Weaver's Week 2001-11-26

Weaver's Week Index

26th November 2001

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

After a couple of months in the shadows, WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE burst back into the spotlight this week. Details follow, along with a review of THE WAITING GAME, and the regular UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE update. But first, it's a big welcome back to the Fake Game Show Created Here:


Three people were questioned by police this week following an investigation into Millionaire. Major Charles Ingram and his wife, Diane, were arrested at their Wiltshire home following allegations about the Major's £1m jackpot win in September. A 51-year-old man was also arrested in Cardiff and all three are being questioned in connection with a conspiracy to defraud, according to a Scotland Yard press release.

"At 7am [Thursday] morning, a 51-year-old man was arrested at a residential address in Cardiff by officers of the Metropolitan Police special enquiries unit in connection with a conspiracy to defraud. He was taken to a local station, where he is now being interviewed by police. At the same time, a 38-year-old-man and a 37-year-old woman were arrested at a residential address in Wiltshire in connection with a conspiracy to defraud."

Major Ingram was accused of cheating his way to the £1m jackpot with the help of a "coughing code" used by a member of the audience. He has vehemently and repeatedly denied the allegations but has had his £1m cheque frozen by Celador, the gameshow's managers. The major is taking legal action against ITV, demanding his prize money and a full apology.

Major Ingram and his wife were released on bail on Friday. The third person was named as Tecwin Whittock, who has also made an appearance on WWTBAM. In fact, Whittock was the person who immediately followed Ingram into the hot seat back in September, securing just £1000 for his pains. Press reports indicated that, though Ingram and Whittock had not met before filming on September 10, they had spoken by phone two weeks earlier.

As there is now an ongoing police enquiry, I feel it would be inappropriate - and potentially a contempt of court - to speculate further about what might have happened.


A proposed tie-up between BBC comedy ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES and the aforementioned WWTBAM has fallen by the wayside. The plot for the Christmas special would have featured Del Boy Trotter (David Jason) appear with Chris Tarrant (Chris Tarrant) on the set of ITV's hit quiz show and win an indeterminate amount of money. However, ITV and the BBC were unable to reach agreement on repeat fees, and the plot has had to be kyboshed. Now we know the plot, I'm sure we can all write our own sketches.

To complete a hat trick of stories, the man behind WWTBAM made an extraordinary attack on The Weakest Link, branding it "contrived" and "flawed".

Paul Smith, Celador's managing director, has attacked THE WEAKEST LINK, reckoning it is "flawed" because it did not have Millionaire's elements of jeopardy or audience interaction. Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch on Thursday, Mr Smith said:

"There's just the fast questions and the character that's played by the host. The problem is it's not genuine, it's just too contrived. Anne Robinson takes advantage of people who are in that unfamiliar situation. I think it's a dreadful and awful thing to do to people. I'm astonished at the show's ongoing success. It's a one-joke comedy. I'm surprised the British public is still watching it.

Weaver noted back when it first aired that if you strip away the abuse of the contestants, you're left with a general knowledge quiz format within striking distance of FIFTEEN TO ONE. While the initial batch of contestants may not have known the hostile role that Robinson would play, everyone who has applied after the show aired knew what they were letting themselves in for. And as for one-joke comedies, that's still one more than [insert name of comedian to ridicule] has ever written.

Mr Smith also claimed The Weakest Link, and quiz shows such as Shafted and The Waiting Game, would never have existed if Who Wants to be a Millionaire? hadn't come along. "If you'd gone to a commissioning editor and pitched a quiz show in prime-time before Millionaire, they would have said 'no'. Now there are quiz shows all over the place." Weaver can't disagree on that point.


Second round, match 1: Salford -v- Newcastle

Salford overcame Leicester 155-130 on August 13, the lowest winning score of the series. Salford pulled away in the second half, while Leicester failed to get many starters.

Newcastle had the Tartan Tie with Downing Cambridge on October 8. Scoring 220 against quality opposition is a good result. I'd predict Newcastle by around 40.

Early advantage goes to Salford, but Newcastle comes back strongly. Aided by the Old Chestnuts, they race to a 65 point lead. Hudson's incorrect buzzing costs the team 20 points by half time, but Salford briefly draws level with ten to play. Newcastle pulls away, Hudson continues to attract penalties like David Beckham, and the match is over around the second picture round. 265-145 is the final score.

Student indicator of the week: Newcastle gets three bonuses based on THE WORST CASE SCENARIO HANDBOOK. This is clearly vital to their ability to survive life-threatening situations, such as being attacked by alligators, being felled by an avalanche, or being caught in the bar during last orders.

Old chestnuts of the week: The state capitals of Florida, Alaska, and Texas are no problems to Newcastle.

Star of the week is Newcastle's Steve Walker, who accumulates 129 points. Marc Hudson, Salford captain, accumulated 73 points, including 35 in penalties. Neither Stephen Ball (Salford) nor Philip Lockley (Newcastle captain) correctly answered a starter.

Next: Edinburgh -v- Wadham Oxford. It'll be close.

Tributes were paid after this week's episode to Jim Pope, the Voice of University Challenge until the end of the last series. Jim passed away recently following a short illness. My thoughts go to his friends and family.


Well, that's an interesting start. Pictures of the contestants fuzz in and out, with just a hum. No discernable theme tune.

Ruby Wax hosts, coming down the stage. She's got Anne Robinson's haircut from about ten years ago, but is a lot louder and brasher than the other host. There's a brief introduction with Ruby chatting to each of three pairs in a lush backstage place. Readers need to know that I rather like Wax's style, and find her funny, rather than annoying, in small doses.

Our host asks questions. A player buzzes in if they think their partner knows the correct answer. If they're right, they get the points; if they're wrong, points to the opposition. A question's value increases every three seconds after it's asked: 1-3-5-8-10-15. This is represented by a curved line going up the screen. The effect is somewhere in the same area as the GOING FOR GOLD final.

After eight questions, we lose the lowest scoring contestants. An incorrect answer in the last three questions gives the maximum points to the other side; this avoids tactical play from the side in the lead. The exit is a rather familiar one, into the spotlight. The remaining couples swap places, and play for another six questions. Highest score in this round goes to play the end game, of which more later.

This format has great potential for silliness, comedy, and interplay between the team members. How well do they know each other's knowledge? Can a team take the lead without once buzzing in? I find Ruby a perfect foil for this kind of implausible situation, being very much a larger-than-life persona herself. On the other hand, she does tend to annoy in a lot of ways. She has some snappy one liners, too. "I took you for someone far blonder," she says of one contestant. "If you know in the audience, cough now." And she takes being upstaged: "You're a teacher. What do you teach?" "Children."

The lighting is straight out of the Weakest Link / Friends Like These playbook, all swirling blue lights and purple lighting on the audience. There's a ticking when the clock is running up, and stings when people leave and after each round, but the other music is too sparsely used. I don't like the way we always cut from a close-up of one pair to a wide shot of Contestant's Row just before someone buzzes in and at no other time.

The end game challenge: get six questions right in 60 seconds, and win money. Wrong answers run down the clock, right answers win money. The value increases each second, and is shown between the players: 10-50-100-200-500-1000-1500-2000-3000-5000. Buzz in early for a pass; buzz in late with a right answer to win money; buzz in and answer. The players are separated by a steel wall and can't see each other. The stakes are high, and the players are encouraged to vent their feelings. This has huge potential for tactics and strategy. A slight mistiming can cost hundreds of pounds, buzzing in early to pass can be an error if your co-competitor was waiting, and expecting your colleague to know the answer can result in no-one buzzing and ten seconds being eaten from the clock.

This is a genuinely novel format, and Ruby Wax is in her element on this show. The studio set is derivative, but this weak presentation can always be redeemed later. It's not quite the best format on television, but it's very good. The best part is clearly the endgame, just like the show that comes immediately after, WINNING LINES and The Wonderwall.


"But no-one is safe when the mole's on the prowl." Glenn's in a cornfield, with the camera at a Jaunty Angle. [(C) Network 7, 1987]

At the end of last week's episode, the prize pot stood at £51,500. (Didn't I say this last week? Yeah. It was a good week for the mole.) Still in the game:

Tanya Buck, 33, fitness instructor, Barnet Herts

Dafydd Williams, 27, event co-ordinator, Cardiff

Chris Lintern, 27, company director, Chapmanslade Wilts

Karrie Fox, 50, artist, Truro Cornwall

Paul Tregear, 29, firefighter, Westcliff on Sea Essex

Purely by watching the show, Chris is looking like the most obvious Mole candidate, with Karrie attracting a lot of suspicion. Dafydd is clearly playing a straight bat; Paul is doing a lot of things right. Tanya isn't doing much (until she got the pass last week) but all the circumstantial evidence points to Tanya. She and Karrie are the ones who - in my view - do mole-like things.

Glenn runs through the evidence, such as he can in 30 seconds. Last time, Karrie was voted the weakest member of the team physically, and gets the day off to work on her tan.

The other four go deep into the forest, where the dogs are barking. For £10,000, run through the forest wearing an orange jump suit and manacles. And with attack dogs on their tail.

Five minute head starts. Watch out for rattlesnakes. Look for two halves of an air horn, sound the horn, and the game is won.

The group stays together on the main path, but splits. Tanya is taken out of the game, Dafydd goes when the chain cuts his leg. Chris is caught in a similar manner, but Paul is well down the path. He finds one half, and then the other half, sounds the horn, and wins the game.

Tanya complains about being dropped early, Chris mutters about how much it hurt. Weaver suspects that the mole would be involved, and taken out quite early. Suspicion goes away from Paul and Karrie.

The four return to a clearing, where there is a tent. And rattlesnakes. And bears. Who would spend the night in a tent like this? The team.

In the tent is the air horn, from last time. They will have to sound the air horn within two minutes of 6am tomorrow morning to win £10,000. No watches, clocks, or anything like that. All they have is an egg timer. It times two and a half minutes. Dafydd reckons it's 24 turns an hour, but Chris points out they'll lose time when it turns over. Use stones, like in cricket.

If the team panics, say they feel under attack from a bear, the team can be released, but the challenge will be lost. And what's Karrie been doing? Training to be a bear, leave convincing marks and make bearish noises. If she can scare the team out of the tent, she wins a pass to the next episode. Which means that a) the production team get to call this the Bear Witch Challenge, and b) there had better be some protection against *real* bears, otherwise things will be unbearable.

Karrie doesn't begin scaring them till after midnight. She's clearly finding the whole thing amusing, and asks the rangers (answering part b) to fire a shot. It rattles the tent, but Dafydd reckons it sounds like a moose rutting. At least, I *think* he said rutting. But they've lost their place in the timing challenge.

Karrie actually attacks the tent... then crashes through. Looks like she's not making the free pass. Which leaves the air horn, fired at 6:01:25, winning the challenge.

Tanya deliberately paired up with Chris, the two prime suspects for molehood. Paul thought Dafydd was concerned about the whole noises. Karrie later reckons it was all ludicrous, but Chris (especially) is not convinced.

To the school in Kelowna. Glenn is in dodgy glasses and a tie. This is unusual. Dafydd is split from the team; the others split into Karrie and Tanya versus Chris and Paul. The £5000 challenge is for Dafydd to find the other two teams. This is confusing...

Dafydd can't see anything, the ladies can see what he sees and can make visual indications to the gents who can talk to him. They need to get Dafydd to look at the chair, but this turns into a comedy of errors. The gents forget that the ladies can see what Dafydd sees. Paul tries to bypass the ladies and direct Dafydd to him. Chris doesn't take the mike. This is all going totally pear shaped. Dafydd doesn't have the keys.

Time expires, and it's a disaster. Everyone blames everyone else. The row is probably still going on there. For once, Tanya and Karrie seem to have come out better from this game than the others. Someone was sabotaging this game. If not more people.

Later, Chris and Paul both reckon it was easy to sabotage. Chris reckons Karrie, but she reckons that it's simple to accept instructions. Tanya accepts that she wasn't perfect. Karrie brings up the gender split, one of Chris' ideas again. He might have learned his lesson from the barn game three weeks ago.

Nominations part six.

Karrie: Paul, Tanya [Not Paul]

Tanya: Chris, but Dafydd is annoying [No nomination]

Dafydd: Tanya [Didn't name a candidate, I suspect Karrie]

Paul: Karrie [Karrie]

Chris: Karrie [Karrie]

Weaver nominates: Chris might have taken the mike in the school game, when he could see it was going wrong. I still suspect him or Tanya. Karrie will suffer from being out of the loop for a game and a half, so if she survives, she's probably on the right track.

Paul ... is safe

Karrie ... goodbye!

Chris confesses that he's backed a loser since day 1, which might suggest he's the mole and assured of remaining in the game. Or it might suggest the mole is someone similar to Karrie, pointing perhaps to Tanya.

Next week... tough negotiations ... and things fall on the water.


A quick word for those following THE RACE: this week went from Adelaide via a sheep farm, an outback town, and a beach, to Sydney Harbour Bridge. I maintain that this is turning into a bit of a gem of a show; the contestants are still interchangable, and the narrator is boring, but the editing has sharpened up, and is now reflecting on the way the competitors have changed.

THE MOLE has the blind leading the deaf leading the dumb. And the woman in the very poor bear suit. Was this meant to be a comedy?


This week's main event is the (belated) launch of Millionaire Interactive. Saturday's show will air on ITV in the normal way, and will simulcast on ITV2. Viewers through digital terrestrial will be able to play along and win big prizes - gift vouchers, umbrellas, possibly even a monkey. A review on how this works next week. Saturday 8:10 for 55 (!), Tuesday 8 for 60. The smart alec in COUNTDOWN's dictionary corner is Richard Digence.

Very little change elsewhere on the schedule. BBC1's Saturday night block starts five minutes later than last week. Once again, there is no prime-time Weakest Link, but Monday's is a One Family Special, and begins at the earlier time of 5pm. No-one mention the new series RICHARD AND JUDY on 4 and we'll be fine. There's no NO WIN, NO FEE on Thursday.

Monday also sees the final of Brain Of Britain 2001, Radio 4, 1:30. Wednesday's quiz slot at the same time is filled by a new run of PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS.

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