Weaver's Week 2022-02-20

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"We could bankrupt ITV!" panicked Ant and Dec before their new series. But they didn't, and the proof is in their bank accounts.

Limitless Win


Limitless Win

Hello Dolly and Mitre Studios for ITV, 8 January – 5 February

Limitless Win was promoted as the biggest of high-stakes games. More noughts than Who Wants to be a Millionaire, richer than The Rich List, a prize even bigger than The Sky's the Limit. On Limitless Win, the potential prize is … without limit.

A prize as big as you can imagine, and then bigger. Mind-boggling amounts of money. You might think there are a lot of atoms in the universe, Limitless Win will give you a pound for every one of them. You might think there are a lot of subatomic particles in the universe, and Limitless Win will give you a pound for each of them. You might think there are lots of subatomic particles in all the potential multiverses, and in one of the polyverses Limitless Win is giving you a pound for each of them. You get the gist.

Limitless Win Ant McPartlin (left) and Declan Donnelly.

Our marvellous hosts are Ant and Dec. You'll know them from such shows as Push the Button, Poker Face, Slap Bang, and the forthcoming Ant and Dec's Knees-Up At Your Pad. Since their television career began in 1988, Ant and Dec have been among the most popular people on television: never forgetting their roots, they can relate to ordinary people. They're two of Us, not two of Them.

Limitless Win makes this even more clear as each pair of contestants is introduced. We see brief clips of the contenders backstage, having the final checks before they walk out. In these few seconds, we learn something of the players, what they're like when the camera isn't on them. Mercifully, the producers don't over-use this gimmick, and don't let it distract from the show.

Limitless Win Our contestants wait in a dark backstage area.

After we've properly met the contestants, we move into a quickfire starter. Ant will ask questions at the first contestant, until they get one right. Then Dec will ask questions at the other contestant until they get one right. Then Ant picks up with the first contestant, and so on until we've had a minute's questions. All the answers to the questions are numbers, because numbers are the currency of Limitless Win.

Your first number is 5

Five. The players are awarded five lives for each question they get right in this rapid-fire round. Most pairs get between three and five questions, so they start with between 15 and 25 lives. The lives allow the contestants to be under the correct answer in the main game – at no point are they allowed to be over the right answer.

The main game begins with Dec asking a question. The answer is a number, because numbers are the currency of Limitless Win. Our players twiddle a large silver dial, and it moves a counter up and down a display on the big screen. That's the "Limitless ladder", it starts in the studio and goes up and up and up and up without end. There are money values every so often going up the ladder.

Limitless Win Our players dial an answer in.

Once our players have settled on an answer, they push a round blue button to lock in their answer. Dec asks, "Did you go over the answer, or are you still in the game?"

One by one, from the bottom, steps on the ladder change colour. When the players turned the dial, they were lit in a bright turquoise colour. As the answer ticks up, steps change to a bright pink. The hope is for all of the steps to turn pink, because that means the answer was not too high and the players are still in the game.

But are they right, or are they losing lives? Is this an exact answer? When it is, the pink steps change to gold; when it isn't, the studio turns to red for a brief moment.

Limitless Win One by one, the steps turn pink.

How many lives did the players lose? One for each step they didn't dial in. If the answer's 19 and they dialled 18, the team loses 1 life. If the answer's 24 and the players dialled 18, they lose 6 lives. You get the drift.

The importance of an exact answer cannot be overstated. It puts the money in the bank, and allows the team to cash out at any time. Instead of giving an answer, they can press the gold cashout button and leave the game with what's in the bank. An exact answer also earns an extra 5 lives.

Should the team run out of lives, they will leave with nothing. If the team dials in an answer that's too high, even by just one, they will leave with nothing.

Limitless Win The contestants are one side of a large desk, Ant and Dec on the other.

You've got a catchphrase, we'll come back to that in a moment

Exact answers bank cash. One over is game over, so it's always better to be under – that's what your lives are for.

We quickly see that the first few questions are quite easy, allowing the couple to advance up the ladder, and literally raise the stakes. An early bank is more essential than we might think, and here's why. Imagine a team that is always one under the right answer. They climb up to huge amounts of money, hundred grand and more. But they can't cash out, they're forced to play on.

Limitless Win isn't just about the prize. It's about the journey, the decisions the team make. At any given moment, the team have three actions available. They can dial in an answer. They can play a lifeline (and we'll talk about those in a moment), or they can cash out. Until the pair give a correct answer, one of those verbs is unavailable, and at times there is no lifeline to play. Limitless Win would be a lesser show if the only possible move was to play on, and the easy questions at the start help to avoid that.

Limitless Win Exact answers light the tower in gold.

There's a money value every ten rungs on the ladder – so if you're dialling in 22 as your answer, you'll move through two money values, maybe three. The early amounts are small: £500, £1000, £2500, £5000. Then it's 10, 20, 30, 50, 75 thousand. Then it's 100 grand, 150k, and £250,000. From there, every stop is an extra £250,000.

Give a right answer, and the top money value you've gone through is banked.

The game keeps a sense of scale. The answer to every question is a number. Specifically, the answer is a number between about 4 and about 40, though we don't see the contestants being told this. You'll never move too far up the ladder, nor will you have a run of questions that couldn't reach a money level.

Limitless Win Push the button on Limitless Win, because the win on Push the Button wasn't limitless.

We do see the contestants using lifelines. Four are available:

  • More Than – ask if the exact answer is more than a number you specify. The contestants might say, "is the exact answer more than 17".
  • Odd or Even – you'll be told if the answer is odd or even.
  • Range – you'll get a range containing the exact answer. Range always seems to give a range of ten, something like 12-22.
  • Take Two – the ladder will accept two answers, and reject the worst. If one's too high, it'll reject it; if one's the exact answer, it'll accept that.

The ladder will only accept answers consistent with the answer – so if the contestants are told the answer is more than 17, it'll automatically dial in 18 for them. Players can only hold one lifeline at a time – when a second is revealed before they've used the first, the players will have to choose which to keep and which to discard.

If you're careful, lifelines can ensure you'll not go over the exact answer.

Limitless Win Gasp!

Limitless Win features a relatively full studio audience. In contrast to The Late Late Show last week, nobody wore a face covering, which feels wrong at this point in the health crisis. We haven't been keeping precise tabs on what competent science-based health advice was last autumn when Limitless Win was filmed, nor do we recall what advice was given by the regulators in England.

Limitless Win has a coherent sound design. The central figure is a four-note five-beat stab, used before every question. Most of the other sounds are assorted thuds and bangs, they're fine as far as they go but lack a certain amount of drama. In particular, we need a clearer sound to say "this is the last life you've lost, play on".

The theme tune is familiar from somewhere, it's synthesised keyboards in a very early '00s style. We reckon there's inspiration from "Kiss kiss", "Every way that I can", "Wild dances", and many others. It's credited to Dan Keen and Gary Barlow, a talent show's most disagreeable judge. Marc Sylvan's credited for additional music, and Mo-Sys Engineering did the virtual production.

Some people spotted an unusual structure to the ad breaks – one after about 20 minutes, another after 12, and very short third and fourth parts. The reason is prosaic: it allows ITV to show the maximum amount of advertising within and around The Masked Singer, without breaching their caps for the 7pm and 8pm hours. Limitless Win must wait until after 9pm for its second break.

What of the questions?

Limitless Win doesn't get through many questions – outside the quickfire round, it's at about the same speed as Who Wants to be a Millionaire, two or three minutes per question.

Limitless Win What number comes after four, Dec?

Because we're going to be thinking about the questions a lot, they need to be interesting in their own right. The questions on Limitless Win are interesting in their own right. What is Michael Jordan's handspan – and everyone starts looking at their own hands, and trying to work out how much bigger Jordan's is.

How many digits are there on a debit card? Do you know your own debit card number? Do you type it in for everything you buy on the internets, or have you got it saved in the browser?

What amp fuse does a kettle take? The sort of handy household information everyone should know, and nobody actually knows.

And these are questions we can play along with at home. Jordan's handspan, we thought 26, the right answer's 29. Debit card, surely that's 16, and it is. Kettle fuse, this column couldn't decide whether it's 3 amp or 13, and we played safe with 3, and were wrong.

Limitless Win Now for a more difficult example.

Players have time to consider their action, but they can't take all night. How could they, The John Bishop Show is on when they're finished. They've about 90 seconds to decide on an answer, with a countdown clock on screen for the last 15 seconds.

Ant and Dec are in their element here. Limitless Win is a slightly scary format, but the hosts explain it well, and it helps that we trust them to make the difficult stuff look easy. Never feels like they're reading out the rulebook, a complaint levelled against Alan Carr's Epic Gameshow [sic].

Limitless Win Coming up on Limitless Win: cash, more cash, even more cash.

From time to time, they flash the cash – look at what's coming up on the board, wonder what the contestants might do with that money. It feels like they're on the contestants' side, that they genuinely want to give away life-changing amounts of money, Ant and Dec will subtly remind the contestants that they have lifelines, that they can cash out.

Because we don't need to worry about how the game works – Ant and Dec have this under control, Ant and Dec have everything under control – we can think more about the players' decisions. Would we have played on under this situation?

We have £5000 in the bank, playing for £150,000 on the board. We're asked "how many sails and flags are there on the Blue Peter logo?" We're told it's somewhere between 4 and 14. We have 5 lives available.

Do we stick at 4, and hope the answer is no more than 9? Do we dial it up to 5, 6, and increase our chances – but risk going over?

It's proper shout-at-the-telly stuff, ramping up the tension to unexpected heights.

The players dialled in 5. The exact answer is 8: three on the main mast, two on the smaller masts, and a pennant at the front. They survive, and then get a very lucky break with a question they knew right away.

Limitless Win We never get to see the top of the money ladder. That's design for you.

And yet...

Watch more

Limitless Win at ITV Hub (.gb only, registration required)

Show trailer

Behind the scenes

As much as we liked Limitless Win, we didn't precisely love it. While the decisions can be difficult, sometimes the decisions become easier the further you go. One team had £10,000 in the bank, and a million pounds on the board. While ten grand is a lot of money – it'll change many lives – we cannot fault the couple for playing on.

The big money comes quite late in the game – to reach £100k, you've got to dial in a total of 100 across your answers. That's across your answers, not the exact answers, so it'll often take half an hour to get there. It's a long way for a big payoff – and the way Limitless Win is structured, nothing ever feels like a big payoff. It can't do, the jackpot is infinite, and we're only ever going to scratch the surface of infinity.

And that might be the biggest problem – albeit one we didn't see this time around. Picture the scene. Joey and Jeffy are an adorable couple who everyone loves. Through a fortuitous series of guesses and broad knowledge, they've banked £250,000. Half an hour later, they've cranked the dial all the way up to £3.5 million. And, rather than risk their last three lives, they've taken the money. It's a quarter of a million quid! Huge money in anyone's book! But it's less than a fraction of what's on the board.

If they're not careful, Unlimited Win will make a huge victory feel like a defeat. That would be very unfortunate, it's one of the things contributing to the fall of Deal or No Deal.

We also compare with the happy-go-lucky hour on The Wheel, where Michael McIntyre has a joyous party where you're invited. And even if nobody wins a penny we'll come away smiling, Michael and his friends have made it awesome television. The Wheel went head-to-head against Limitless Win, and Limitless Win won the ratings battle 3-1 – though the week it lost, Limitless Win also fell behind Stephen Mulhern's Celebrity Catchphrase with Stephen Mulhern.

Limitless Win Say goodnight, Dec.

Ultimately, we're reasonably happy with Limitless Win. It's worth watching, we enjoyed it, and we'll be back if there's a second series. As always, there are things to tweak, how they present the lifelines can easily be fixed. The show's title point – that there's no finish, no way to beat the game, just an end to your turn – might be its greatest weakness.

In other news

Moneybags Look what's bags! Bags!! BAGS!!!

Great news for all viewers, as the Craig Charles show Moneybags is coming back for a second series. We hope for a celebrity edition – if anything's going to kick-start this programme it's a celeb show.

Quizzy Mondays Helen Garner took Mastermind by the scruff of the neck: 13 on The Films of Tom Cruise is a remarkable score in a specialist round, and the total of 27 marks her as a serious contender. Imperial London beat Reading in University Challenge, the London side won on the buzzers in a match where both sides showed their knowledge.

He's back! Richard Osman's House of Games has the first of two champions' weeks (BBC2, from Mon). Will Angela Barnes keep her unbeaten record, or will Melvin Odoom turn out to be a genius? Just a Minute is also back, can anyone beat Paul Merton at his own game? (R4, Mon).

A new run of Come Dine with Me (C4, weeknights), and Masterchef Australia pitches up on BBC3. Grand finals of Glór Tire (TG4, Tue), Landscape Artist of the Year (Artsworld, Wed), and Best Young Artist (CBBC, Thu).

Prosiect Z What's the story here?

We don't intend to publish next week, so watch out for Can i Gymru (S4C, Fri 4 Mar). The people behind Prosiect Z have Itopia, a drama telling the story of the nanobugs in your ear (S4C, Wed 2 Mar).

Pictures: Hello Dolly and Mitre Studios, Youngest North, Boom Cymru / Dan Harris.

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