Weaver's Week 2023-11-05

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We had autumn all planned out. We'll talk about Jeopardy! with Stephen Fry. We'll tell of Deal or No Deal with Stephen Mulhern. Big Brother when it finishes. When the time comes, we'll discuss Junior Eurovision, and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Mamma Mia. If it comes to air early enough, we'll finish with the BBC's take on Survivor.

What do they say about the best-laid plans? Jeopardy! remains in an ITV cupboard. Deal or No Deal is also missing in a vault somewhere. Big Brother hasn't yet finished, and Junior Eurovision hasn't even begun. We don't want to review Mamma Mia after two episodes, and Survivor finishes so late in December we'll leave it till next year. We've written historical pieces, and a couple of imported programmes, and don't want to repeat ourselves too much.

All of this means we have an afternoon off to write a Week, and nothing new to write about. Let's flick around the channels and see what's on this Wednesday afternoon...


1pm: !mpossible

It's an edition from 2021, when there were just twelve contestants for each week's recording block. Something something something one thing and another. And as it's Wednesday, there's a mere ten players for today's show.

Rick starts the programme with extended chats to a couple of the players, which rather suggests that we need a bit of padding because the programme runs light of content. And, indeed, we need that chat – the second question round lasts just two questions before the remaining players have all !mpossibled themselves.

!mpossible Rick Edwards and an exclamation mark full of cash.

Highlight of the programme comes in a question about canonised cardinals: one contestant falls for the trap answer of Ian St John, a historic football commentator.

Prize rounds on film and art and geography put £900 in the prize pot, and Rachel comes through the eliminator with some quality buzzing. But in the heat of the final, our graduate in mediaeval history mistakes the monarchs of the Tudor era – not Edward VIII but Edward VI.

2021 was the last series of !mpossible, it was taken out of commission and replaced by Bridge of Lies and The Tournament. We could see it back on our screens again, but the show needed more than a dozen contestants.

1.45: Unbeatable

This one's from September 2022, the 30-minute editions they put out on BBC2 as an experiment.

The show is all about getting an Unbeatable answer, the best of six possible answers. Mike had it on the first board, Kylie Minogue's number one singles. But he thought that SCUBA contained more letters than LASER, and that gave the win to his opponent Chloë. In the other match, Jo is right that Sheridan Smith was very young when she starred in Gavin & Stacey, only to be beaten by David's knowledge of the NATO phonetic alphabet.

David and Chloë go into the head-to-head, where they're tested on knowledge of music. "Which of these tempos is slowest?" Lento, the answer they're looking for. Lento, the answer they don't find until the last possible moment. The second board is all about where bones are on the human body. David takes them both, and has £2850 for the final.

Unbeatable Unbeatable: neither first nor last on Jason's showreel.

David is given six saints' days, and asked which comes earlier in the year. He chooses St Patrick's Day, which he knows to be in March. Then he brings down St David's Day, which he doesn't know at all. 17 March against 1 March, and David leaves with the grand non-total of nothing.

Unbeatable was a very slight quiz, made tolerable by Jason Manford, his cheery and breezy style fits this programme perfectly. The show appears to have fallen out of commission, and we're not too sorry to see it go.

2.13: Countdown

We've missed the opening credits, and don't know who is in Dictionary Corner. We do get to see that Caroline is still in the champion's chair, she racked up a century yesterday without getting the conundrum. Facing her is Andrew, a silver-haired man with a stripey shirt.

TEDIUM was the watchword on Countdown a couple of years ago, when someone made the ghastly error of booking an aggressive presenter who didn't listen to what happened in the studio. Mercifully, they brought in Colin Murray to the programme, and we've all CAROUSED ever since. An easier than it looks numbers game gives this column a pleasant start, nothing for the players.

"The nation holds its breath" says Colin as Dictionary Corner checks for BONNIES. Perfectly legal, it's the nickname for fans of Bonnie Langford, apparently that's capable of being pluralised. Caroline's won two of the three rounds since the break, and is now 25 points ahead. The guest in Dictionary Corner is Ben Hanlin, who walks over to Colin's side of the studio to do some close-up magic involving cards and kissing.

Countdown A selection from later in the week.

"I'm still going one large" says Caroline for her second numbers pick. "I still say it's bad tactics" from Rachel, who promptly delivers an easy game for both players to solve. She's more than 30 points ahead now, and confirms victory in the final letters round, in spite of Andrew's winner RADISH. Susie Dent is still on the show, she quietly marked 30 years on Countdown recently, which is quite an achievement. Today, she talks about "quantum leap", small movements that make little changes, and little changes add up.

Countdown, itself, has changed a little over the years. The hosts change, the letter-picker changes, the rounds vary, even the set has altered from time to time. But the basics are still there: a gentle workout for the brain, some friendly conversation, and Alan Hawkshaw's oh-so-familiar music playing from time to time. Ben will be back in Dictionary Corner tomorrow. So will champion Caroline, who survived a wobbly finish to win 77-60.

3.07: The Big Bake

To ITVB+1, and a show they've imported from Food Network Canada, where it originally aired in May 2021. Our competitors are three teams of three – Sweet and Salty, Frost That, and Bake It Up – all women, all professional bakers. Three judges – Eddie Jackson, Harry Eastwood (a woman with a plummy accent), and Ron Ben-Israel. The host is an anonymous plastic man in a bright blue suit, the Chat GPT of game show hosts; it's no surprise to find that he's called Brad Smith.

In today's show, our teams will create cakes based on a carnival. It's got to have a dynamic element, impress the room, look good, and taste good. The winning team is rewarded with $10,000 (then € 6800, £5850).

From left: a penguin, Brad Smith, a huge cake, a toy soldier, Eddie Jackson, Harry Eastwood, Ron Ben-Israel, another toy soldier.

We see how the teams want to make their cake: one of them is going to make a tower of layers with swings and roundabouts on top. Another team wants to bake a giant pig by a popcorn machine, and the third has a carousel topped with a Caribbean carnival costume. Already, we get computer images of what the cakes should look like – but will the reality match the plan?

The Big Bake needs to be as impressive as the Showstopper from another baking show, presented in the style of a big build from Lego Masters or Handmade. Our teams are given five hours to make their cakes, which is never going to be enough to do everything. Time pressure gives some small problems, which are made much larger as our hooks into two commercial breaks – coconut curd doesn't thicken, and holes don't line up. Both snags are solved in moments of the restart, and we're glaring at the editors because this is deception.

Scaffolding holds the cake in place.

As the show continues, the judges talk to each of the teams, find out what they're trying to make and how they're making it. We learn about "isomalt", a sugar substitute to hold decorations together. We see some pieces to camera, likely recorded after everyone had finished cooking and inserted into the kitchen footage.

About halfway through the programme, Brad Smith pops up with a stick of candyfloss in his hand. Has the autocomplete bot malfunctioned? Possibly: he adds an extra challenge, make six cup cakes to look like a favourite fair food. Toffee apples? Ice cream sundaes? Popcorn for the machine? Sounds like a plan. The final moments put everything together, and then it's time for judging.

The pig spins on one leg! There's pop splurging out of the top of the can! A carousel that... doesn't turn. The judges make their comments, and Brad summarises them like the autocomplete bot he is. The best cake wins.

First place for a ruddy big pig cake.

We'd not seen The Big Bake before this episode, and we're not in a terrible rush to see more. It is a Showstopper turned into a full hour and there isn't quite enough to fill the programme. Of all things, we're reminded of Scrapheap Challenge: teams push themselves to their technical limits, it's tested in the final part, and when everything goes well we can get a slightly dull programme.

4.02: Tipping Point

David, Aled, and Emilia are today's contestants, in an episode first shown in April 2022. We join the show with David playing in Drop Zone Four, and almost getting the doubler out on his first drop. Almost, but not quite: Aled takes it with the next right answer, and finishes on £450. Tony gets one jumping out of the machine at him, and finishes the round on £400.

Emilia tries to play the show, hears "Arc de Triomphe" and buzzes to say "Paris". Ah, but the question asks after the country, and one of Emilia's counters is in the Penalty Pot. Can she win it – and one of Tony's – to add to her winnings? Yes, she can, but only adds one counter to finish on £250.

Round two begins with leader Aled taking his 45 seconds of rapid-fire questions. Some stinkers in there, and he only pulls three right answers. But with his first drop, Aled gets six counters out, including the double. We have a runaway leader already: can anyone catch his £1050?

Tipping Point Everyone's favourite teatime smoothie, with Ben Shepherd.

Tony also has three right answers, and his first drop is a wonderfully broad shove to set up Drop Zone One very nicely. But a gap-filler and a rider leave all the money in the machine, and £500 looks vulnerable. Emilia's first drop gives a double shove from the top shelf, and relieves the bottom of twelve counters. They include a mystery prize, a luxury food hamper. Emilia adds more in her later drops, and finishes on £1100 – just enough to take the lead!

Blimey! A tight match on Tipping Point, sentences we never thought we'd write. A big drop for Aled on his first question, all the way up to £450. Emilia retaliates with a £450 drop of her own on the next question, and it looks like we're going to be picking odd counters for the rest of the round. And that turns out to be true – except Emilia gets eight out through a flukey double-drop. Tipping Point rewards smarts, and it rewards luck.

Tipping Point Shelves of action.

Emilia takes £2000 into the jackpot round, having beaten Aled by seven counters. Because there's a lot in Drop Zone Two, that's where she chooses to play the jackpot counter. An interesting choice, many think that One and Four are best because they've got edges to use. This jackpot counter doesn't dislodge anything, but one of the later drops splurges £350 in one go. An ambient drop nets a further £250.

With the third question, Emilia takes her jackpot counter to the bottom shelf, but it's drifting somewhat into Drop Zone Three. A lucky guess on Lana Del Rey's album gives an extra three counters, but it's as if the jackpot counter is stuck by glue. The last question is wrong, but we still have the trade. Three final counters for £3500? With the jackpot in no man's land between two zones? Take the money. The prove-out shows Emilia was right to take the money – the final counter was a rider, which would have blown everything.

Tipping Point isn't the most intellectual show, it remains a companionable gentle drama for late afternoons.

5.15: Pointless

Clare and Richard, Alice and James, Keith and Lily, Paul and Raj. These are our contestants on our new edition of Pointless. The role of host will be played by Alexander Armstrong, and the role of fact-based assistant is filled by Nish Kumar. Within a moment, our lads are talking about how they play guitar. Then they remember how yesterday's show – sorry, last time's show – was of a high quality. The jackpot tonight starts at £1000.

Words is the first category, specifically words ending -ught. Hmm. Onslaught, overwrought; is connaught valid? Don't think we'd risk it. Alice, a teacher on maternity leave, comes up with "rethought", which is a Pointless answer. "Sublime Pointless play! I'm right on the edge of my seat!" says Nish Kumar, bringing an unusual amount of energy (ie some) to Laptop Corner.

This sort of round is decided by a wrong answer; failing that, an obvious answer. "Drought" and "sought" come from Paul and Raj, their total of 71 feels like it'll lose. But then Keith offers "updraught", which is hyphenated in the sponsoring dictionary. James gambles on "recaught": it'll either be wrong or pointless. It's pointless. £1500 in the jackpot.

Pointless Alexander stands over Nish Kumar.

Space Exploration next, clues to the surnames of astronauts. For instance, "In June 1983, she became the first US woman to travel into space – Sally R" That's Sally Ride, says Richard, scoring only 10 for this achievement. On the way back, Raj pulls "Valentina Tereshkova" out of thin air, much to his surprise – the score of 15 was needed to keep his team safe. It leaves Clare to offer the obvious "Neil Armstrong", which eliminates her and Richard.

The Jackpot Jumper round is relatively new, only been running a couple of years. Songs by Jimi Hendrix is tonight's category: two of the options are Pointless, two are correct but score, and two are !mpossible. Both teams are floundering when faced by album tracks, wondering if Hendrix recorded "Zadok the priest". No, it's a coronation anthem, written by some bloke who used to live in the same house. You might know his Handel.

In the head-to-head, the bottom bits of landmarks. Alice and James spot Glastonbury Tor, Paul and Raj clear up the board but even Salisbury Cathedral cannot save them when Alice and James have picked the unbeatable answer. And then five sets of characters from children's television (by name); Igglepiggle from In the Night Garden, Wendy and Lofty from Bob the Builder. The point goes to the builders, Xander gets to do some of the voices from Hey Duggee!. Woof!

Hello, Duggee. Isn't it time for..?

So Alice and James have won today's show, and leave with the Pointless trophy. "Not that we know anything about hippos..." but they have to go for it. Any country with a population of common or pygmy hippos; or any word of five letters or more in "The hippopotamus song" by Flanders and Swann.

Just two options? Just two options, the third in each set got abducted by the Pointless Easter beagle. The beagle left a bonus of £500 for three Pointless answers in the final, so we'll always see the column fall at least twice. Our winners go for the countries – Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi. We'll go with the song, "hippopotoma", "surface", "haunting". Lesotho is wrong, Botswana takes us down to ten. And Malawi, most annoyingly, takes us down to just 1. One person! You hippopotamus! Xander gets two pointless answers on the comic song, and with "follow nothing quite cooling blood" the only scoring answers, we'll claim the bonus.

During the show, we learn that Alexander has never done an escape room, and Nish is "not an asset" to his team. We learn that one of the players loves listening to Popmaster on Radio 2, which really dates the recording. Latest listening figures suggest 650,000 for Popmaster on the various commercial oldies stations, and 2 million for Ten to the Top with our Vern. Nine people thought the first man to orbit the earth was Yuri Geller. and absolutely nobody recognises characters from Class Dismissed.

Pointless ramps up the tension through the hour, and you can jump into the show part-way through without missing too much. It's perfect for the 5pm hour, full of comings and goings.

5.59: House of Games (3) with Richard Osman

Last stop on our daytime marathon, and it feels like coming home. Richard's guests this week are Max George from The Wanted, Olly Smith from Darlington, Scarlette Douglas from Blue Peter You Decide, and Susie McCabe of the cycling helmet. Olly and Susie have a first and second each, Scarlette a pair of thirds. Today's prizes are the rucksack, dartboard, bee hotel, salt 'n' pepper shakers, and scented candle.

Olly demonstrates his favourite size of wine bottle, to Max's alarm.

Five rounds on each show, and we begin today with something of a new one: Wetter Slap. Letter swap. We'll see the names of two things, but with a letter swapped between each of them. For instance, Tom Cruise films: "The Tummy" and "Mop Gun" should (of course) be dentist horror "The Gummy" and a film about cleaning in a brewery "Mop Tun". This round's on the buzzers, it's fast and furious. No, that's a fib: it's fast and genteel, because House of Games (3) is played strictly for fun. Susie comes out with a one point lead over everyone else.

Mime Time comes next. Scarlette chooses to play with Susie, as they've done all through the week so far. In this game, players try to mime the answer to a difficult question to their partner. Max mimes "sun" and "light", reverses both ideas, and that's enough for Olly to guess Dark Side of the Moon. Scarlette tries to pull off Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and as soon as Susie gets the first word, the answer falls out. It's great to see a revival of Give Us a Clue, even better that it's only part of a programme.

One of the classic House of Games rounds, It's All in the Name. Answers are all in the letters of the players' names, so OGRE is in MAX GEORGE. Another round on the buzzers, one for a correct answer – but two if you buzz on your own name, as Olly does twice. He has a great round, and moves four points clear of everyone else.

Success for Scarlette and Susie.

Round four is the tablet round, today it's The Rich List. Each player writes down an answer, and scores if it's correct... and nobody else has written it... and Richard hasn't written it. Unique correct answers score a point. When asked about solo Glastonbury solo headliners, four people write down "Stormzy", and one writes down the incorrect answer "Lionel Richie". Though Richard manages to peg him back a little, Olly still leads going into the final round.

Answer Smash, the one they play every day. Clue first, then a picture, smash the names together in a mildly amusing way. For instance, "In which classic 1980 video game does the title character eat dots in a maze while being pursued by ghosts?" The answer they want is, obviously Pac-Manneka Rice. One point for a right answer, one away for an error.

House of Games (3) More fun than is polite.

Almost inevitably, Olly wins, and has the bee hotel for his bee charity. Susie's second, Max and Scarlette tie for third. House of Games is light entertainment, gentle quizzing for people sitting down in a relaxed set of chairs. This was the 533rd episode, and it feels like they're only just getting started.

And that concludes our afternoon in front of the telly. House of Games was the highlight, Unbeatable the one we'll try to avoid tomorrow, and The Big Bake was worth a look but we'll not set a series link.

In other news

Congratulations to Victoria Coren Mitchell and her celebrity husband David. Their new baby, June Violet, was born on 26 October, a sister to Barbara.

Although we haven't seen series two of The Traitors yet, the Beeb have take up the option for series 3. They say series two is coming "later this year", and looking at the calendar, they're cutting it a bit fine.

We absolutely love it when The Discourse bears some relation to reality. To that end, here are a few facts.

  1. The Eurovision Song Contest is organised by the Eurovision Broadcasting Union. It's got nothing to do with the European Union, which is a political project supported by most people across the continent.
  2. The Eurovision Song Contest is a competition between songs, entered by and (nominally) representing broadcasters. It is not a contest between countries. By an opaque, unhelpful, and somewhat outdated tradition, songs are referred to by the country their sponsoring broadcaster broadcasts to.
  3. Unless invited, only members of the EBU can enter the Eurovision Song Contest. There's a full list of EBU members on their website.
  4. Broadcaster entries for next May's contest closed in September.
  5. Who writes and performs an entry is a decision for each broadcaster.
  6. Many broadcasters had an open call for entries; most of those have now closed.

Incidentally, no formal announcement from the EBU about how many broadcasters are playing in Malmo next May, we'd normally get this participant list in late October. We assume that VRT are leaving and BRTF returning after a one year absence, but we cannot be certain.

C'mon, Martin, there's a bunch of people hanging on your every word.

Quizzy Mondays

Lisa Cowan won this week's Mastermind, taking the Salem witch trials as a specialist subject. Once again, general knowledge proved the key; Lisa scored into double figures, the rest still scored more the England cricket team recently.

Mercians squeaked a victory on Only Connect, beating Video Nasties by 26-25. Things that inspired Ben & Jerry ice cream flavours, a lovely set of of definitions of SCUBA, plenty of chat about Adam and the Ants, and how did nobody known Dorothy Gale McShane?

Open beat Oxford Brookes in the second of ten elimination matches on University Challenge. When the host says "there's plenty of time" twice before the music round, it's a one-sided start, and Oxford Brookes did well to get the margin down to 100 points. Open answer quickly, half-a-dozen times they interrupted the host's blethering with an answer, with a correct answer. Oxford Brookes were no slouches themselves, and particularly knowledgeable about how lower-case sigma is used in science.

Quiz Digest

  • There are fewer venomous pets kept as snakes than there have been Big Brother contestants. Just 508 slippery slimy poisonous creatures are kept in their tanks and cages; the studio has hosted more than 600 lab rats. (House of Games)
  • Cat GPT is not the French version of an autocomplete bot. It's a lot more helpful than that. (Paul Sinha's Perfect Pub Quiz)
  • "Everyone's picking the Water wall this series!" claimed Victoria on Only Connect. Not quite, Lion's been picked 7 times to Water's 9. That said, Water has a 6-2 lead in the second-round matches we've seen, including all four games on the winners' side.
  • Sausages were nicknamed "bags of mystery" in 19th century slang. The term was in regular usage – if not common usage – in the 1850s. The name, of course, refers to the unknown contents inside the sausage skin. The name lives on in Australia, where "mystery bags" are invariably sausages. (Daily Telegraph Pub Quiz, Word Histories)
  • The Pointless 100 were asked about the Scooch song representing the BBC at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest. "Flying the flag (upside down)" scored just 5, which is even worse than it did in Helsinki.

That flag on the right? Wrong way up.

The Countdown selection in the picture has four valid eight-letter words: sweatier, weariest, wiretaps, and peatries – an obsolete Scottish word referring to places where peat is found. No other eight-letter word is allowed, not even on Catsdown.

Music casting shows are back; after The Voice of Holland of ITV (last night) it's and The Rap Game (BBC3, Mon). We won't publish next week, in part because there's literally nothing happening: biggest draw in the second week is I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Radio 4, Mon 13 Nov). We'll return on 19 November with Big Brother (final: VM2, ITV network, ITV2, Fri 17 Nov).

Pictures: Mighty Pictures, 12 Yard and Possessed (both ITV Studios companies), Yorkshire Television, Architect Films, Fizz (an RDF company), Remarkable (part of Banijay), Studio AKA, EBU/NOS, EBU/YLE

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