

Like that other wiki made flesh, and accurate: Epicureans v Wrights


Heat 15

Tony O'Brien is taking the War Memoirs of Spike Milligan (1918-2002). Born Terence Alan Milligan, he was a jazz trumpeter but rose to fame as a comedian. He's best known as one of the Goons, the seminal radio funnymen of the 1950s. This round concentrates on his life before the Goons, and primarily those events documented in three books. It's a very credible round, finishing on 11 (1).

Peter Watkins has the Life and Times of Mark Antony (83-30BC). Consul Marcus Antonius sided against Octavianus in the power struggle following Julius Caesar's death, and succeeded in gaining control of half the empire – points east of the Italian peninsula and Gaul. He tried to charm the Egyptian leader Cleopatra, but suffered military rejection and effectively became her accomplice. The two killed themselves after their troops revolted in battle. A slow but steady pace steers the contender to 13 (2).

Fiona Cowie will discuss the Life of Lillie Langtry (1853-1929). The "most beautiful woman in the world" was born in Jersey, married the Irish diplomat Edward Langtry, and had her picture painted by John Millais. She would be pursued by men ever after, including the Prince of Wales and Lord Mountbatten, and in later life broke the bank at Monte Carlo. Something still on Miss Coren's to-do list, we understand. A bit of a pass spiral in the middle, 9 (3).

Christopher Anton is going to tell us about the History of the Henley Royal Regatta (est 1839). A rowing race has been held at Henley, on the Thames, where there is a 1.3-mile stretch of straight navigation. It is unusual as only two boats compete in any one race, rather than the usual six lanes. The event is seen as part of the "summer scene", and is much favoured by the moneyed classes. As the event is held in the English summer, it will inevitably rain. The contender gets off to a slow start, missing the opening date by one day, but powers through to finish on 15 (1).

Fiona Cowie is back in the chair, and is right to guess where she thinks she might know – it picks up such answers as Sicily and Mississippi mud pie. She concludes on 19 (8). Tony O'Brien doesn't know the postcode for The Eastenders. Don't remind people of what's on the other channel, John, people will stop watching. This contender prefers to pass rather than guess, finishing on 18 (7).

Peter Watkins needs seven to take the lead, and remembers the Grand Prix career of Eddie Irvine, various MPs for Hull, Trojans on the interwebs, and knows how Nelson in Lancashire really was named after the naval hero. The round continues to tick over neatly, ending on 28 (5). That will, at the very least, put him on the runners-up list.

So Mr. Anton needs fourteen for the win, twelve to be in contention for the repechage board. He begins with the Australian port of Fremantle, and the "temporary" reintroduction of income tax. Does the King of Diamonds really have an axe behind his ear? So he does. But this is another slow round, with lots of passes and not a tremendous amount of speed. The final score is 25 (6).

So Peter Watkins takes the win. No Mastermind next week, it's replaced by a Just Outside Broadcast as the BBC run a really long piece of string to Loftus Road for QPR against Watford. The next match goes out on 17 December at the earlier time of 7.30. (8.30 in Scotland, and the following Monday in Wales.)

This Week And Next

Winners at the Children's BAFTA awards included Relic - Guardians of the Museum in the Entertainment category, and Brian Cant for being a godlike genius.

Nominations for the Broadcast awards have been released. Game shows hog five of the six Best Entertainment Programme nominees – Come Dine with Me (Channel 4), Got to Dance and Must Be the Music (both The Satellite Channel), The Cube and The X Factor (ITV) will hope to beat John Bishop's Britain (BBC1). Got to Dance is also up in the Best New Programme category. Four Weddings (UKTV Living) is up in the Best Multichannel Programme category, and Junior Masterchef (BBC1) in the Best Children's Programme. Finally, nominations in Best Daytime Programme include Channel 4's Come Dine With Me and Deal or No Deal. Winners will be announced on 2 February next year.

Congratulations to Nathan Dunn and Rachael White, who announced their engagement this week.

Ratings for the week to 21 November are in, with X Factor breaking through the 15 million viewer mark on Sunday's results show. Quite remarkable, and not accounting for the further million watching on HD. Strictly had 12.3 million for its Saturday performances, and I'm a Celeb broke 10.75m on Sunday night. The Apprentice secured 7.7m, The Cube 5.4m, and HIGNFY 4.65m. BBC2's top programme was the Mastermind Children in Need of Assistance special, 3.3m found that more appealing than the news. The Apprentice You're Fired, University Challenge, and Dancing on Two all had 3.15m glued to their seats. Channel 4's top show was Come Dine With Me, 2.95m saw the cooking on Thursday night.

Three shows broke the million on digital telly: Xtra Factor Result (1.345m), I'm a Celeb on Sunday (1.29m), and More4's Come Dine With Me (1.04m). It's a fair way to the fourth-ranked Only Connect (600,000). Good week for New Masterchef Australia on UKTV Watch, 235,000 turned their sets to see people cooking on their heads.

December is upon us. Countdown moves into finals week (C4, 3.25 from Thursday), New Masterchef Australia concludes (UKTV Watch, 7pm Friday), there's a Come Dine with Me special about Coronation Street (C4, 9pm Monday), and ITV has Coronation Street: The Big 50, a celebration wrapped around a quiz on the show (ITV, 9pm Friday). But that's opposite the Strictly Come Dancing semi-final (BBC1, 9pm Friday) which counts to the result. Strictly continues at 6pm on Saturday, followed at 7 by Total Wipeout With Some Minor Celebrities. Over on ITV, the The X Factor final begins at 7pm, and it's followed at 9 by a new run of Take Me Out.

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