Weaver's Week 2004-12-04

Weaver's Week Index

4 December 2004

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

Terry Wogan has started writing a weekly column for a national newspaper. His first effort posed the question: which one's Ant and which is Dec? It's really very simple, Tegs. Ant is the one who answered the questions on Challenge Ant, Dec just sat there and cheered.


Scrapheap Challenge

(RDF for Channel 4, 1830 Sunday)

The latest series of Channel 4's long-standing construction and bodging game show finished a couple of weeks ago. After thirteen weeks, we can begin to draw out a few conclusions.

In the past, there was the occasional completely mechanical device, such as the Car Flinger from the 2002 grand final. This year, all thirteen builds required an engine's power, which led to all the shows feeling a bit samey. It became a case of "Here's an engine, what can we do with it this week?"

It's beginning to feel as if Scrapheap is running out of ideas. For every entertaining idea - and the Flame Throwers and Spy Cars challenges were particularly fun to watch - there was something a bit dull. The Dune Buggy challenge felt like something they've done in previous years, while the Car Rescue challenge surely was a repeat from an earlier series.

More than ever, this series of Scrapheap felt like a test of construction ability, and the nous of the experts, rather than the ingenuity shown by the actual teams. We've known for some time that equipment appropriate for the experts' plans is hidden somewhere around the heap, and all the teams have to do is find it, perhaps repair it, and use it well. Yet when the original plan is weak, teams generally don't have the option to rip it out and start again.

This year's experts either tended to converge to similar solutions, or gave two solutions with one clearly better than the other. Where both experts are proposing similar ideas, the contest is a simple test of construction. Where one team comes in with a weaker design, they'll have to rely on the opposition making a mistake. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the Grand Final, where three-times champion Catalysts got what they knew to be a poor design, but didn't have the time or equipment remaining to build a better model.

Scrapheap has always had an educational bent behind its weld 'em high appearance, and the mechanics of the constructions is still explained, and demonstrated in practice. For attempting to bring science to the masses, Scrapheap can be forgiven many faults.

Whether it can be forgiven the fault of not being particularly entertaining any more is another question, and we're not sure the answer is going to be in the positive. We hope for more entertainment and fewer engines next series.


Since we last looked at Richard and Carol's show, we've had champions Paul Soutar (1 win, 155pts, +40 to par), Rita Wilmott (5 wins, 529p, +73), Steven Moir (8 wins, 763p, +39), Mark Tournoff (8 wins, 809p, -61), Judith Armstrong (5 wins, 506p, +19), and Tim Charlton.

Though there are still three qualifying games to go, the quarter-final match-ups were confirmed by Judith's loss last Thursday. Tim can only notch up four wins and a defeat before Finals Week, which won't be enough to take him through, and undefeated contestants no longer have the option of coming into the first Finals Week for which they qualify, but must wait six months.

Of those who have not made the quarters, a word for Judith Armstrong, who only came in as a standby contestant after we had two consecutive octochamps, and finished just a handful of points adrift of finals week. She's ninth on the finals board. Roy Thearle, who looked like an octochamp before running into Paul Gallen, finishes tenth.

1st seed Paul Gallen -v- Rita Wilmott, 8th seed

Paul won eight games in September, and finished -37 to par. He was perhaps a little lucky that his games allowed him to run up the score, and finish fifteen points clear of Jack Welsby. No-one wins five games without being very good, but it's unlikely that Rita will deliver the upset next Thursday.

4th seed John Hunt -v- Steven Moir, 5th seed

Steven defeated Rita by a single point last month, in spite of Rita out-declaring him by two. After that, Steven made decently light work of all opposition. John was a champion in October, and had five excellent wins and a couple of slightly less impressive wins, albeit against less impressive opposition. John has matched his game to the occasion, Steven performs around his potential every time. This column reckons John is possibly ahead on points. We'll see this match on Tuesday the 14th, and the semi-final between the two winners the following day.

3rd seed Mark Tournoff -v- John Gray, 6th seed

Mark is a very strong player; his eight wins included seven scores better than par, and only an unfortunate run of letters stopped Mark from moving up to second. John won his eight games in September and October, and didn't seem to be stretched too much by his opposition. John is good, but Mark could go all the way when they play on Monday the 13th.

2nd seed Jack Welsby -v- David Thirwall, 7th seed

Jack also notched up seven better than par wins, and declared 100 points or more in all eight games. David's run started as far back as 8 June, finished on 1 July, and he may well be a little out of practice. He would have been just out of qualification for the last Finals Week. Jack has to be the favourite when the two play on Friday.

With three superb contestants, the semi-final between Mark Tournoff and Jack Welsby, which should air on Thursday the 16th, would be a classic. The winner should give Paul Gallen - or whoever comes through the top half - another outstanding game. There are five other players in the draw, and it would be foolish to write any of them off just yet.


Second phase, 6/6

Iain Copland was answering on Cole Porter, now it's Scottish Infantry Regiments Since 1900. It's a surprisingly large subject, and Iain finishes on 7 (3). No bonuses for a correct spelling of his name, sadly.

Frank Potter has moved from World War II to the History of the City of Liverpool. He knows his city well, and finishes on a respectable 12 (1).

Anna Statham had "Dance to the Music of Time," now it's the Life and Works of Orlandus Lassus. He worked in the later 16th century, and wrote psalms. This round seems to have very long questions, and finishes on 8 (3).

Shaun Wallace progresses from the European Champions' League to England Football Team at the European Championships, 1960-2003. And we thought that he had to pick distinct subjects. Still, can't argue with 14 (0).

Ian Copland is first up again, and one might presume that a rant against the proposed consolidation of the Scottish Regiments to Regiment was left on the cutting room floor. He finishes on 12 (5) and won't win.

Anna Statham says that Orlandus Lassus was quite the popular songwriter in his days. A bit of the Plastic Bertrand of the 1560s, perhaps. Again, this is a short trip to the Circles of Pass and Error, finishing on 15 (6).

Frank Potter confirms he was born in Liverpool, and confirms that all Liverpudlians know that their city is not the second most important in the empire. "Since 1880, that has been London." The joke is almost the highlight of the round, Frank finishes on 22 (6).

Shaun Wallace needs nine to win. He gets the question about one of John Reed's myriad Cabinet posts, and after a run of incorrect responses, it all comes down to the final question, about the age of horses in the Derby. Shaun gets it, finishes on 22 (0), and squeaks through to the final.

That final will be shown at 2100 on Sunday, and (slightly pointlessly) repeated at 2000 the following night. Which means that the next show won't air next week.

University Challenge

First round 12/14: Trinity Cambridge -v- Corpus Christi Oxford

Trinity won the first series of the revival, ten years ago. They were last with us in the 2002 series, beating Magdalen Oxford before losing a classic match to University London. Though Corpus Christi Cambridge have been regulars on the show, it's the first time the Oxford side have made the televised phase.

It's the second Oxbridge match of the year, Balliol downing Downing in match 5. Trinity ticks the boxes of an arts, a social science, and a scientist, and have the added bonus of Chris Cummins, winner of Countdown last December; CCO lack a fully-fledged scientist, or anyone who knows ZONULE like the back of their arm, but do have a mathematician.

Corpus Christi get off to the worst possible start, picking up a missignal on a question about Albert Einstein, only to see Trinity take the starter and all three bonuses. This sets the tone for the game, even more than Thumper's patronising praise. The first picture round is Name That Travel Destination (including the hot tourist trap of Luxembourg City,) and CCO has pulled back the deficit to 65-30. If there was any doubt, the speculative buzz is back this year, as this starter shows:

Q What name was given to knickerbockers popular with golfers in the 1920s, which had an extra four inches...

Nick Sharp of CCO wins the race to the buzzer, gets a set of bonuses on surnames and their counties, and is suddenly within striking distance. We have a better game than it looked we would five minutes ago. Indeed, it is in grave danger of becoming one-sided the other way - CCO have turned the game from 65-(-5) down to 135-60 up by the audio round - Name That Britpop Band's City.

150 points is enough to put anyone through, win or lose, and CCO passes that mark with ten minutes to play. The second picture round - Name That County Cricket Team From Their Emblem - comes very quickly, and CCO's lead has stretched to 180-70. Then we get the Swerve of the Week:

Q When the Shenzhou V spacecraft lifted off from the Gobi Desert in October 2003...
Stefano Mariani, Corpus Christi: China's first man in space.
(No, lose five.)
Q: ...Yang Liwei became the first Chinese astronaut. What term derives in part from the Chinese for space or cosmos, and has been popularly used for a Chinese astronaut?

Taikonaut is the answer no-one got, and no-one would have got from the first half of the question.

CCO were clearly not paying attention during Mastermind, otherwise they would have known that Fredericton is the capital city of New Brunswick, not Nova Scotia. Trinity stages something of a comeback, but it's surely too little too late, especially as CCO are just going to shout "Bottom!" at Thumper any time they get the chance. Trinity are coming back strongly, and the 120 point mark is just possible, but Trinity know not enough about the minutiae of the ratification of the Maastricht treaty, and finish on 110 points. Corpus Christi Oxford has 195 and the win.

CCO's top buzzer was Nick Sharp, on 73.3 points; Chris Cummins leads Trinity's charge with 55.2 points. Trinity made 10/21 bonuses and two missignals; Corpus Christi 15/39 with two missignals.

Two sides certain to be back for the repechage:

  1. Univ Oxford 150
  2. Jesus Cambridge 145
  3. Queen's Belfast 130
  4. (York, Portsmouth 120)

We pick up in two weeks with St Andrews and Manchester.

This Week And Next

Picking up on the European integration theme, Spanish Big Brother has set the contestants an entertainingly difficult task. They're to read the new European Constitution - a brief and gripping 350-page document - and explain it to someone who speaks no Spanish. Readers can insert their own jokes about the abilities of some of the UK contestants here, and their favourite jokes about game show host turned MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk here. And here. And, just for good measure, here, here, and anywhere else they like.

If paradise were half as nice ... Johnny Vaughan and Denise van Outen's Passport to Paradise will not be returning, after picking up indifferent reviews and viewing figures in the summer. Mr Vaughan will be back in the new series of Superstars next year, Ms van Outen will next be on our screens remembering The Sound Of Music.

Fans of songs from central Europe will be a little disappointed to hear that Czechia has pulled out of next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Meanwhile, we hear that Katrina Leskanich, the most recent winner for the UK, will be singing in the Swedish pre-selection next year. We don't think any previous champ has sung for another country, but someone will soon correct us.

Nancy Zerg Watch, part one. And so it came to pass that Ken Jennings was finally defeated. The 74-time Jeopardy! champ lost Tuesday's game, bringing his winnings to 2,522,700 US dollars. After taxes, and at the current exchange rate, that's around 920,000 pounds sterling. We also recall the success of Ian Lygo on 100%, who was retired undefeated after 75 successive wins. His prize: £7,500. For what it's worth, Ms Zerg lost the following day.

Not finding It's Tough at the Top: Ross King, who lost the viewer's vote by a 55-45 margin, but the judges liked him, and he won a job presenting the weather on a television station in Los Angeles. His catchphrase? The Wetter The Better.

Next week: the finals of Hard Spell and Mastermind come on tomorrow night, at 2000 on BBC1 and 2100 on BBC2, respectively. There's also an all-time best of Scrapheap at 1830 on C4. Time Commanders comes to UK History 2000 weeknights, and C4 has Lost For Words, a documentary on Scrabble at 0035 Thursday morning. ISIHAC and X Marks the Spot return to Radio 4, and Krypton Factor's back on Challenge, which also grows a +1 channel for satellite viewers next week.

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