Weaver's Week 2002-09-07

Weaver's Week Index

7th September 2002

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

In the week when the BIG BROTHER 3 contestants finished being famous for fifteen weeks, this also happened:

- New season of UC

- More minor celeb torture

- Three chairs for BBC1

UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE (Granada for BBC2, Mo 2000)

A quick reminder of the format: fourteen first round matches between now and early December, winners progress to the second round. Four highest scoring losers return in the repechage, winners go through. Around Christmas, the second round starts: this is a four-round single-elimination knockout tournament. We should know the winner around Easter.

York appeared in 2000, defeating Aberdeen before falling to Balliol Oxford in the second round. Last year, the side lost to Durham in the opening round. Team note: you can't pull back 115 points in four minutes.

Newcastle beat Open and South Bank before losing to Warwick in the 96 quarterfinals. Honour was restored after a winning draw against Warwick in the 2000 opener, then defeating Jesus Cambridge before losing to Keble Oxford in the quarters. Last year, the side had a winning tie against Downing Cambridge, beat Salford, and then lost a thoroughly entertaining quarterfinal match to Edinburgh. Team note: Belgium does not have a flourishing bob team.

Ed Lawrence, the Newcastle captain, is the first to get a starter correct, and then becomes the first to give a missignal. York gets off to the better start, taking the next four starters, including 4/4 on US comedians. After running up a lead of almost 100, York is slowly pegged back by Newcastle. Though they keep close throughout the contest, Newcastle don't draw ahead until three minutes to play, and pulls away to a 40 point margin. Then York comes back with a starter, but it's too late. Newcastle wins, 205-180. This will probably bring them back in the repechage.

The week's highlights included...

Trap of the week: Which country has an upper house, or Bundesrat... Lawrence: Germany. [It's actually Austria.]

Embarrassing answer of the week: Thumper plays a tune by siblings. Newcastle: It's the Carpenters.

Thumper: Hurts you to admit it. The team has to admit knowing the Osmonds moments later.

Interruption of the week: Used to intensify the flavour of foods...

Paul Williamson, York: Monosodium glutamate. That's correct, and easy for him to say.

Daft answer of the week: Newcastle is asked which religious group was approved by a 16th century Pope. The captain can't spit out "Protestantism." Hell had not, at that early date, frozen over.

Gratuitously long starter of the week: Patented in 1914 and intended as an appetite suppressant for German soldiers, by what one word name is the drug methylene-dioxy-meth-amphetamine usually known?

Williamson: Ecstasy

Top scorer: Susan Walker of Newcastle, 76. Newcastle: 18/39 bonuses, 3 missignals. York: 15/31, 1 missignal.

Next: UMIST -v- Clare Cambridge

THE CHAIR (Touchdown Television for BBC1, Sa 1840)

John McEnroe is our host, and we sit through some of his greatest hits. The audience is in almost the entire round, lit at the front of the balcony. There's a contestants' tunnel - they come out of a white light tube into the chair, strapped in, then rise about eight feet to face McEnroe and the video screen. McEnroe is standing at a silver lectern, looking a lot like he's borrowed it from Mrs Robinson. The chair itself is meant to look like the old MASTERMIND furniture. Small torches, belching flame into the studio air, surround the centrepiece. There's a supporter visible on a video screen; they can talk to the contestant. The sound is loud and thumping, and any music went totally under my radar.

McEnroe starts by giving each contestant £500, and assigns them a "redline" rate 70% above their resting rate. Then a question with four possible answers - at this stage, early second tier Millionaire. If the contestant's pulse is above this "redline," they lose £10 per second and cannot answer the question until their pulse has dropped to that figure. Correctly answer the question, win £1000. Then the "redline" comes down by 5% of the original rate, and another question is asked. £1500 for a correct answer, £20 away for each redlining second.

Before the third question, the "redline" figure comes down again, but there's a "heart stopper" round. 45 seconds of rapid-fire questions, one point on the maximum rate for each correct answer. This should give a net increase. Question 3 is based on a series of still images, some animated by a rostrum camera. £2000 for a correct answer, £30 away for each second over limit.

After three questions, the contestant can "stabilise" the money they've won - if they give an incorrect answer, they win the minimum of that amount and the lowest available when they answer subsequent questions. This protects them from incorrect answers, but not from a quickened pulse. This can only happen once in the game.

Reduce for the normal Q4 (£3000 correct, £50 away). Q5 is a list question, worth £6000 - £100 away for each second over the further reduced limit.

Before question six, there's another heart stopper. Twenty seconds of compressed air and flamethrowers and such, subject to the usual maximum rules, reducing at £100 per second. Question six is worth £12,000, but costs £500 per second. Question seven, which we didn't see this week, is worth £24,000, presumably losing £1000 for each second over the limit.

The Chair was, of course, dropped from ABC's schedules in the spring after a run of disappointing ratings. The One's version pulled in just 4.4m viewers, little more than half the audience of Celeb Survivor, and lower than regular WEAKEST LINK and almost all BIG BROTHER episodes.

What's right with this show? A question based on a series of still images isn't a new idea, but is very well executed, and could be very difficult in a regular show. List questions are not novel - Eamonn Holmes' PASS THE BUCK was predicated on a similar idea - but are still a refreshing change from the regular four-choice format.

What's wrong with this show? I'm not particularly bothered that the pace is slow: it's not so slow it grinds, though it could go faster. McEnroe isn't the greatest host: the scriptwriters have helpfully provided him with some jokes, but once the contestant replies, he's stuck at the net with the ball bouncing past the baseline. I can't help feeling that other tennis players might have done a better job - the inimitable Luke Jensen was ousted from the BBC Radio commentary booth by the inferior Mac, and Annabel Croft has a good rep in game shows. These trivia we can live with.

There's something more fundamental wrong. This format is what we might technically call "a bit of a mess." The basic idea is good, but the implementation is horridly confused. Effectively, we have two games that are linked by nothing more than a common cash pot. The quiz looks to add money to the pot; the pulse monitor looks to drain it at varying rates. The whole thing strikes me as terribly arbitrary.

Indeed, there is a blatant unfairness. For a player in trouble, not easily getting out of the red zone, it's to their advantage to "stabilise" after three questions, then get question four wrong. This will give a larger pot than going for later questions while running down the cash total. I'm certain that this is not the mark of a quality format.

To make matters simpler, split the game into its constituent parts. The quiz game is still played to add money to the pot. Rather than withdrawing money from the pot, the pulse game looks to run down a clock. Instead of starting the contestant with £500, give them 50 seconds above the redline figure. Immediately after answering a question correctly, the contestant can buy time for that clock, at the rate of (say) one second for 2% of the value of the question just answered, up to a maximum of (say) 90 seconds. If a contestant runs out of time, or gets a question wrong, they get the remaining money in their pot.

To show this in action, take the first and last contestants from the opening show as examples:

Sian Richards is a teacher from South Wales. She does yoga and physiotherapy. She's straight into the red, eventually gets down to answer the first question after 35 seconds. The second takes 55 seconds to answer, again correctly. 31 seconds to allow the third answer Sian is playing for £3020, and decides to stabilise that amount, but it runs down for 56 seconds. With £220 left, she's able to answer question four correctly. Thirty one seconds later, she's out of the game; all the money she "stabilised" two questions ago has gone.

Under my back-of-the-envelope revision, the path might have looked like this:

£0/50s £1000/15s --> (Buy 50s for £1000) --> £0/65s £1500/10s --> (Buy 50s for £1500) --> £0/60s £2000/29s --> (Buy 40s for £1600) --> £400/69s £3400/13s --> (Buy 50s for £3000) --> £400/63s We can assume Sian would have run out of time here, leaving with £400. There's no need to offer "stabilisation" with its over-complex rules.

Jamie Kershaw is a window cleaner from Huddersfield. He decides to gamble with £5000 and £8000, but banks £14,000. He loses nothing on the second heart stopper, but takes two seconds in the red humming and hawing over question six, gets it wrong, but walks with £13,600.

Jamie's status after each question could have been: £0/50s £1000/50s --> Buy 40s for £800 --> £200/90s £1700/90s --> Stay £3700/90s --> Stay £6700/90s --> Stay £12,700/90s --> Stay The incorrect answer means he's leaving with £12,700.

Those who suggest that contestants and viewers can't cope with time and money on the screen at the same time need only see THE WEAKEST LINK for a counter-example. I'm not sure what to do with the bonus round after question 2: perhaps allow the contestant to raise their redline by one beat *or* add (say) two seconds to the clock.


(LWT for ITV, all week)

Aka I'M A CELEBRITY GET ME OUT OF HERE. Those contestants in full:

+ Christine Hamilton - looks a bit like Anne Robinson circa 1998.

+ Darren Day - has brought a false Cockney accent.

+ Nell McAndrew - hanging around the background.

+ Nigel Benn - not the best cook.

+ Rhona Cameron - responsible for more blazing rows than anyone else.

+ Tara "Tommers" Palmer-Tomkinson - could be the Claire Sweeney of the show.

+ Tony Blackburn - putting in a solid performance.

+ Uri Geller - king of the inappropriate remark.

Very quickly reviewing the events of the week.

Saturday: Day goes into a swamp that has conveniently been swept clear of snakes. Tommers gives Cameron a pedicure, earning the wrath of Day. McAndrew fades into the background.

Sunday: Day fishes meals out of cases containing live animals. The contestants get very confused and think it's their last night together. It's not. Hamilton is the quiet one.

Monday: Benn spends an hour alone in the jungle. Geller obsesses about logs. Day claims Tommers has been slipping him two or three notes a day saying how she wants to get intimate. McAndrew, Blackburn fly under the radar.

Tuesday: Geller is the first person voted out. Tommers calls Day an immature whining pathetic idiot, and then runs out of camp. Hamilton chases after pigs. The row between Tommers and Day continues all night. McAndrew continues to be conspicuous by her inconspicuity.

Wednesday: Benn takes the hike. Tommers and Day continue their world war. Blackburn handles snakes, though not well. Hamilton is confused after an afternoon asleep.

Thursday: Day's day is done. Blackburn has his harem, and a game of impressions. McAndrew rides a mechanical bucking bronco. With Day gone, there are no fireworks.

Friday: Cameron cannot continue. Blackburn crawls along a web over a swamp, and doesn't fall in. There's a fashion show, and an eviction notice for McAndrew.

Who wins? You deride.

The final episodes: 2120 Sa, 2100 Su (1h35)


BBC2 is to revive Chatsworth's TREASURE HUNT, the show that made a star out of Anneka Rice and little pink pieces of paper when it was Grahamed on C4 during the 80s. The Two has ordered a Keith edition of the show, and is looking at ways to update the format. This may mean that the field engineer has to remove his "Frankie Says..." t-shirt. And if you're from the Guardian researching your next piece: hello. We wouldn't mind a credit occasionally.


Somewhat alarmingly, BBC1 keeps the same quizzes in the same slots as last week. This hasn't happened all year!

MILLIONAIRE returns: 2015 Sa, repeated 0020 and 1005 on ITV2. My listings also show an episode at 1400 Sa, which would not be the regular slot by any stretch of the imagination.

Also back this week: BRUCE FORSYTH'S PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT, which evidently isn't going to be called Card Sharks any more. 1800 Sa, ITV.

POPSTARS: THE RIVALS begins 1915 Sa on ITV, 2015 on ITV2, extra shows 1705 most days; coverage ends here.

Radio 4 marks 25 years of THE NEWS QUIZ, with a special show at 1815 Sa, and an archive programme at 2000.

ITV's view of GAMESHOW LOSERS airs 1830, including the man who lost £218,000, the vicar who lost his cool, and the Weakest Link team who all voted off Anne Robinson.

New to daytime BBC1: GARDEN INVADERS, hosted by Mark Evans, in which contestants win steps of a garden makeover. 80s pop sensation turned 00s horticulturalist Kim Wilde turns up.

Still no DIRTY MONEY on Sky1 lunchtimes, but we do get TEMPTATION ISLAND II.

This week's LIAR is an actual, real live royal.

There is no JUDGEMENTAL or FAMILY FORTUNES on Wednesday, for obvious reasons. There is no regular COUNTDOWN on Monday, but a gold episode may air if the cricket has finished.

Challenge?'s weekend lineup highlights: 0700, 1500, 0135 Interceptor. Annabel and the screaming women. 0800, 1600, 1955, 0035 Crystal Maze. Richard tore his hair out at the uselessness of Saturday's team, who have now signed for the NY Mets. 1705, 2200 Play Along Defectors. Erm, er, um, ah. 1740 Strike It Rich. Where's the remote? 1815, 2300 Play Along Sport Addicts. Peter Jones can rest in peace. 1430, 2100, 2130 Family Fortunes. Guff. 1330, 2230 Bruce's Price Is Right. Two pounds and seventeen pence. 1030, 0315 Gladiators. Ulrika and Fash and men in tight lycra. 1130, 2335 Fort Boyard. Melinda's assets.

And finally, C4 breakfast show RI:SE begins its star search this week. Talentless nobodies will be slowly and gradually turned into stars, seen by almost 200,000 people. The cast of GMTV will be applying.

To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day (usually Saturday), receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers sign up to our Yahoo! Group.

Back to Weaver's Week Index

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in