Weaver's Week 2004-02-14

Weaver's Week Index

14 February 2004

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


If you're on the streets of Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Belfast, or London, do watch out. Endemol's Big Brother unit is in town, looking for unsuspecting people to appear on Big Brother 5: Pithy Description Here. They don't want audition tapes, so no two week fest of failed wannabes on E4 proving more exciting than the real thing this year.

GENIES EN HERBE (RTBF1, aired on TV5 0830 Sunday)

What would happen if one took First Class The Video Quiz out of the late 80s, removed the video games, and turned it into a National Schools Quiz? Or, to put it another way, what would happen if one took Top of the Form out of the 1950s, and turned it into a National Schools Quiz? The answer should include the words "fast" and "frantic," and should probably not include "stick it out at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning."

Genies en Herbe began life as an SRC production in Canada, and has been sped up for the Belgian version. Our hosts, for we have two, are Thomas Van Hamme and Corinne Boulangier. They take it in turns to ask questions of the teams during the show. M Van Hamme looks a little like Ray Cokes, though that could be this correspondent not quite seeing straight at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning. Mme Boulangier is certainly the spitting image of Kirsty Young, but acquits herself far better than her lookalike on The People Versus.

When shorn of commercials and sponsor's messages, there's just twenty minutes of quizzing in this show. It feels far too fast, even for young people's television. The rounds go something like this:

The snake: Each of two teams of four lines up behind a buzzer, only one person from each team can play. When the player gets their question right, they make their way to the main set, and score five points. The game ends when one team has all its players on set. The set is like the University Challenge set of 1986, with one team physically stacked above the other. The team's name is on the front of the desk, and a television monitor at the end of the row gives the score.

The dancing robot: A bit like the Spinning CD from First Class, a virtual reality robot stamps on a dancefloor, to reveal a famous face. The quicker one buzzes to say whose is that face, the more points one earns.

The music round: Eight clips of music play for each team, they then have 45 seconds to name as many singers or composers as possible.

The long stack of questions: Thomas and Corinne then reel off a long sequence of general knowledge questions. They may be linked by the previous answer appearing in the next question, like the general knowledge round on The Krypton Factor, but this column's French isn't quite good enough to confirm that. Especially at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning.

The faces: Each team sees ten faces, each appears on screen for exactly one second. They then have twenty seconds to name as many of those faces as possible.

The head to head: Each player goes head to head against their opposite number for one question on the buzzer.

The specialist subject: The teams pick one from a list of nine specialist subjects. They will face up to four questions, and can stake up to 100 points across all four questions. If they get the question correct, their total is increased by their stake; if it's a wrong answer, their total diminishes by that stake. For instance, a team might stake 20-20-30-30 points, or 40-20-40 and leave the last question. A team can stake all 100 points on the first question, this always makes for high drama.

The timed round: A series of questions on the buzzer, questions answered in the first 30 seconds are worth 10 points, in the next 30 seconds worth 15 points, and in the last 30 seconds a full 20 points.

And that's your quiz. A lot of quiz for twenty minutes, and it's carried out at such a clip the two hosts have their work cut out keeping up.

Why bring this quiz up now? We know that the BBC will shortly lose rights to The Simpsons, leaving a gaping hole in the schedules. At 25 minutes, this quiz is exactly the right length to fill that hole. It could air three times a week for 11 weeks, and form a foundation for the rest of the 6pm schedule.

TRAITOR (BBC2, 1800 weekdays)

This week's attempt to kick-start the 6pm slot is Traitor. Nine people gather in a studio; two are "traitors" and will lie their way to the money; seven are "civilians" who will tell the truth. If the civilians eliminate both traitors, the survivors split the money; should the number of civilians fall to the number of traitors remaining, the traitors have the money. Tony Livesey is the moderator, though he doesn't get his name in the opening credits.

The format of the show is a little odd: after each person introduces themself, the traitors are revealed to each other and on screen. This is done in silence, so it's possible for the viewer to play. Tony Livesey cadges along a discussion amongst the group. He asks questions of some group members; the civilians will talk about their real lives, while the traitors will lie and talk about lives they have made up. We don't know how long the traitors have had to prepare their fictions - there's clearly been some preparation, but whether it's one day, one week, one month, we're not told.

At any point during the deliberations, someone can stick up their hand, and accuse someone else of being a traitor. The accuser makes their point, the defence has its moment, then it goes to the vote. If there are more "traitor" votes than "civilian", then the person reveals their allegiance and leaves the game; if it's a tie, or the "civilian" wins, the accused remains in the game. The accuser doesn't leave, but has marked their card and will alter the way the rest of the panel perceives them.

At seemingly random points in the game, the surviving traitors get to eliminate an honest civilian. That person gets to make a short farewell speech, and leaves the game. This may be timed in the studio, or after a set number of votes. After the first such elimination, Tony Livesey offers a clue to the identity of the traitor.

The studio set is showy, generally in white, but with good use of red during elimination votes, and with back-projection screens changing all the time. It doesn't sound much, but does add a lot to the proceedings. There's music running through the game, it's mostly imperceptible, but if one notices it, it can get a bit grating. Certainly bad: the clips at the start of the show, showing what you're about to see. This is Spoiler ... Oh Who Cares.

Perhaps the best thing about Traitor is Tony Livesey's moderation: by turn sarcastic, probing, explanatory, but mostly he knows when to shut up. In this format, the host is not a player, and shutting up is often the best thing to do.

Make no mistake, Traitor is not a bad show. It's not over-original - the BBC may have invented the precise format, but it's a clear derivative of a party game with various names, all try to find the enemy within. Indeed, Traitor owes a lot to The Enemy Within, as it owes to another 2002 one-shot series Liar. There are elements of Without Prejudice? visible, huge chunks of last year's Double Cross, while the elimination sequences cry out for the simple "You're off the show" line from Shafted. They've even got the revolving camera in from La Cible, though it doesn't become the star of the show.

There is an argument to suggest that the party game behind Traitor has influenced most of the above shows. The Mole and The Enemy Within also have an informed minority hoping to outwit an uninformed majority, Liar and Shafted were also predicated on bluffing, Double Cross was simple psychology at its most simple. Stretching this analogy to breaking point, one can see open confrontation to impress the jury on Big Brother, while some of the voting on Survivor and Star Academy (not least James' and Peter's exits) was nakedly tactical.

However, the intensity of the show means it's not suitable for stripping in the 6pm slot. Indeed, it's not really possible for someone to join the show part- way through without losing a huge chunk of the plot, and that's very bad for a 6pm show. The intensity of the hunt also militates against airing the show every day in any slot. Perhaps airing the show once a week at 6:45, or in a late night slot (perhaps after Newsnight) would give it more room to breathe.

Ultimately, when we're sitting at the first episode, wondering where that bit came from, and where that bit came from, it looks like the show's onto a loser. Shame.


Second Round, Match 6: Jesus Cambridge -v- Bangor

Bangor squeaked past Hull 180-160, while Jesus overpowered Oriel Oxford 270-90, the second highest score in the opening phase.

The first bonus is a hideously long question that starts with a book, then veers sharply right to describe a company. Shortly afterwards, there's another long one, about Gandhi and the Untouchables; it doesn't make much sense on paper, and is hopeless when read out. Just get to the question already!

By the first picture round, the teams have combined for a hugely impressive 2/15 bonuses. The impression: this week's bonuses are back from the too long and complex pile, a bit like the quote from Mark Twain about German verbs. We needed a loud blast from Dr Ian Paisley to wake the question-setters, not "So your bonuses are on coconut products, Jesus." Go back to sleep, there's nothing to see here.

That presumes one can sleep through the audio round, this week on blues singers. Blues singers who are not John Lee Hooker, mind.

It's not a particularly strong week, but we still pass the 250 mark just ahead of the second picture round, on Celtic tribes; 300 passes with three minutes to play, but not before Jesus has been marked wrong for giving Euler's law in full, effectively recapping the question, rather than just the half that the setter required. Once more, evidence that Thumper cannot do science, otherwise he would have recognised what was going on.

Not that this matters, Jesus comes through in the second half of the show to win comfortably, 225-110. They haven't been as impressive as some, but should prove a strong challenge for any other side. Bangor made 9/21 bonuses and one missignal, with Peter Alexander buzzing for 56.5 points. This column claims a total of 240, 72% of the teams' total. Sam Urquhart led for Jesus with 92.8 points; the side made 16/45 bonuses with one missignal. It's the second show Jesus has faced 45 bonuses, last time making 24 correct answers; the team's two- show total of 495 is by far the highest of any quarter-finalist, Gonville &

Caius is second on 405.

Next: London Met -v- Durham
Later: St Edmunds Cambridge -v- Warwick


Dean O'Loughlin finished third in Big Brother 2001. Along with Nick Bateman, Liz Woodcock, and Jon Tickle, he's one of the very few BB contestants to go into the house with enough nous to think ahead of the producers. Speaking to the Independent last Saturday, Dean said: "It shocked me to find that it was very much a handicap to have any sort of intellect in there. It was actually frowned on to be clever or thoughtful or to know anything. There was a famous argument one day when I said I was pretty disgusted that only two people in the house knew who the first man to walk on the moon was. The strange thing for me was the backlash I got from the tabloid press. I was called a pseudo- intellectual because I knew who the first man to walk on the moon was. I thought, what kind of country are we living in here?"

The thoughtful criticism continued: "The people who run the show don't want conversations about existentialism, because they know it isn't going to go down well with the audience members who buy The Tab and just want to know the size of so-and-so's tits. Everything gets pared down to a ghastly common denominator. You really are penalised for having any kind of intellectual conversation or having any intelligent discussion."

Since appearing on BB2, Dean has invented a teabag dustbin. "Stuart [Hoskings, another contestant], who's a bit of a marketing whiz, is helping me to market it and sell it. It's doing very well. We've formed a company called Z-list Ltd, selling very innovative products. I spent most of the last two years at that."

Does the bronze medallist from three years ago have any advice for potential applicants? "Yes. It's really simple. Just don't."


Yes, it's Yet Another N-List Self-Promotion Tool. But this one's different! It's on Channel Five, the station where the squinting figures are high, the viewing figures are low, and Touch the Truck is still fondly remembered. Back to Reality features people who were famous for appearing in situation games, but now are not famous.

Who are these people? Rik Waller, Jade Goody, Ricardo Ribeiro, James Hewitt, Sarah Kozer, Nick Bateman, Craig Philips, Uri Geller, Josie D'Arby, Lizzy Bardsley, Catalina Guirado, Maureen Rees. Surprisingly, no one from TTT, nor from Survivor, nor even The Mole.

Who are these people? Who cares. Richard Bacon and Tess Daly host the twice- daily show, which already threatens to make 19 KEYS look like a rip-roaring success.


The five teams in the SCRAPPY RACES have made their own cars from scratch, then travel the country, making some tinkerings to their vehicles en route, and performing some strange tasks. For perfectly sound copyright reasons, the producers have resisted the temptation to give their teams Hanna Barberra-esque epithets, but that's not going to stop us!

From Devon, the Barley Pickers, driving the Barley Mower... from the water, the Boat Buoys, and their Semi Submersible... from the family, the Chaos Crew, on the Taximetaxiyou... from Oxford, the Green Goddesses, driving the Chipfat Hippiecat... and from motorbikes, the Megalomaniacs, with their Towering Tricycle.

Trouble unfolded en route to Pendyn Sands this week, as the Barley Mower didn't fit underneath the petrol station canopy, and the Chipfat Hippiecat had a gear problem, mainly caused by the flowers on the bodywork.

When they finally arrive, Rotten Rogers (and her sniggering sidekick Llewellyn) has set another of her fiendish traps. This time, it's a speed trap, and our scrappy racers have to modify their cars (boats, trikes, whatever) to go as quickly as they can. The objective is to go along the track as quickly as possible, and not to blow up their engine during testing.

Can anyone top 200mph? That would be a spoiler.

Next week: the 24 Hour Quiz begins on ITV and ITV2 from 1430 till late, more Mind Games on BBC4, and Millionaire has another Valentine's special. And if you're suffering from IBES withdrawal already, the one and (thankfully) only US series repeats on Challenge.

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