Weaver's Week 2001-12-17

Weaver's Week Index

17th December 2001

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

This week:

- Two from 4

- Weak links and strong millionaires


Second round, match 4: [4] Christ Church Oxford -v- Imperial [2].

CCO beat Birmingham, defending champs Imperial removed de Montfort. Both racked up very high scores. High scoring early exchanges are almost equal, though Imperial tends to have the advantage.

Foxing Thumper: What unusual change in the ordering of the solar system...

Sumil Rao, Imperial: Pluto will move inside Neptune.

Thumper: Er, that's right!

Hidden Student Indicator Of The Week: Christ Church Oxford get a full set of themes to cop shows. This clearly says something about how they spend their time in Oxford, and it's not that obscure...

Imperial pulls away after the music round, taking a 100 point lead. CCO pulls back, thanks to knowing that the Kellogg brothers patented peanut butter. Two full sets of bonuses later, the lead is halved. But Imperial gets a lot of pure science questions, and the lead's up to 125. CCO pulls back slightly, but loses 285-170.

A very level performance by Imperial, splitting their points 77-75-72-61. Imperial got 28/45 bonuses, and only let one set of bonuses go completely. CCO made 14/32 bonuses, failing to score on four sets of three and one of two.

The top half of the draw:

Newcastle -v- Edinburgh

St Hugh's Oxford -v- Imperial London.

It looks like an easy route for Imperial, with perhaps Edinburgh providing opposition in the last four. Next: [#1] Somerville Oxford -v- Durham [12] Somerville looks a good bet.


Barely 16 months after its world premiere, The Weakest Link has been sold to 75 territories. The latest sale, to Nanjing TV, will see a version syndicated throughout China. In the Philipines, Viva TV has seen its audience share rise 30% after airing their version. And in Britain, Anne Robinson still beats Richard and Judy in the teatime battle.


Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, the show that gave ITV some of its highest ratings of recent years, is "losing its lustre", according to the company behind the show.

Advertising revenue around the Millionaire internet game and sales of the show's merchandise have both been lower than expected, while the US version has retreated from four hours per week to two.

The downturn of interest in the show has adversely affected media company Avesco, which has a 49% stake in Complete Communications, in turn owner of production company Celador. Announcing its half-year results on Tuesday, Avesco said "Although Millionaire continues to enjoy great success, full-year profits from Complete may not be as high as our previous expectations."

On Wednesday, computer game manufacturer Eidos said that this year's versions of Millionaire failed to take off.

The question, I suppose, is what can Millionaire do to regain lost ground? The gimmicks of couples, families, and women only shows haven't done much, and while the number of celebrity episodes remains low, Millionaire isn't event television any more. The only way to make it event television is to ration its appearances, perhaps returning to the 1999-2000 schedule, when Millionaire aired on just 46 nights between early September and mid April.

It's worth noting that ITV seems to consider POP IDOL to be its flagship light entertainment show. The Popstars spin-off, aimed at finding a solo performer to flog to the public, began at the beginning of October, and has now been whittled down to ten. Week by week, they will become one winner by the final in early February. Viewers will vote for the person they least want to win, the person collecting the most votes leaves the show. No prizes for spotting the format being almost ripped off there.


This is a brief interlude in C4's phenomenally average RICHARD AND JUDY teatime show. The phone-in contestant - and the viewing thousands - see things and people appear on a video screen between Finnegan and Madeley, though they can't see it. Contestant attempts to describe the thing on screen so that our hosts can name it, without using the word itself. £1000 for each item named within a minute. If anyone's played the party game WHO'S IN THE BAG, it's this with a slight twist. The whole thing is all over inside 100 seconds. Fun.


Picture a day when everything goes a bit strangely. Things happen that aren't usual, wouldn't normally happen, and/or bend the bounds of normality to breaking point. Now add hidden cameras into the mix, and the chance to win a star prize, and you have a winning game show format.

Or not. First, the whole thing is a set-up, like CANDID CAMERA. Someone who knows the victim has set them up for the whole thing, and it's this someone who will attempt to win the prize for the victim. During the day, the production crew forces five choices into the narrative. The friend or relative has to correctly predict what will happen in four cases to win the star prize. Even if they don't win it, the day itself is a decent prize.

There are hidden cameras around, filming everything, and giving the show something of a BIG BROTHER-style feel. But where BB had characters that we grew to know over many weeks, this show is done in half an hour, just when we start to like a contestant, they're done.

Worst of all, and this is purely a personal thing, is the voiceover artiste. While BB had the understated Marcus Berkmann, and The Race has the dull Keith Boyzone, Make My Day has Sara Cox. This woman has annoyed a whole load of listeners to BBC Radio 1, with her tedious ramblings and annoying voice. Someone with a voice that irritating is going to prejudice me against the show from the start.

Would it work with another commentator? Perhaps. The concept of setting up a friend is not new - BEADLE'S ABOUT scored huge viewing figures in the early 90s - but this is for a good day, not a nasty experience. Maybe the nice nature of the show works against it. Certainly it has promise, but it's not the finished article.


THE RACE repositions in Mexico City, and asks its contestants to go to a chihuahua. Sorry, to go to Chihuahua. We go via Vera Cruz or Tijuana, and appear on national television. This is the biggest viewing figure any of them will see from this programme... Also: make a piñata (life-sized balloon model of their fellow traveller), learn not to smoke at all, visit a magic mountain, and *finally* arrive. Again, only one team can make their connections and arrive on time. This would be a packed itinerary for anyone, never mind game show contestants travelling on a USD 100 budget.


For the first time since September, BBC1 has the same Saturday night line-up two weeks running. There is, however, no MILLIONAIRE this Saturday, it makes way for POP IDOL and the National Comedy Awards. To make up, there's three hours of MILLIONAIRE COUPLES over the following nights. Sunday at 9, Monday at 8, and Tuesday at 8.

For those who weren't paying attention, THE MOLE has finished. Over. Done.

More special WEAKEST LINKS this week: Monday's has contestants from the same holiday company; Tuesday's is another US version; Friday's is a Millionaires special. There's also a WL PRIMETIME on Wednesday.

Friday sees the latest FIFTEEN TO ONE final. Will Daphne Fowler's trophy wing not receive anything new for a whole series?

This week's update is dedicated to the memory of Randy Amasia, who unexpectedly passed away last Wednesday. Randy was a regular contributor to the Usenet group alt.tv.game-shows, and was always a calming, sensible presence there. He will be missed.


It turns out that the "Not the first words but the second, initially" clue on THE MOLE related to the first letters of the second words. Not the second person shown in the initial run through of contestants who - coincidentally - turned out to be The Mole. Is there such a thing as coincidence on that show? We'll tell you in season 3.

Tanya's guiding principle was to be absolutely obvious about all her failures, a direct counterpoint to David's stealthy tactics in the earlier series. The producer hoped that at least one contestant would pretend to be the mole, for tactical reasons. Here's the episode-by-episode breakdown:

Episode 1: Paul and Tanya were born very close to each other, and had to walk in order from north to south. Paul led the discussion, and Tanya let him go along with his error. On the river, Tanya started by pulling Mel, who was very light, and prevented her from grabbing bags. Dafydd took Mel's place in the water, and Tanya's tactic continued to work: Dafydd only made one bag from six. The dam challenge was sabotaged by Tanya topping everyone up with extra-strong coffee, and stalled to take extra time.

Episode 2: All Tanya could do in Stunt Plane was to get her own manoeuvre wrong. There was no discussion of sabotage on the ice rink. On the bomb, Tanya wanted to get to the barn, and worked with Paul because she believed he would be fittest. She was also briefed to blow the bomb if necessary: she didn't expect it to go so quickly, and felt the it was obvious she was responsible. The code to the bomb was printed on the case of instructions.

Episode 3: Banana Boat had Tanya slathering everyone with suntan oil, something clearly shown on screen. The team fell in so much that the suntan oil rubbed off, and the stunt was achieved. In Commandos, Tanya was miked up and had a codeword, "Listen", to alert the snipers to people's position. She also managed to take Paula out herself. For Balldrop, Tanya cycled energetically to charge up the battery, and was briefed to drop the ball if she were alone.

Episode 4: No sabotage on the train. In the Arrest challenge, Tanya's briefing was to open the tube, expose the paper (something she mentioned on screen), and take her time over the mathematical problem. Jim and Chris got their answers wrong, but Paul got his right, and the others all handed in their cheques, so Tanya might as well give the right answer to divert suspicion. Cliff Jumping was another misjudgement by the producers: Tanya was to do her best to overcome her natural fear and complete 20ft in the expectation that someone else would fail completely, but everyone else made the full 40ft.

Episode 5: Tanya intended to be the one taking the photos, but if she drove, she was to break the speed limit, which she did. In Rock-climbing, Tanya was advised of Paul's predictions via her CD player, which had a receiver linking her to the producers. Paul's predictions were so wild that the game was lost before she started. Egg Carrying was a sickener for Tanya: she was really unhappy about taking a pass at all, and still less when she found it would cost the team £20,000. Living up to her billing, Tanya did the sabotage, didn't hide it, or her disappointment at letting the side down.

Episode 6: Essential oils were provided by the producer for the Dog Chase challenge, and Tanya wore them, and willingly swapped suits with the others. The challenge was lost when Paul broke his chains. There was no sabotage for Which Bear, the producers thought it impossible. The producers reckon that there was some cheating by the contestants, but could prove nothing. The challenge in the school was a flare-up waiting to happen: Tanya's sabotage was to mouth instructions while giving her signs, but the others managed to fail the challenge in a superbly excellent fashion. Tanya had been asked to be a bit more passionate about her reactions, and the ensuing row lasted something around an hour. "Big enough row for you?" she asked afterwards.

Episode 7: Marching Bands was another entertaining failure: Tanya didn't pass on one of her instructions to Chris, she slowed down just enough, and it all turned into another huge mess. Tanya was allowed to go her own way in Negotiation, as she was annoyed that the others weren't negotiating: Paul completed the sabotage for her. Helibomb was another where Tanya was allowed her head, hitting the target when she knew the boat would be going straight: everyone else dropped while the boat was weaving.

There were no sabotages in episode 8.

Throughout the series, Tanya had placed a bug in the confession room, so she could act to defuse these suspicions.

The other clues were as follows:

Glenn's opening words contained hints. This is series two, so the first two words counted: 'This Is', 'Time There', 'Not Some', 'First Trick', 'Words And', 'But Noone', 'Second Your', 'Initially Answer'. The first words say, "This Time Not First Words But Second Initially". The initials of the second words are ITSTANYA.

Two clues in the Stunt Plane: Tanya's nickname was "Baseball", for that's where the final would be; and Glenn said, "It seems The Mole was the one in a spin" - Tanya's stunt had her spinning around. Another foreshadowing of the final came with the ice hockey shirts. Because Natalie had been eliminated there was no number 1 shirt. If the shirt numbers corresponded to episode numbers then the key shirt was number 8, because The Mole is the only player guaranteed to be in Episode 8, the final. Tanya wore this one.

There were word clues: the invitation to dinner read, "In recognition of all your efforts, I would be delighted if you would join me for dinner this evening. This invitation is for all of you, even The Mole is included in it. Any additional information you may need will be supplied along the way. Expect your car at 5.30pm . Respectfully yours, Glenn". I've highlighted where the mole is included. I explained the clue in the barn at the time, but missed the significance of the puzzles in the cells. The answers were 201, 142, 51. Arrange that differently to get 20-1-14-25-1, the positions in the alphabet of TANYA. Also in this scene, Tanya's drumming spelled MOLE in Morse code. The clocks at the start of episode 5 were semaphore signals, spelling out BUCK.

There were other clues dotted around: in the train game, one of Tanya's papers contained a spoof obituary for David Buxton. She did interfere with the Scrabble board in episode 7, removing the F of IF and first E of SEDATE to suggest THE MOLE IS MALE. At various points in the series, Tanya wore a Washington Capitals ice hockey shirt, number 85, with Hanssen on the back. That's a reference to Robert Hanssen, active since 1985, and caught as the most senior mole in the FBI. Two jeeps were used, but only one for eliminations. Its rear view mirror always featured a US dollar bill - a buck. Paul always took down this clue.

The very first video diary of the first episode saw Jim talking about how the arrival was like James Bond. The series contained clues based on seven Bond books and films, always involving Tanya. In increasing order of tenuousness:

  • In episode 8, Tanya always received the envelope marked 'FOR YOUR EYES ONLY'.
  • In episode 5, Tanya named another Bond film at the cliff jump: 'Even jumping 6 foot scared THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of me'.
  • We often saw her in a cap with the letter I in gold, or a GOLDENEYE.
  • In episode 4, Tanya's belongings were shown in the arrest scene, including a ticket for the THUNDERBALL lottery draw.
  • In episode 2, Tanya wore a Jaws T-Shirt, Jaws being the villain in two Bond films.
  • After the school challenge, Tanya said in her video diary, "I felt like I was gonna blow, felt like I was gonna lose my temper". If we're to believe the producers, the 'blow' and 'felt' sound a bit like 'Blofeld', another James Bond baddie!
  • In Episode 2, just before Chris G's elimination, Tanya talks about Chris L saying: 'He's ever, ever watchful. Either it's a con or he's the Mole'. With her natural London accent, Tanya could quite easily drop the H from He and make CON-OR-E sound very like 'Connery', as in Sean.

[Editor's note: This section added July 2009, with thanks to the International Mole Page for jogging our memories.]

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