Weaver's Week 2004-01-10

Weaver's Week Index

10 January 2004

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


"I'm not too sure it's worth losing sleep over!" - Nick Gates

SHATTERED (Endemol for C4 and E4, all week)

Last year, Endemol seemed to take over E4 daytime forever. If it wasn't live streaming from the Big Brother complex in the UK, it was live streaming from the Big Brother complex in the US, or footage from contestant submissions for BB. For the remaining seven months of the year, E4 ran The Salon, in which a revolving cast of wannabes performed beauty treatments on equally unfamiliar "celebrities."

This year, the Endemol takeover of E4 daytime continues. Tomorrow, the 73rd tedious week of The Salon begins. Until then, we have six days of people fighting to stay awake, even when visited by people from Endemol's other continuous show.

The concept of Shattered is simple. Put people in a house, give them things to do, and don't let them fall asleep. The jackpot of £100,000 is reduced whenever someone catches some zeebs. Or mentions that BBC3 ran a similar documentary towards the end of last year.

The game lasts seven and a half days, and even though live streaming didn't begin until late Sunday evening, the pace had already been kept up. The ten contestants had, amongst other things, been given a lecture about triangles, peeled potatoes, counted peas, been put through their physical jerks, and watched videos.

The premiere on Sunday explained what the lack of sleep could do to the human body, and featured Dermot O'Leary going round the Shattered lab (it's not a house, it's a lab) making sure everything was ship-shape and Bristol fashion, while Dermot O'Leary provided the voiceover. The effect was mildly comical, and vaguely reminiscent of some of the explanatory skits on Scrapheap Challenge. Could they have brought in Robert Llewellyn for added science gravitas? Probably not, as that would stop the show being C4's aspirational fare and made it properly educational.

Sunday's show also featured the host staying awake for 50 hours. At the end of this self-inflicted ordeal, Dermot O'Bleary thought just how hellish it would be to stay awake for the whole week. (That was the big bad pun for which the whole show was a setup. Did you like it?)

Each day, the lab rats are tested on their co-ordination and spatial awareness and concentration and other skills that deteriorate as one doesn't sleep. The worst performers go into the Elimination Room, and perform a quick task to determine who loses. The format of the show means that, from beginning to end, the elimination process cannot take much more than 15 minutes. The format of the tests puts the day's worst performers up for elimination, so someone who manages a gradual decline won't be up, while someone who performs well on the opening days but takes a large decline one day will be up.

Host Dermot O'Leary lives with the bleary-eyed housemates, in a room the far side of the elimination room. This could have been an interesting gimmick, but very little was made of it beyond a daily O'Leary Versus The Weary challenge to regain a grand for the kitty.

Had the minimum of one contestant left each night, there would have been four standing after Friday's show. Alternatively, had the Ethics committee pulled everyone out, C4 could have been looking at a hole the size of Big Brother's ratings in their Saturday night schedule. On Saturday, the remaining contestants (assuming there are at least two, and that's looking a given at the time of writing) will compete for the prize. This started out at £100,000, but shrunk every time someone took a sleep or otherwise closed their eyes for ten seconds or more. Instantly, tactics could come into play - so long as one keeps one's eyes closed, it's perfectly legal to catch a whole night's sleep within the game, and only lose the group one thousand pounds. To prevent this, a very loud buzzer sounded after about 20 seconds of sleep, enough to wake anyone up. As of Friday's show, the jackpot was still at a mind-boggling £97,000.

The whole enterprise reminded some of Dale Winton's TOUCH THE TRUCK from March 2001. In that Channel 5 situation game, twenty people tried to keep their hands on a jeep so that they could win it and sell it and start their own political party or something. That show came from a shopping centre in Essex, for no adequately explored reason other than it was local for most of the contestants, and featured contestants catching their zeebs in shop doorways. The last two remained in station for five days before one of them got so annoyed with Dale Winton's rubbish puns that they lashed out. Or was that the other viewer?

Anyway, TTT allowed and encouraged its contestants to sleep during the fifteen minute breaks every six hours. Oddly enough, Shattered allowed and encouraged its contestants to sleep for two hours each day. Even more oddly, C4 / Endemol kept remarkably quiet about this regulation until people saw it on the live streaming. Host Dermot O'Leary said that the contestants had been "sleep- deprived," rather than that they "hadn't slept." Careful choice of words there.

Shattered had one new development, an Ethics Panel. The group consisted of a sleep researcher, a psychologist, a safety expert, and a medical expert - slash - lawyer. Their recommendations included a complete ban on alcohol, plenty of humidifiers on set, unrestricted access to bottled water, and round-the-clock cover by medical specialists fully briefed on sleep depravation. They also insisted on an independent advocate for the contestants, as the players may not be able to argue their corner in a cogent manner. Plans to allocate punishments to the players were vetoed by the panel, as this would not be obvious and may lead to confusion. Similarly, Endemol's plans to use mild electric shocks on the doors in Monday's memory test would not only cause fear and unnecessary suffering amongst the players, but might give the audience false ideas. Such as the idea that Jimmy Carr's Distraction was worth watching.

One contestant left the house of her own volition on Tuesday, before another was eliminated when Dermot recreated the Two Ronnies' famous Mastermind sketch in a quiz that tested short term memory and general knowledge. It appears that the contestant weakest on knowledge lost out.

Wednesday's elimination challenge was the return of the Tosser's Challenge. Contestants were invited to gamble on the toss of a coin, and the highest score won. In the event, both contestants tied, and the decision had to be taken on who had deteriorated the more in that day's scientific tests. A bit dull, all told.

Thursday saw the show relentlessly climb from good television to A Proper Spectacle. One contestant watched paint dry, others saw a video of people yawning, and all five were entertained by a mime artist. For one player, this all became far too much like an episode of The Surrealist Link, and The Ethics Panel recommended that the daily nap be brought forward a little to give him chance to recover.

That night's elimination asked the players to give as many words as they could beginning with a certain letter. Decently easy, you might think, but try performing any feats of mental agility after a night on the tiles and you'll know how tricky this is.

Friday saw someone watch a video of people dressed as sheep jumping over a stick, the contestants briefed on proper etiquette, and some blisteringly accurate estimations of time. The contestants managed to time 53 and 67 seconds to within a few tenths of a second, a feat most of us couldn't do when fully awake.

The Ethics Panel has insisted that each contestant receive after-care for as long as they need. This column wishes all contestants well.


Second Round, Match 1: Sussex -v- Magdalen Oxford

Both of these colleges have won the UC title twice, and with every double- winning institution (apart from The Open University) invited back this year, two of them have to clash sooner or later. Magdalen was singularly unimpressive when beating Nottingham, and missignals will cost the team. Sussex impressed, in spite of their narrow victory over Wolfson Cambridge.

Interruption of the week:

Q: The Mississippi Bird's Foot, the Nile ...
Boyne, Sussex: Delta.

Sussex's reward for this feat is three questions on language from Papua New Guinea. Magdalen gets modern history. They have a modern historian on their team, so that's jolly useful.

Magdalen looks to be running away with it, leading 60-10 going into the first picture round, but Sussex pulls it back to 55-50. The one maths specialist is on the Magdalen team, and he gets a first year geometry question. The side doesn't know about a man who invented "witty" new bingo calls to get himself into the papers one quiet day. No one can blame Magdalen for not knowing this, but we can look askance at the question setters for asking about such trash.

Magdalen's back ahead, 105-60, after the audio round, and there are less than 9 minutes until the next show starts. Magdalen's interminable pauses when answering the bonuses are enough to send anyone to sleep, the team spends almost five minutes conferring this week alone. Sussex gets Derek Jarman films from stills (even though the "still" from "Blue" was an obvious touch-up), and suddenly are in the running, 115 all.

Magdalen makes a missignal, gets the starter, and three questions on historic walls. Sussex confuses Ross and Hay on Wye, and it's all over when McClements declaims "Banshee." The Oxford side has successfully run down the clock to stop their opponents from answering questions, and made a 165-130 win. This column is still unconvinced by the Magdalen team, which seems to owe more to luck than quality.

Magdalen was led from the front by Freya McClements, her 51.9 included both missignals as the side made 15/30 bonuses. David Boyne capitalised on his buzzing skills, scoring 49.6, the side had 10/27 bonuses and two missignals.

Next: Queen's Belfast -v- Bangor


Endemol's next idea has a certain familiarity. Peter Bazalgette says he's talking with UK broadcasters about a show that will select a truly populist political candidate. The idea has already been tried in Argentina, where The People's Candidate runs in the forthcoming Congressional elections.

This week, news came through that the US's Elections Commission has said that the proposed WHO WANTS TO BE A CANDIDATE format would not violate that country's laws. The show has therefore been picked up by premium cable channel Showtime. Robert Greenblatt is head of entertainment at the channel: "This show is designed to find the ideal candidate from out of obscurity. In the hands of these extraordinary producers, I think it will have amazing relevance to our country in a presidential election year - and who knows, maybe our winner will actually decide to enter the race."

WWTBAC (working title only) will debut with twelve contestants, reports Digital Spy. Over ten weeks, the contestants will face a series of challenges designed to test their presidential mettle and to show viewers what really goes on in the making of a presidential candidate. Audience participation and polling will vote off contestants until the final show, when the two remaining contestants face off directly. The winner will then meet representatives of the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, Nationalist, and Children's Birthday Parties.

Robert Kilroy-Silk hosted four episodes of SHAFTED on ITV in 2001 before the show was taken off air. Yesterday, the former MP and former quiz show host's career took a new twist, as he became a former daytime television host. The BBC has fired Kilroy-Shaft after allegedly racist comments in a national publication last April, and reprinted weekend. His show will be replaced by an extended version of Breakfast. Now, what was the catchphrase from Shafted? "You're off the show!"

This weeks Haven't We Suffered Enough file contains an article by chess player and Millionaire contestant James Plaskett on the Ingram-Ingram-Whittock affair. http://www.portia.org/latest/major.html

Some major changes at Celebdaq TV, as the show will be coming off BBC3 next Friday. It'll be back in March, but without stars Patrick O'Connell and Libby Potter. The web game will continue as before.

Ralph Siegel watch: the German songmeister has a song into the Maltese final. The chances of the Eurovision Siegel Contest increase with every year.

Next week's Big Event is HERCULES on BBC3. If memory serves correctly, Paul Darrow was once Avon and/or Somerset in the sci-fi classic BLAKE'S SEVEN. Twenty years on, the darkly menacing captain hosts a contest in which twelve men perform feats of incredible athletic endurance over twelve consecutive days. That's nightly on BBC3 at 8pm and midnight 30 from Monday.

The New Series is DIDN'T THEY DO WELL! on BBC1. Bruce Forsyth (for it is he) hosts a test of general knowledge loosely based on classic TV moments. The description makes the series sound a bit like Today's the Day crossed with The Waiting Game. We'll see at 7pm Thursday.

Next week's Week will probably be reviewing Beat the Nation, with Hercules and Didn't They Do Well! following later in the month.

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