Weaver's Week 2004-05-15

Weaver's Week Index

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

This week, the UKGameshows mailing list has exposed a little lie.

In Isolation

On Tuesday of last week, the teletext service Teletext ran an appeal for contestants to get themselves ill live on national television. The advert finally made its way to the UKGameshows.com list on Friday lunchtime.

"WANT TO WIN £100,000? Could you be a guinea pig in our virology lab? Not worried about looking and feeling your worst on live TV? We're looking for charismatic, extrovert and healthy men and women aged 18 -35 for a major new reality show called QUARANTINE.
Contestants will spend a week in our lab exposed to infectious diseases, monitored on live TV 24/7. Think you can stay the healthiest, longest? Ready to face the pain to find the fame? Don't mind the nation seeing you at your lowest ebb? If you want to become a star in a week (and rich too) then we want to hear from you now!
There are only a few days left to get your entries in, so don't waste any time. Please send us the answers to the following questions, plus photos of yourself which reflect your personality to mentior@m... or by post to: Mentior UK, [rest of address deleted]
  • Your details, age and occupation.
  • How would you decribe [sic] your state of health?
  • Would you describe yourself as physically and mentally strong?
  • Have you ever appeared on TV before? If so, where?
  • What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
  • Do you have any unusual talents or interests?
  • Anything else about you that you want us to know?"

In retrospect, one thought should have struck instantly: by asking for female contestants, the show was clearly going to be very safe indeed, with little more than the common cold to risk. Anything strong would risk damaging a potential foetus or future pregnancy, and that would bring in Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne faster than we could sneeze.

On closer analysis, we noticed that there was no mention of the commissioning channel. Usually, game show appeals say "You could appear on Channel 4 (or BBC2, or ITV, or whatever)." And, er, who are these Mentior people? Why are they launching themselves with a six-figure prize? The last people to do that were hoaxers.

Thomas Scott, a regular contributor to the UKGS mailing list, had his antennae twitching and the smell of Nikita Russian in his nose.

"Hold it. Does this 'Mentior UK' production company not have its own domain name? Why are they using the domain of Matt Roper, investigative journalist and regular writer for the Daily Mirror? (source: http://www.mattroper.com/ )
"Come to think of it, why does Companies House have no record of any business called Mentior, UK or otherwise? Why does a Google search for "Mentior", "Mentior TV" or "Mentior UK" turn up nothing?
"This sounds like a rather large amount of rubbish.
"It just so happens that a quick search on Matt Roper's domain name reveals it's registered to him at an address in Pleasley - a village not five miles away from my home. And a quick search on Directory Enquiries reveals the phone number for said address.
"I just got to speak with to Matt Roper at the Daily Mirror. Apparently, he shouldn't really be talking about this while at the Mirror, since it's a freelance project, but I did get quite a bit of information from him. I'm still not entirely convinced - his explanation was somewhat hesitant, although that may be because he wasn't expecting someone to actually call up at his place of work and ask him about it.
"Explanation for the fact that Mentior TV, in my words, "doesn't seem to exist": Mentior TV is - apparently - a new project, created by several people from London newspapers and the same university as Mr. Roper. The project hasn't got around to being an actual company yet, nor has it got a web site.
"Apparently, they're looking for a show "that will catch people's attention." I said I wasn't the show was real, and that it seemed along the same vein as last year's Lapdance Island - or possibly a sting for the Daily Mirror to show just how far people would go to be on TV. He assured me that it was real, although no television channel has actually agreed to show it yet. According to Mr. Roper, they've already had around a hundred applicants."

And then, on Tuesday, a national newspaper listed over one hundred people who wanted to appear on the show. Curiously, it was the Daily Mirror. The same Mirror that Matt Roper writes for. And by an amazing coincidence, the piece was written by one Matt Roper.

"We set out to discover just how far people will go in their pursuit of fame. OK, in this day and age we all know that many folk are desperate for recognition but, surely, no one would risk their own health to such an extent just to get on the telly. How wrong we were..."

Has it become acceptable to see people catch a life-threatening disease live on national television? Of course not. Television regulator OFCOM would come down on that like a ton of bricks. Just think back four months to how many safeguards the makers of Shattered put in place to ensure their contestants' welfare. Anyone who wasn't equally scrupulous would be slammed by all critics - regulatory and amateur - and would never work in television again. Maybe that safety net is misplaced, but it's certainly there, and no-one will do anything to diminish it.

Has it become acceptable to print long articles saying "Ha! Look at us! We managed to persuade almost 100 people to send an email explaining why they want to appear on network television. Aren't they saddoes? Aren't we press barons so superior, we can use our network of contacts to splash ourselves all over the media, and no one (well, no one worth mentioning) notices the fraud?" Evidently so.

The piece continues:

"But reality show expert Dolan Cummings believes the deluge of applicants for our fake show shouldn't surprise us. For many, the lure of fame is irresistible - whatever the price.
'Even without the prize money, these people would still have applied,' he says.
'Reality show culture celebrates degradation and has actually made people think it's a valuable thing to reveal everything on TV.
'These people are setting their sights on a big break, thinking it would be their short-cut to fame. But it's the kind of fame that doesn't last and which the public don't respect.
'They would just be famous as the person who caught leprosy, developed an unsightly rash, had dysentery or whatever. And who wants to be remembered for that?'"

Dolan Cummings isn't a name that springs to mind for anything. He's the author of "Reality TV: How Real Is Real?" claims the Mirror; the Amazon listing for the book gives Mr Cummings as the editor, a whole other kettle of fish. He writes a weekly television column for the avowedly political (but non-partisan) Spiked Online, and has contributed to the allied Institute of Ideas. To the best of our research, he's not a psychiatrist, and is in no position to speculate as to the motives of the applicants. Nor is he in a better position than anyone else to say whether the public respect people who rise to fame on situation game shows: the names Craig BB1, Brian Dowling, Will Young, Alex Parks (indeed, just about everyone from both series of Star Academy) spring quickly to mind. We note, in passing, that Mr Cummings returns only twice as many Google hits as this columnist.

The conclusion of this whole affair? Teletext ran a brief correction, Mirror editor Piers Morgan was fired last night, but that had nothing to do with our investigation. But let's tootle our own trumpet. You hear the news first on the UKGameshows mailing list.

Special thanks to Thomas Scott for permission to reproduce his emails.

The Eurovision Song Contest Semi-Final (BBC3, 2000 Wednesday)

We're fast running out of space, so it's just one line for each song.

FINLAND Jari Sillanpaa - Takes 2 To Tango.
Two tango behind, the song washes right over Europe.

BELARUS Alexandra and Konstantin - My Galileo.
Quirky hippies yodel through lucky draw. See them on Saturday.

SWITZERLAND Piero Esteriore and the Music Stars - Celebrate!
Formula Europop, enlivened by the singer clonking the mike on his chin.

LATVIA Fomins and Kleins - Dziesma Par Laimi (A Song About Happiness).
The fourth best ever Latvian entry (first in Latvian) has winner all over it.

ISRAEL David D'Or - To Believe.
The backing track is too loud. This is a good thing right now.

ANDORRA Marta Roure - Jugarem A Estimar-Nos (We'll Be Playing At Loving Each Other).
Competent, not immediate enough to be a winner. We'll be humming it next year.

PORTUGAL Sofia - Foi Magia (Like Magic).
Video screens in the stage are so last year; spot the Swedes. The song? Foi off.

Come in Paddy, we can't hear you! Talk over the Swiss cheese, please!

MALTA Julie and Ludwig - On Again... Off Again.
Silly lyrics and opera singers. It's the Tooth Fairy and Dr Death again!

MONACO Maryon - Notre Planete (Our Planet).
Twenty five years preparing The Walking Christmas Tree entry.

GREECE Sakis Rouvas - Shake It.
Threatens to burst into Sertab's "Every Way" any moment. This is the fave?

UKRAINE Ruslana - Wild Dances.
"Women in leather and men cracking whips." It's like a musical version of Xena.

LITHUANIA Linas and Simona - What's Happened To Your Love?
Good song overshadowed by spectacular performances just before. Again.

ALBANIA Anjeza Shahini - The Image Of You.
Is 11th in the semi-final a better result than last in the final?

CYPRUS Lisa Andreas - Stronger Every Minute.
They turned down a Peter Andre song. That was a wise move.

MACEDONIA Tose Proeski - Life.
The one with the chair dancing and the bloke in the white coat.

SLOVENIA Platin - Stay Forever.
The plastacine flowers are back! Sweet, but perhaps too schmaltzy.

ESTONIA Neiokösö - Tii.
Sanomi and Secret Garden and five innocent maidens and a devil drummer.

CROATIA Ivan Mikulic - You Are The Only One.
"Ivan - a tenor - can sing through two and a half octaves." And the backing Jemini!

DENMARK Tomas Thordarson - Shame On You.
Sting lookalike reminds us of any number of previous entries. But which?!

SERBIA-MONTENEGRO Zeljko Joksimovic - Lane Moje (Oh My Fawn).
Is this "welcome" or "welcome back"? Intensely folksy stuff.

Camper than a Dale Winton convention, quite frankly.

NETHERLANDS Re-Union - Without You.
Fab and Paul are the band: fab song, appalling draw.

"09015 2222, followed by the two tiny numbers, if you've got binoculars. Or SMS SONG xx to 61166."

We saw some whirling dervishes before the contest proper, then one of the best drum and dance and blokes whirling drums around in their teeth acts to grace the Eurovision stage in the last few years. Then a few words from some Eurovision old boys, where puppets and some of the members of ABBA appear (and Rik Mayall, and Cher) in a pre-recorded insert. Ooh, they'll be talking about this for months.

We had hoped to rib Irish Telecom about the new voting structure, where all the telephone and SMS votes are magically transported to the voting HQ in Germany. However, they managed to make a minor cockup, with the system in Monaco crashing completely and delivering a random result, while Croatia awarded 4 points to herself.

The running order for Saturday:
Spain, Austria, Norway, France, *Serbia & Montenegro. *Malta (that could be good), *Netherlands, Spain, Albania, *Ukraine (very good) *Croatia, *Bosnia Herzegovina (could be better, just before the commercials), Belgium, Russia, *Macedonia. *Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Poland, UK. (The winner will probably come from this five.) *Cyprus, Turkey, Romania, Sweden.

No space for Belarus, Latvia or Estonia, which does surprise; and the married-tomorrow couple from Slovenia aren't going to interrupt their honeymoon. If a song took a top three place in 30 voting nations, it's going to get something like 300 points. Four songs (Ukraine, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Malta) seem to have come through at a canter, and it wouldn't surprise to find that they total something over 1000 points, with the remaining seven splitting 900 points.

By this analysis, eighths and ninths across the board - or strong regional voting - would suffice to see a song through. Estonia and Israel can only have missed by a sneeze, and the local vote explains the preponderance of Balkans at the expense of the Baltic. Still, it means Terry won't be going anywhere cold ... or will he?

Last year, the UK failed to score in the top ten of 25 countries, 25 times. If the points were awarded completely at random, this would happen three times in a million (106). This year, Switzerland missed the top ten of 22 from 11 countries, and the top ten of 21 from a further 21. If the points went at random, that would happen twice in a milliard (109).

In short, Switzerland's entry was over a thousand times worse than Jemini!

For tonight, we reckon that an average of just over 2 points per country will suffice to give direct qualification for next year. So 70 points will put a song in contention, and 80 should be enough.

This Week And Next

Such is the pace of events that The Vault Watch has had to be held over for a week.

Dale Winton's In The Right Place At The Right Time gave away a joint record £90,000 from a potential prize of £100,000. Chris Hollis answered eleven questions in a row, and put no less than 70 grand into the fund. Thanks to the mechanics of the show, he left the studio with £45,000.

Later, Have a Go finished its series with a prize just over £40,000. The jackpot has grown every week, except for the bank holiday on May 1, and it's never had to be topped up to the minimum £30,000 by the BBC. Ever-alert UKGameshows.com mailing list subscriber Travis Penery remembered where we'd seen the winning team before. Mark Kerr and Diane Hallagan had both won £250,000 on Millionaire, and the number of people in the room exploded to around a dozen following the win.

Curiously, two weeks earlier, this column heard from a friend that someone was sending SMS messages trying to recruit players. While dismissing it as probably a wrong number, we thought: "A less likely explanation is that some group of people is trying to recruit intelligent and trivia-laden people for a massive team that will get them through part 1, and the tie-break, and slim down to four for the latter stages." Could these events be connected?

It's Game Show Night on BBC1: Eurovision Weakest Link, Come Prancing, Innit, Eurovision. On BBC2, Carol Vorderman on Have I Got Countdown For You. Not on Thursday and Friday, coz there's cricket on.

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