Weaver's Week 2001-05-22

Weaver's Week Index

22nd May 2001

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.


OK, it's not a *UK* game show, but it is worth noting.

French Television regulators have ordered changes in the hit reality TV show "Loft Story," including daily timeouts for contestants who were being filmed 24 hours a day. Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel also ordered M6 to change the game's rules to ease the psychological burden on contestants - votes will now be cast to keep contestants *in*, rather than force them *out*. Critics, including Culture and Communications Minister Catherine Tasca, assailed it as "trash TV" and "audiovisual pollution."

"Loft Story" started with six men and five women, all in their twenties, sharing a house north of Paris. The prize, a FF2,500,000 house, goes to the man and woman left after the nine other contestants have been voted out Big Brother style over a 70-day period. The winners then must spend six months living together. Critics say the program's contestants resemble guinea pigs whose mating for money degrades everyone's dignity.

Speaking after an extraordinary board meeting of the CSA, president Dominique Baudy noted that the board's recommendations did not apply only to the daily version of "Loft Story," broadcast by M6. They also concerned the 24-hour version broadcast on digital satellite platform Television Par Satellite and on the Internet. "It is imperative, in order to respect human dignity, that participants have moments and places where they are not under public scrutiny, despite the fact that they consented to this situation."


It's reduced from 40 to a long 30 minutes - Thursday night's episode ran for just under 33 minutes, a trick that only a commercial-free organisation can pull.

The set is now a direct copy of the US version, complete with the all-red lighting during the votes.

Most importantly, there are now but *seven* contestants. The chain still builds to £2500; 50-100-250-500-1000-1500-2500. That eliminates the £2000 link, and increases the £200 one. The final round is clearly sponsored by Private Eye, as it's trebles all round for the winnings.

Last night's team started strongly, but faded. I think their score of £6700 is about par for the course.

Incidentally, an Amazing Thing on Weakest Link Daily that day, as the team makes it right through the first round without getting a question wrong. Over-anxious banking means they very nearly don't make the £1000 target.


We have the "subliminal" break bumper. We have people complaining to the ITC, Britain's regulatory body for independent television. We have ITV putting out a statement that their advertising is not subliminal, when the only intention of break bumpers is to be subliminal. The theory that the people who complained to the ITC were ITV stooges has not been aired anywhere, because of its utter implausibility.

We've also had pieces in respectable papers. And the Evening Standard. Like this one from Zoe Williams last Friday.

"Nobody wants to diss a programme before it's even started, or call it boring, or pointless, or needlessly pricy, or a hideous lapse of basic standards of entertainment. You certainly wouldn't want to do it about a programme that is a remake of the fabulously successful Big Brother, only with the added fabulousness of being on a desert island off Borneo, where there is danger, hardship, and foreignness.

"What I would like to point out about Survivor, though, is the glaring inadequacy of its contestants. I say this not from looking at them, since that would be to fall into the classic pitfall: "Attractive and highly toned? Why, he/she couldn't do joined-up writing!" While all evidence suggests this to be the case, it is nevertheless a flawed premise. Look at Helena Christensen. She is very nice.

"No, I make this judgment based only on the list of luxuries (not one of these contestants is fit to walk up a hill, let alone survive in a rat'n'snake-based habitat. Forcing them to do so was an act of unutterable cruelty). Of the 16 treats, not one but four are toothbrushes, when any fool knows that a stranded Crusoe brushes its teeth with bark. In ascending order of vanity, the other items are as follows: one pair of nail clippers (because foot presentation is important in the wilds); three variations on the concept "soap"; one razor; one pair of tweezers (eyebrows are crucial. They are the frames of your face); a hairbrush; and, to my utter bafflement, a mirror (and don't pretend it's for starting fires. If it were, you'd take a Zippo).

"Is this or is this not bizarre? You're stranded for six weeks with 15 people, all of whom are effectively trying to swindle you out of £1 million - and all you take for soul sustenance is a pair of tweezers?

"Two of them did pack books instead - Jackie, with Nelson Mandela's autobiography, had obviously misunderstood the rules and thought to influence public opinion by being right-on (we're not voting for you, you thicko. That's Big Brother).

"And Pete, evidently under the impression that he was on Desert Island Discs, took a copy of the Bible. Did it never occur to him to wonder where Sue Lawley had got to?"

Survivor begins on ITV at 7pm Monday. Hopefully it won't clash with the end of the cricket.


We open with some very attractive opening titles, zooming through a digitally created bank vault to a big pile of gold. Host Jerry Springer (yes, the trashy talk-show host) enters through the other door of the vault. The contestants follow and banks of monitors slowly rise up from the floor to vertical. Way cool. Sadly, it's the highlight of the show.

First up, the eliminator question. It requires a numeric answer, closest is the team leader, furthest away goes home, the rest are ranked. First starter: how many countries entered the 2002 World Cup. 198 is the correct answer, 200 wins, 52 (!) qualifies for the game proper.

We see the Other Four in squares round the screen, with leader in a diamond in the middle. Jerry talks with the contestants, and explains the rules. The leader can accept or change their teammates' answers, and has what Chris would call the final answer. The other contestants can see their leader, but not each other. Isolation booths a bit like Early 100%.

First question is for £5000 - the canine sidekick of Dick Dastardly is ... Scooby-Doo / Lassie / Huckleberry Hound / Muttley.

For £10,000, a question to a contestant who dislikes loud Americans. Jerry makes a few polite harrumphs, but doesn't press the point too far. Which is not one of the seven deadly sins ... Gluttony / lust / murder / sloth. "Gluttony" says contestant Chris. "Murder" says captain Hamed. Jerry builds a little tension, but it's still light stuff.

For £25,000, the slogan "Tell Sid" was used in the privatisation of... Rail / electricity / water / gas / steel. "Rail" says the contestant. Hamed thinks, and eventually changes it to gas. Again, it's the right answer. Jerry presses Hamed for his decision after about ten seconds - we're not going to get the long thinking sessions of Millionaire.

Onwards and downwards. Barely ten minutes into the show, it feels a lot longer. Break.

£50,000... What was the first Carry On film? ... Constable / doctor / sergeant / nurse / teacher. "It's a guess, Carry on Nurse." Again, Hamed changes, "Carry On Sergeant." There's a 4 second pause between Jerry asking if this is correct and revelation.

Question 5 is for £100,000, and will require four correct answers. Its subject is Chart Topping Pop. He can lead the team away - and the second team will retire at this point - but Hamed decides to go for it.

This is also the point at which we meet The Terminator. Cue strobe lighting and a sudden red turn of the lights. Picked is #5 Sarah. She decides to take the challenge; she will take £5000 whatever happens, and challenge # 4 Chris. The two step forward to a face to face buzzer. Which breed of cat has seal point chocolate point, blue point. Chris buzzes, errs and loses. Siamese the answer.

Back on the game, Sara is paying for £45,000, the others for £20,000. Chart Topping Pop the subject; the question, Which four come from Sweden... Aha / Europe / Aqua / Abba / Roxette / Ace of base. Hamed also gets a freebie to eliminate one wrong answer at any question from here to the end. He'll use it now. Out goes Aha The answers: Roxette. Abba. Aqua. Ace of Base, leaving Europe. Hamed is happy with the team's responses. Jerry runs down three correct answers but leaves one (Aqua) on top.

Jerry now offers Hamed £10,000 to split between the team, to bail out of the game. Hamed is getting worried, but he'll go for it. Oops. Aqua are a bunch of Great* Danes. Down goes the music, silence for the first time in the game, and away go the contestants.

The missing links on the money tree were £250,000, £500,000 and £1,000,000.

After the break it starts over. You get the gist. The second set of contestants includes Pamela Anderson and the question is on Baywatch. Out goes... Pamela Anderson, to *much* ribbing.

That's the outline format; now for some presentation notes. Music is important of course, and I especially liked the quasi-classical string motif when the contestants are introduced. But that's all the music is - there is n't the hour of variation that Millionaire provides, and the theme gets a bit grating after a short while, and bloody irritating by the end of the hour.

As a host, Jerry is a lot better than one might expect from his talk show. The format means he has to be a friend to five contestants, not one, so there isn't quite the intimacy of WWTBAM. Jerry does clearly will the cont estants on to do well, far more than Anne Robinson.

From what I've seen so far, the standard of questions is a little easier than Millionaire at a comparable level. I'd like to see some higher level questions to complete the analysis.

The set is neon lights and gold bars. It's effective, but it's a set that would look the same if Millionaire had never happened. Again, it's possible that they save some sparks for the later stages we didn't see on the opening night.

Overall, it's a decent show, but the irritating music is a huge annoyance, and the set isn't a good looker. Gameplay is good, as far as we've seen. Jerry Springer is a revelation as a game show host, and I think this will do more for him, and his chat show on Channel 5, than the format. With Springer expressing a desire to work 6 months of the year in the UK, this will help his cause.

As event tv, it works. As competition to ITV's "Survivor" and Channel 4's "Big Brother," it won't work. On June 1, we're looking at Greed going up against the second removal from Survivor, the first eviction from Big Brot her, and the season finale of Buffy. All in the 8pm slot. Not even I can watch four channels at once, and something will have to give. From the opening night, "Greed" will lose.

Minicredits: Format by Fox Television. Producer: Bob Merrilees Director: Phil Chilvers Exec Produer: Richard Holloway A Grundy production for Channel 5.


Last year's contestants Claire Strutton and Tom McDermott have been dating since late last year and are expecting a child around new year. Claire, the replacement for Nick Bateman, arrived just days before Tom left. It was after she left, a week later, that Tom showed Claire the ropes of life in the spotlight. Claire is still keen to launch a musical career while Tom is to present Ireland's version of It's A Knockout.


Signs of megalomania, or an attack of brutal honesty? You decide.

Anne Robinson said in America last Friday that if she had not been the host of (THE) WEAKEST LINK, Lady Thatcher would have been the only other woman to fit the role. She told LARRY KING LIVE: "She would have been brilliant." Robinson's selection as an interviewee on King's programme just a month after her debut on the rival NBC network illustrates her swiftly-earned popularity. King introduced her as "the hottest, maybe the rudest, thing on television".

Explaining the success of The Weakest Link, Robinson, 57, said: "We are sick of smiley television, insincerity. Younger people like something nearer the bone."

Dubbed by critics the "British bitch" and "the host from hell", she berated one contestant for not knowing George W Bush's middle name [1], and dismissed another person trying for the $1 million jackpot as "pathetic, measly and depressing". She told King that she was delighted to have proved US newspapers "completely wrong" in their assessment that "American people would not go for" her show.


DOG EAT DOG unexpectedly beat Ant and Dec's SLAP BANG by 20% on Saturday night. GREED has pulled 1.4 million, well above average for that time slot.


Coverage of all the games running this summer will be provided while I'm in the UK. There will, however, be a two week interruption in the second half of June while I take a break in Dallas, Texas. Hopefully, I'll be able to cast my eye over some of the exports while I'm there, and see how Anne and Regis and the others are faring with fine UK formats.


Sixteen people, one desert island, one million pounds, one massive hype.

Who are these people?

The Laing Tribe, symbol a bird, colour yellow, is... Charlotte, former beauty queen from South Wales. James, property developer from London. Uzma, businesswoman from Bradford. Andy, long haul pilot. Adrian, barrister's clerk from Kent. Jayne, rower. As in works with oars, not fights a lot. Simon, ex-footballer from Birmingham. JJ, female, ran a military prison in the Falklands.

As for the Ulah tribe, colour blue, symbol a snake. Sarah ... blinkin' heck! It's Sarah Odell. A Season 2 WANTED tracker! Described as a model from Fulham. Mick, a retired policeman. Eve, former army bomb disposal officer, Oxfordshire. Pete, "not a male model", Stockport. Zoe, psychology and drama student, London. Richard, psychiatrist, Cardiff. Nick, former naval rating. Jackie, airline buyer.

JJ, I think, was on Channel 5's rather good JAILBREAK last autumn. I don't recognise any of the others, so a quick recap on Sarah's career on WANTED... Working with Matt Randall, they caught their first pair in week two, yielding £5000 in week one. £6000 went to their players in week three, but Matt caught the pair in week four with just a minute left. On the road, Sarah is sent on a wild goose chase on week five, allowing the couple to win £3000. Sarah sits out week six, training for an endurance competition, in favour of former SAS officer Dave McBride, who makes the capture. (Was Dave the model for Spike off Buffy?) Week seven and eight summary follows next weekend, after repeats on UK Horizons.

Sarah, model? Shome mishtake, shurely!

This is a major gaffe by ITV. Just from the 30 minute preview show, I know that they've misled us on the background to one of their contestants. How many other models and business people will turn out to be jungle fighters or hired assassins? Can we believe anything else we see? If this much is fake, how much more?

Back to the show. And stuff the silly names; these are the Blues and Yellows. TREASURE ISLAND had the right idea with their Blue Team and Red Team.

Mark Austin is the host. He's taking time out as an ITN correspondent, to lend a voice over with some gravitas. He's slightly more intense and serious that Glen Hugill of THE MOLE, but there's not much in it.

The island is about 3 miles by 1 mile, in the shape of a lazy W. The island is the subject of government protection orders, so there'll be no cutting down the plants, and the crew have left helpful material on the island. Nick takes charge for the Blues. JJ baulks at the Yellows' reliance on planning by committee, and reckons a lean-to is not good. Sorry, is anyone else having deja vu here?

Fresh water is carefully provided by the all-benevolent Producers. They've even left a map and compass. Not that this helps the Yellows' runners, who set off without the compass. Two hours later, they get it.

Interesting use of infra-red "Night-cams", as seen on FORT BOYARD, and THE CRYSTAL MAZE, and THE ADVENTURE GAME...

Strokes of fortune for both sides. Yellows find a cigarette lighter, Blues find they've built something of a trap for fish.

We don't take a break till 30 minutes into the show. MILLIONAIRE would already be on its second by now.

Format of the game: Day 3. Immunity challenge. Losing tribe will vote someone off. Day 4. Tribal council. Time to reveal whom the tribe thinks should go. Day 5. Reward challenge. Winning tribe gets something to make their life easier. Repeat until we find the winner.

The challenges are played out before a very large, but incredibly silly looking, construction of wood. It's meant to be the Malaysian fire icon, but I don't think it is. Swim to the rafts, bring them back to shore, light torches en route. First to the plywood construction wins. Amid much screaming and hollering, the Blues win. Except they missed a torch en route, giving the Yellows passage to the next phase. Cue stereotyped shots of the Blues walking off in slow motion, and some people in very long shot at sunset waving about torches. Very pretty, very clearly faked.

The next day, the Blues know that one of their number will go. Nick tries to organise a plot to assure people that they can stay in the game. Has he learned *nothing* from Big Brother?

Thence to Council, passing a mud pool where some people daub their faces in the gunk. The members go to vote. Write their name on a piece of paper, some of them show it to the camera, and explain their reasons. There's a slightly pointless ritual involving torches, which does something to the symbolism and drama, but doesn't add to the game play.

The voting ends Nick 5, Jackie 3.

It's all very well put together, professionally shot, slickly edited. Lots of shots of bare (or as bare as you can decently get) flesh. Unlike TREASURE ISLAND, the show proceeds at a reasonable pace, and Mark Austin can n ever be as dull as the Aussie who voices that show. Or the man who voices US WEAKEST LINK. The music is authentically tribal, though the drum-heavy yodelling sound brings to mind more Central African than SE Asian.

Series producer: Nigel Lithgoe. Format: Charlie Parsons. There are five Reality Producers credited. A Planet 24 production.

Then we get Nick's exiting piece to camera, and the casting votes. Too much control too early, is the main excuse.

I have two big problems. This is billed as the ultimate reality game show. Already, after just one night, I've spotted one sequence that is probably faked, and one contestant whose past has been distorted. I know that producers will edit the footage to make a good story. I understand that, I respect that. Deliberately misleading the viewers, however, is beyond the pale. Reality it is not.

The other problem is that this show is very, very late. Ideally, it would have been nice to have it air last year. This feels like ITV jumping on the bandwagon some time after the train left the station. Voting people off ? That's WEAKEST LINK, that's BIG BROTHER, that's last summer. Heck, the voting sequence positively *cries out* for Anne Robinson's involvement. Living on an island? That's the BBC's social documentary CASTAWAY, that's Channel 4's SHIPWRECKED, that's 18 months ago.

This is going to be big. Of course it's going to be big. It's been given more promotion by ITV than any show in a good ten years. But I can't help feeling I've seen it all before.

As a postscript, overnight viewing figures show just 6.6 million saw the opening show. In the same timeslot in the autumn, Millionaire pulled 11 million, though that was not on a hot, sunny summer's evening. Maybe it won't be big. Doubt it.

For reasons explained earlier, coverage of SURVIVOR from this source will not be complete. Readers may wish to visit ITV's website for further coverage.

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