Weaver's Week 2023-06-11

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"It's good to be correct, and better again if you're fast" says Claire Byrne, host for this general knowledge quiz. As catchphrases go, it's a decent start with some room for improvement. A bit like the show, as we'll explain.


Ireland's Smartest

Green Inc for RTÉ1, 2 April – 4 June

Eighteen months ago, Rick O'Shea made a point on social media. Ireland doesn't have a good quiz of its own. RTÉ's versions of Mastermind and College Bowl were cancelled many years ago, VM1 has no interest in making MillionaIRE, and TG4 hasn't yet picked up Un Cwestiwn. RTÉ Radio has never had a prestige quiz like BBC Brain or Round the Islands Quiz.

Maybe someone somewhere was listening. Ireland does now have a good quiz of its own. Not yet a great quiz, but a perfectly watchable and decently hard quiz. And no, it's not The Money List, their reskinning of Who Dares Wins without Nick Knowles – that'll grace our screens later in the year.

This week's contestants wait for their big moment.

Unlike broadcasters on the big island to the east, RTÉ is happy to let shows run for 30 minutes (including an ad break). Three players take part, and the winner will come through three rounds.

After the briefest of explanations, and a shot of the week's three contestants, we're straight into the opening round. Our first player steps onto the playing spot in the middle of the studio. They'll face two minutes of general knowledge questions.

Know the answer? Buzz in, give an "early" answer, give the right answer, and score two points.

The countdown fizzes along the screen, meets in the middle.

Don't know the answer? Wait two seconds, host Claire will announce three options, and can pick it for a single point.

Wrong answers get nothing, and a moment slips by while Claire gives the correction. The round ends after two minutes – marked by a fierce alarm. The question dies, the show rule is "I've started so I'll stop".

The video screen displays a pattern, never a clue.

Only after the round is completed do we find out something about the contestant – what they do for a living, what the quizzing scene is like in Galway, how learning is fun in Cork. The chat comes after the questions, it doesn't precede it like elsewhere.

All three contestants play their individual rounds, no bonuses, no buzzers on the sidelines. Indeed, there's no direct head-to-head competition in the show at all.

Round two is specialist subjects, chosen by the contestants. But the contestants choose one from three broad categories selected by the producers. The questions start fairly easy, then get very difficult very quickly. The lowest score after this round leaves the contest, leaving two for the head-to-head.

Who knows everything about twentieth century history?

The final round is a race to ten correct answers – again, the questions start moderate, get harder, then seem to ease up a little so they can be sure to fit ten correct answers in a couple of minutes.

Tiebreak? They need tiebreaks, a lot of tiebreaks. First is who has given more correct answers – effectively discount the 2-point bonus, but then we remember that you can get two 2-point questions while Claire is enunciating one 1-pointer. Then it's who got more 2-point questions right – this is never going to break a tie, given that both contestants got the same score from the same number of correct answers. So the second realistic tie-break is who buzzed in faster on the 2-pointers they got right. We haven't seen anything beyond that, and probably don't need to.

Aiden answers a question about EM Forster.

The show's music is very modern – it's electroclash music, with classical breaks. The alarm to end the round is alarming, there's a fizz during the two seconds thinking time, and a fanfare ends with "dah-daah" as the contestant takes their place. Dan McGrath is the composer, we're not familiar with his work, interested to find out more

We're more familiar with the question writers – Innis Carson, Paddy Duffy, Alex McMillan, Lizzy Skrzypiec have all stuck in our brain from other shows' credits; Jane Allen, Daniel Brennan, Paul Christian, Sarah Cummings, PJ Hart might well join them.

The programme's shot in an RTÉ broom cupboard, big enough for the host, contestants, a massive spot in the middle, and a video screen down one side of the circular stage. A small audience is occasionally in shot. The dominant colour is teal, turning to pink-purple at times. Blues and gold as highlights, and there's a strange swirling pattern on the board when they're not playing

Put yourself on the hot spot.

So, what of the questions?

As we said earlier, Ireland doesn't have a recent history of making its own quiz shows. How have they pitched the questions; is it about right, too hard, too easy? Remember that this is RTÉ1 in primetime on Sunday evening; we'd expect questions to be similar to civilian The Chase, some easy, some taxing, but all of them interesting.

Let's take a random round (from heat 3, if you're keeping track).

  1. First broadcast in 2022, which tv drama series stars Jamie Dornan as an amnesiac in Australia?
  2. What colour jersey is awarded to the rider who leads the general classification in the Tour de France?
  3. In the human body, what is the more common name for the ailment known medically as "epistaxis"?
  4. "The Night Café" and "The Potato Eaters" are works by which 19th century Dutch artist?
  5. First published in 2020, "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" is a prequel to which series of novels?
  6. A bridge in Dublin that opened in 2014 is named after which founding member of the Irish Women Workers' Union?
  7. In maths, what positive number is the square root of 144?
  8. In the name of the video games publisher EA Sports, what do the letters "EA" stand for?
  9. Which Irish band had an international hit with the 1982 song "Theme from 'Harry's Game'"?
  10. In 2019, Sanna Marin was appointed prime minister of which Nordic country?

I've started so I'll stop.

That's all the contestant managed – only a couple of buzzes to answer early, and Claire seemed to take forever when pronouncing the Dutch artists. Claire goes for clarity and precision, rather than speed, and she keeps a constant tempo for all contenders. (This precision wasn't shared by the contestants: we thought one spoke of the early 1990s boy band "Knickers on the Block".)

Question 6, about the Dublin bridge, is about as long as they'd use – everything has to fit into two lines of fairly small text when shown on screen.

Three questions with local relevance: Jamie Dornan is an actor from Ireland, the bridge in Dublin, and one of Clannad's big hits. "Yellow jersey" and "nosebleed" are answers one could easily have a guess at, and perhaps should have a guess at – seeing the options doesn't help much.

Question 4 is lovely, if we were asked about the painter of the pictures, we'd be floundering; knowing that they're Dutch and from the 19th century really narrows down the mental search to Vincent van Gogh. Precision in question 7, as minus 12 is also a correct answer.

Popular culture is important here – The Tourist in question 1, The Hunger Games and Electronic Arts later on. Ten years ago, they'd have been sniffy about asking such "trash" on big quizzes, not any more.

Finalists Brian and Patrick met in their heat, and set the scoreboard flying.

In this column's view, this is a fine set of questions – both when we think about the subject matter and in terms of difficulty. It's not perfect, there's perhaps a bit more entertainment than ideal, and no picture or audio questions, but these would be fine on The Chase. And that's a great place for questions to be.

There were a few changes for the semi-finals, where contestants introduced themselves before the opening titles. Each semi featured two heat winners and one high-scoring runner-up – determined by total score after the general knowledge and specialist rounds.

The trophy is interesting.

Although the questions were harder (this column's GK scores dropped 15%), with everyone being accustomed to the format, scores went through the roof – the first semi-finalist scored 22 general knowledge points, the final heat had its tiebreak on 22 total points. No change to the final round – would it be reasonable to turn a points advantage into a time advantage?

All things considered, Ireland's Smartest is a very decent show. Pitched at a very good level, the format is able to deliver some tense finishes, and the cream does rise to the top. There's never a long silence, only a couple of seconds between question and possible answers. And the winner was a worthy champion, just like on another show.

Patrick won the heat, and beat Brian again in the final.

University Challenge

2022-3 final: Durham vs Bristol

University Challenge

We've been here before. Back in August, one monarch and two prime ministers and seventy-zillion cabinet ministers ago, Durham beat Bristol by twenty points. Since then, Durham looked unstoppable, a defeat to Royal Holloway London was reversed when it mattered. Bristol qualified for the repêchage, and have never tasted defeat again.

So, can the Bristol side – Sam Kehler, Jacob McLaughlin, Andrew Ortega, and captain Tess Richardson – continue their winning streak and avenge their loss? Or will Durham's squad – Harry Scully, Chloë Margaux, Lou Bennett, and captain Alex Radcliffe – have their number once again?

University Challenge Durham got off to the stronger start.

First three starters go to Durham, but only two from the bonus sets – two are on arts, one on proteins. Bristol open their accounts with maps showing European monarchs killed in battle, and it's 40-25.

Durham get their bonus rate up with a set on poetic relationships. This column's one correct answer was to recognise a profile of the band B-52s: we were around when they were popular, Durham's side were not even glints in their parents' eyes. Jacob McLaughlin of Bristol has been the outstanding buzzer for the series, and hits with people called "Rosen--"; the bonuses on triangular countries make it 80-50.

But anything Bristol can do, Durham can do better. Harry Scully and Alex Radcliffe are the buzzer experts, with this contribution:

Q: In biology, what five-letter word may denote the interior space of a membrane-bound...?
Scully: Lumen.

That's ten more points to Durham – and another five from the bonuses. And it's a question Bristol don't answer. And it's another 75 seconds run off the game clock, time when Bristol cannot be scoring. This proves crucial, as Bristol pick up the next two starters, and the lead shrinks from 55 to 15.

University Challenge Bristol brought it back.

And then it's up again: Harry Scully picks up two starters, and the lead's 65 points with about three minutes to play. Bristol get two starters, and whizz through bonuses, and cut the gap to 15. Is the comeback on?

Q: What Olympic track event did John Carlos, Peter Norman, and Tommie Smith win medals in in 1968? A much-reproduced photograph shows them making or supporting a Black Power salute at the medal...
Sam Kehler: 400m.

Alas, alack, oh dear. It's the 200 metres, and that penalty has ended the game as a contest. Durham pick up the pieces, and the match finishes 155-120 in their favour. The trophy is presented by Jung Chang, the historian and author.

University Challenge Alex Radcliffe with the trophy.

It's hard to say that there are losers in the final: merely to be present is an honour denied to 98% of the teams applying. The Bristol team can hold their heads high, they've proven to be tremendous quizzers, and only Durham were even greater.

And this is where Jeremy Paxman steps down, with a few simple words.

University Challenge

In other news

A second series for Loaded in Paradise, the show where excitable twentysomethings chase each other round somewhere sunny, in the hope they can live the high life for more than one round of drinks. Only ten episodes in this new series, which should make for a tighter show with fewer teams arriving halfway through.

A third series for Bridge of Lies, everyone's favourite daytime quiz starring Ross Kemp, a sarcastic bridge, and the best wrong answers around. The show's also going to be exported to Spanish television, yay!

A win for Itopia at the Celtic Media Awards. It's by S4C, a drama spin-off from Prosiect Z, about a future where an exceptionally rich man (and rubbish parent) thinks its a good idea to put electronics into your head. Even if it hadn't been made topical by current events, we reckon it's worth a binge.

It's rare that this column will find a show too dull to review. One recent example was The Floor, a John de Mol format where contestants try to identify pictures of things. There's a gimmick where the contestants are on a giant grid, and have to challenge each other for territory. It's somewhere in the space between Joel Dommett's In With a Shout and 80s daytime pioneer Box Clever, but manages to be significantly less good than either. Eight hours on primetime telly proved too much for us. But not for Fox Television in the States, who have bought up the format, presumably to help put their remaining viewer to sleep.

The 1% Club

Last in the series of The 1% Club. We joke about a celebrity edition, but they've had singers Beverley Knight and Scott Walker, magician David Niven, and Quizness irregular Matt Hancock. Thanks to the prosthetic masks everyone wears, all of them looked like ordinary members of the public.

More seriously, The 1% Club has captured lightning in a bottle, and it's a massive hit – an average of 4 million across the series, a couple of weeks it's beaten Coronation Street in the ratings. Half-a-dozen successful export versions, formatted to fit the very different demands of local broadcasters – no frills in the Netherlands, an evening's soiree for France.

Cardiff Singer of the World takes place this week The hunt for the best young opera singer around runs all week (BBC4, BBC2 Wales, and Radio 3). BBC4 continues its quest to show a sample episode of every light entertainment programme in the archives, with Blankety Blank and Pop Quiz (Sun). If you missed it eighteen months ago, it's a wonderful week on House of Games (3) (BBC2, weekdays) with Simon Hickson from Trevor and Simon and the delightful Jessie Cave.

Sadly, no more The Great Auction Showdown on Channel 5, but that won't stop us from reviewing the programme next week.

Pictures: Green Inc, Granada, Magnum Media.

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