Weaver's Week 2021-02-28

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"Let's show him understanding and tolerance. You kind of want to hug him the most." – Egill Helgason.


Gettu Betur

RÚV television and radio, since 1986

Until last weekend, we had no idea that Gettu Betur even existed. It's enough of a job keeping up with all the new shows being made in the languages we do speak (Français, Deutsch, Nederlands, and allegedly English). We barely have time to register shows in Spanish, Italian, or Czech. Icelandic is well off our radar.

Bad news for the podium.

But then a clip makes the rounds on social media, showing a contestant smashing up the studio. The podium is knocked over, a glass tinkles into a zillion sharp bits, and we hear banging from off-set. What's the story here? And why is the reaction from viewers on Iceland so different from the reaction here?

This happens a little bit to all of us losing. You always feel bad afterwards. Hope someone hugs him.

Gettu Betur (translates: Guess Better) is a long-running quiz show on RÚV ("Iceland", as they say at Eurovision). Teams from the island's schools and colleges take part, hoping to prove they can answer questions better than any other students. Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík (Reykjavik High School) is the team everyone wants to beat, having won 21 of the 35 series up to now. The contest is a straightforward knockout between teams of three, there are heats on radio before the top eight teams make the live television shows.

Did we say live television shows? We said live television shows. While live television over here is Saturday Night Takeaway and The FA Cup, live television on Iceland is a quiz for teenage geeks.

It's Friday, it's half-past seven, it's...

How does this show work?

Elín Sveinsdóttir is the host, she's been in the job for ten years. The lead question-writers are new for this series, Jóhann Alfred Kristinsson and Laufey Haraldsdóttir – they're on set as the adjudicators and they keep the team's points. Sævar Helgi Bragason and Kristjana Arnarsdóttir wrote additional questions and can talk into Elín's earpiece if needed.

Host Elin is on the right.

The quarter-finals are Friday night viewing. On the 5th, Reykjavik Women's School beat Kópavogur High 21-15. On the 26th, Verzlunarskóli Íslands won a nailbiter against Hamrahlíð High 24-23.

We'll concentrate on Reykjavik High The Team Everyone Wants To Beat, who played on the 12th. They beat Garðabær Technical College by 42-27, and here's how they did it.

Rejkyavik High: old military pictures.

For a live television quiz, the show begins with an awful lot of chat. Elín gasses with the judges, and tries to make small talk with the teams. They make a big deal out of ripping off some velcro and revealing the players' names. Then there's a video film the team recorded in their school building – Reykjavik High is an old wood-panelled building, with oil paintings of military men on the walls. Garðabær is a modern building, and the library has its share of glass and metal.

Nine minutes into the show, and the quizzing begins. 90 seconds of rapid-fire questions directed at one team. While the first team plays, their opponents leave the studio, because they'll be asked the same questions on their turn. Players don't need to buzz in, the moderator will only accept the first answer offered by anyone. Both teams are pictures of concentration: competitors look down, hide their head in their hands, concentrate on the studio floor. Some gabble the answers, and the judge has to listen back to their answers in slow-motion. It's effective, the teams score a lot of points – Reykjavik High leads by 23-21.

A picture of intense concentration.

One disadvantage to live quizzing – live adjudication is not particularly fun to watch. We see it on Google That!, we see it on Gettu Betur. It's the bit where the moderator is going through the answers, trying to hear if the teams said the right answer at warp speed. Were the programme recorded, we would edit this bit out, trim it down so the show ran more smoothly.

A commercial break follows, giving the judges a bit longer to deliberate, and adjust the scores for accuracy. After this, a film clip is shown, and the host gives a bunch of facts. One of the players buzzes in, and gives some information – points are awarded on a basis we don't understand, because we don't have enough Icelandic.

The one question we understood in 40 minutes: who are these people?
Answer: Phoebe Bridge and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Further questions are asked, points are awarded if the contestant can give the information they need. The host Is going to reach a question – eventually – but the teams are allowed to ramble around the topic until they hit on the answer. There are two questions in the commentary, and the teams buzz in to give all the necessary information – whichever team gives all the correct answers wins the point. Whatever the captain says – or whoever the captain nominates – is the final answer.

Twice during the show, the quizzing stops for a variety performance, someone sings or performs an instrument, or dances. This gives the teams chance to relax for a few moments, catch their breath, for studio help to refill the water glasses and check the microphones. But it's a massive distraction from the matter at hand. It's like if they got halfway through Mastermind and stopped for Gary Barlow to sing his latest hits.

Or, in this case, a manic pixie dream keyboardist.

Gettu Betur is a different quiz from University Challenge and The Chase. The questions are deliberately long and rambling, the contestants have pencil and paper to use throughout the show. It's perfectly acceptable – and perhaps encouraged – to write something down and show it to your teammates. Players are allowed to ramble around the subject, all the conferring is heard by the viewers. Perhaps that's part of this year's seating arrangement, the players are at individual podia a good distance apart, rather than behind one long desk.

While Garðabær buzz in on a few questions, and get the odd one right, Reykjavik High get a lot more questions right. The win is never in doubt, quite honestly.

Garðabær Technical College: library pictures.

What happened last week?

Which brings us to the match on the 19th. Technical School play Mass Academy Ármúla. Technical will win, 28-21. After a low-scoring first round, Technical lead by 17-13. Mass Academy draw level, but never take the lead.

After the first variety break – a singer and keyboardist dancing around like a pixie – the questions continue to fall to both sides. Before the final question, Technical's lead is unsurpassable. Jón, one of the contestants for Mass Academy, is upset by the loss.

"We'll, er, take some music," improvised the host.

What happened here? Quite simply, the pressure of the situation got to Jón, and the internal squawking from the id overpowered the superego. We can see Jón becoming more tense through the show: tapping on the buzzer, clenching the jaw. Did Jón conclude that the buzzer was malfunctioning?

These are stressful and exaggerated intense situations for teenagers and this is very important to many people.

Normally, the best tactic to deal with a stressful situation is to remove yourself from it, or breathe deeply, or talk to someone else. None of these options are available in the studio, particularly during a live broadcast.

Gettu Betur is a massive deal for the participants. It's shown live on national television, at the start of a weekend during winter. A huge number of people are watching: the other channel is showing Joel Dommett's The Masked Singer from two weekends ago. In any other year, the studio is filled with baying students, partisan supporters of your school. We wouldn't compare Gettu Betur to University Challenge or Only Connect: no, it's bigger than that. It's as big as Bake Off, or the FA First XI.

The closest English culture gets to Gettu Betur.

And, like the England national football side, it's a contest played by young people to entertain older people. Footballers are liable to do rash things while they're on the pitch, it takes a certain maturity to play your hardest and leave it on the pitch. David Beckham might be an older statesman these days, but he had moments of temper in his youth.

And, like elite sport, Gettu Betur is subject to claims of corruption and cheating. One year, Reykjavik High The Team Everyone Wants To Beat won the title because one player gave the right answer, the captain over-ruled them, the host asked for clarification, and the captain changed back to the original answer. Someone whispered "nei" in the audience; could the captain hear, was it from the Reykjavik High coach in the audience?

This is perfectly in order.

The anglosphere got to hear about last week's event, and the reaction has been as predictable as it's been regrettable. "Quiz Show Contestant Trashes Set After Losing", wrote the Daily Freebie. "Cor! Look at this video we'll play to you then describe in extreme detail, adding in a few points we cribbed from the English-language Other Wiki", in the Daily Heil. The comments were a disgrace to the posters, and to the hosters.

Reaction from Icelandic speakers was entirely different.

"All the times I lost matches, I was always a hair's breadth from reacting like Jón."

"This happens a little bit to all of us losing. You always feel bad afterwards. Hope someone hugs him despite Covid."

"I lost in the 8-team Gettu Betur 2 years in a row. Studying for 4-5 months to remember all the damn things and realizing it was all in vain, is what Jón showed last night. The devil I wanted to do what he did yesterday! Take a bow son!"

"Thank goodness that there were only like two people on Twitter when I was throwing pens, banging on screens and breaking after a loss in Gettu Betur at the time. These are stressful and exaggerated intense situations for teenagers and this is very important to many people."

"When you put everything in a show like Gettu Betur, it's only natural to have feelings when you lose. First and foremost, I hope people show Jón understanding and consideration, and leave him alone."

"All the times I lost matches, I was always a hair's breadth from reacting like Jón."

"Don't make a fool of yourself and belittle the people who blow up there. It's a lot harder to answer questions on the set than at home in the living room. If you haven't experienced this pressure, you don't understand it. Caution should be taken."

Those thoughts from broadcaster Máni Pétursson, and former contestants Stark Pétursson, Ingvi Þór Sæmundsson, Steinthor Helgi, and Elmar Gisli Gíslason.

The headteacher of Ármúli, Magnús Ingvason, shared the prevailing opinion. He said the contestant would be surrounded by love and care in the coming weeks.

The Mass Academy Armúla team pictured in 2020, surrounded by friends.

#VeraGóður #BeKind

We might care to draw conclusions about the cultures. About how Icelandic folk look out for each other: when one of them is hurt, the instinct is to rally round and protect the fellow human. Not to sneer, as so many people on this island do. Even in moments of great pain, game shows – and the reactions they engender in viewers – tell us a lot about a culture.

From time to time, we talk about the "duty of care" owed to contestants. We mean it in the sense of "don't put other people in harm's way". Don't allow people to come to harm through deliberate action, or through considered inaction. The way teammates on Gettu Betur are physically distanced, how there's no audience in the studio baying for quiz blood, that's part of RÚV's duty of care towards them, lessen the risk of transmitting a horrible disease.

Good distance, good distance.

The duty of care against psychological harm is still there, it's just more difficult to do. Truth to tell, nobody wants to see contestants smash up the set, frustrated that their buzzer doesn't work and without the opportunity to complain to the producers.

It's one of the reasons why choir competitions tend to be delayed by a few minutes: if there are technical problems, the producers can step in and call a do-over – or show the version from the dress rehearsal. That little courtesy to the performers – that little duty of care towards them – is lost when the show goes out completely live. We're sure that RÚV will consider introducing a short delay for future series.

It's a lot harder to answer questions on the set than at home in the living room. If you haven't experienced this pressure, you don't understand it.

On these shores, competitions are played for low stakes. Only Connect is quite open about how good its prize isn't, and the whole show benefits from a friendly, unforced atmosphere – it's Victoria asking a few chums over for drinks and a few conversation starters. University Challenge and Mastermind are more intense, the atmosphere is studious and serious, but the production staff do whatever they can to ease the tension and relax people into the experience. It's only a game show.

Only Connect (2) 2016 champions String Section with their winners' trophy.

Outside of the studio, things are rougher. The wider society on this island is full of lítill skítur, sad folk who get their kicks from picking fault with anyone on telly. Threatened by a successful young person? Not got any empathy whatsoever? C'mon, if you're so good, why don't you get on this show and win the jackpot single-handedly?! No wonder broadcasting pressure group OFCOM has mithered about a code to show it expects producers to take care of contestants: it's a signal to elements of a society that don't care.

For Iceland, #BeKind is a way of life.

The society on Iceland is different. Everyone saw this moment of explosive rage on network television, a high-pressure situation that went pop. And... there was no criticism. Everyone rallied round, everyone understood. Including this column; we stepped back from competitive pub quizzes for a time, precisely because we were taking it too seriously and becoming a bit of a bad sport.

RÚV can put young people in a high-pressure situation, in part because there's less social cost to the occasional explosion. Over here, it would be a big thing; on Iceland, not so much. Icelandic society protects everyone, the first instinct is to understand and forgive and include. #BeKind isn't just a fashionable hashtag for one weekend, it's a way of life.


From the sublime to the ridiculous, and some words on the recent series of Crackerjack!.

Crackerjack "Chortle", "guffaw", "snigger", "bwa-ha-ha", and side-splitting peals of laughter. That should cover it.

But this is a game show site, and we must briefly discuss the games.

Splatterjack has returned from last year, with hardly any changes. It's the game where children pump up celebrities (or members of their family) until a sharp point bursts a balloon full of gunge. The winner gets their celeb gunged. The one change: last year, they found out the balloon was stronger than the sharp point, so they've sharpened the point.

Crackerjack Good distance, good distance.

Watch It!!! has also come back, with one change: only two contestants for the observation quiz, not three.

Take a Letter was only played on the Christmas edition.

Crackerjack Wipe the gunge off the screen using sponges attached to your comedy underwear.

Spongerpants has the players wearing comedy underpants with sponges attached to the back. After getting a quiz question right, one of them will spend five seconds wiping gunge off a screen. Behind the gunge is a word, which you can guess when you've wiped some gunge off. First player to guess the word wins the game.

The Long Arm of the Draw has the players wearing extended arms with a pen attached to one end. Taking turns, the players will attempt to draw something for their celebrity partner to guess. Play swaps when the drawing is guessed. Whoever is still drawing when lightning strikes – er, when the time runs out – is the loser.

Crackerjack The very long arms being used to draw.

The game was notable for its accoutrement. To ensure the players couldn't give verbal clues, they wore a trap-plugging gobstobber to plug your trap and stop your gob.

The game was also notable for bringing out the fundamental unfairness of a Lightning format. Some commentators thought it a little bit unfair when Sam (or was it Mark) gave lots of clues to his player because he'd been playing for ages. And when he finally got one, Mark (or was it Sam)'s player had about two seconds to get his answer.

Truth or Bear asked players to judge whether Sam was telling the truth, or whether Mark was telling the truth. Behind the truth was this week's celebrity, saying "Truth!". Behind the falsehood was a cheeky bear, who would splatter the contestant with Crackerjack! gunge.

Crackerjack Take splat!

All of the games were made to ensure there was good physical distance between competitors. Podia were placed at a good distance apart, the cheeky bear had to squirt gunge over some metres, and the only person to approach the contestants hid his PPE behind a costume.

Double or Drop also came back, still in the same format as last year. About ten seconds' thinking time across the show, two cabbage lives, a prize for each right answer. Run out of time, or cabbage lives, or drop one, and you'll be hurtled back off the conveyor belt into a foam pit.

Crackerjack The cabbage keeper.

Two slight changes. "The Cabbage Keeper" was a costume, dishing out cabbages on request. And "Prize Guy" was replaced by Mark (or was it Sam) putting the prizes on little tables in front of each player.

For one episode, they mixed it up by playing from right-to-left, rather than the traditional left-to-right. Children who were watching the show intensely understood this easily. Older viewers, who might not have been paying close attention, were confused.

All of these games were far more fun than we've described them. Sam and Mark present the show with flair, wit, and great comedy timing.

Crackerjack! had celebrity guests; some were Jason Manford and stole the show, others were less fun. There were also comedy sketches, many of which had some little details in the background.

Crackerjack Cabbages, cabbages, everywhere!

And that's why Crackerjack! is so much fun: everyone involved cares about it, deeply. And everyone puts in bagfuls of effort, and it shows on screen. We look forward to a new series next year.

In other news

Daytime gets a spring clean, with a new series of Ready Steady Cook (BBC1), hoping to go out at a the same time on at least three consecutive days. Four in a Bed returns (C4) and it's joined by Drawers Off, where artists draw each other in the nuddy. Er, think we might be watching Gigglequiz (Cbeebies).

In primetime, it's the first in a new series of Masterchef (BBC1, from Mon), the final of Pooch Perfect (BBC1, Thu). Song contest season continues, with Can i Gymru (S4C, Fri) finding this year's song for Wales. It's the final for Counterpoint (Radio 4, Mon), and a new series of Round the Islands Quiz (Radio 4, 8 March).

We don't plan to publish next weekend, so watch out for Celebrity Bake Off and Celebrity The Circle (C4, Tue 9 Mar), both raising money for Stand Up to Cancer. We're back in two weeks, on Mothering Sunday, unless we get toppled watching Bank Balance.

Photo credits: RÚV, Parasol, BBC Childrens.

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