Weaver's Week 2004-12-18

Weaver's Week Index

18 December 2004

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

Two weeks ago, we predicted a titanic match in the Countdown semi-final. Were we right?



(Yorkshire for Channel 4, 1515 weekdays)

Just to wrap up the List of Champions: Tim Charlton had just the one win, totalling 193 pts, but finishing +3 to Par indicates he was very unlucky not to go further. Ben Tamplin defeated him en route to two wins, 274 points, and -11 to Par; he could easily have made June's Finals Week. The carry-over champ into the next series will be Fred Reynolds, who has two wins, 172 points, and is +12 to Par.

For those who haven't been following the Countdown coverage for the past six months, Par is a metric determined by summing the second longest word in common usage that we can find from each letters round, the points this columnist gets from the numbers games, and a flat 4 points from the conundrum. The contestants' declarations (whether they score or not) are deducted from this figure, so a very strong contestant will end up with a negative Par score. The theory we're testing is that Par is a more sensitive predictor of performance than show scores.

QF1: Rita Wilmott (8th seed, 5 wins, 529 points, +73 to par) -v- Paul Gallen (1st, 8w, 846p, -37)

Rita had five wins in late October and early November, and was only beaten by Steven Moir, who we'll see later. She's a landlady from Humberside. Paul is a student at Queens' Belfast, and notched up his eight wins in early September. Richard has a clock on his desk, which seems to be running at about 100 minutes an hour. Rita declares she's BONKERS in the opening round, setting the tone for the game. Neither contestant scores in the third round, but Paul takes the lead with CORONET in the fourth. Paul extends his lead with TRANSOMED in the eighth, again when Rita misdeclares in the ninth, and the game's pretty much up after that. Rita is good, but Paul is that little bit better when it counts. Some Vord-proof numbers games help depress Par to 95, and Paul's winning score is 92-61 - he's won the declaration battle 92-74.

QF2: David Thirwall (7th, 8w, 704p, +61) -v- Jack Welsby (2nd, 8w, 831p, -55)

David became the series' first octochamp back in July, Jack notched up his eight later in the month. David's a VAT inspector from Reading, Jack a television subtitler from Nottingham. Rick Wakeman would look great in DC if only he'd had a shave. David risks "corgies" in the first round, but it's not a valid word, and he's trailing to Jack already. Jack stretches his lead to 14 with the colourful NEUTRALS in the third. The second period begins with Carol gifting a five, the selection begins C-H-E-A-T. Later in the round, Richard asks "What is a WATCHER?" Susie replies laconically, "someone who watches." "And what is EROTICA?" he asks, before Susie fires a glare back. So fierce is Susie's glare that the clock - an extra present for quarterfinalists - stops at 3:27. Jack's MAGPIES is a winner in the seventh, his lead is 21. It's 28 after the eighth, thanks to DOLIENS. MATURED is another winner in the ninth, after which the game rather goes to sleep until the final numbers round, when Jack briefly claims (9+1)*10=90. Par for the game is 95, hurt by an impossible numbers game. Jack wins 93-58, and the battle of declarations 93-83.

QF3: John Gray (6th, 8w, 757p, +25) -v- Mark Tournoff (3rd, 8w, 809p, -61)

John's a Customs officer from Dover, and won his eight in September. Mark is a part-time novelist and part-time post office person from Hove; he was the last octochamp of the series a month ago, and has the single best score to par, helped by 7/8 conundrums. Richard Digance does the duties in Dictionary Dell for the last five episodes, and he's brought the tinsel and purple trees with him. Straight away, Mark stamps his authority over the show with LOFTINESS and an eighteen point lead. MILKIER in the third invites Digance to ask "Is that an udder pun" and Mark's lead is 25. That's how it stays until the eighth, past Susie Dent saying PEDANTS, until Mark shows he is WILIER than his opponent.

After Mark gets the second numbers, we're into exhibition territory, so both contestants get EMIGRATED in the eleventh, and Mark his century with four rounds to go. EXORDIA and STAGERS are further winning words, and after getting the conundrum, Mark's final winning score is the highest of the series, a colossal 138-73. Only Julian Fell's stonking 146 in the semi-final two years ago beats Mark. Par for the game was 107, and thanks to the niner, Mark has finished -31. John declared for 110, and we're now looking forward to the semi against Jack Welsby.

QF4: John Hunt (4th, 8w, 778p, +7) -v- Steven Moir (5th, 8w, 763p, +39)

Steven comes from Edinburgh, where he's a highway maintenance engineer; his eight came in November. John comes from the bit of Colchester that's in Suffolk, is the only retired octochamp this year, winning his eight late in October. Steven offers "Scrooges" in the opening round, but it's capitalised in the NODE, and John has a 6-0 lead. Steven pulls back with the winner INCLINE in the next round, and retains the one point lead until John has UNDERLIP in the sixth. Steven stares hard at the difficult second numbers games, but returns nothing; John has it spot on, and extends his lead to 23 with MANSES in the eleventh. Steven comes back in the next round with DETAINED, only to fall back again with the disallowed "harmer" in the last letters. Steven cannot win, but gets the conundrum. John wins 85-67. Par for the game was 97, and Steven won the declarations battle 92-91.

SF1: John Hunt (4th, 9w, 863p, +13) -v- Paul Gallen (1st, 9w, 938p, -34)

Richard Whiteley makes a big deal about how we have the youngest and oldest people left in the tournament here today. Paul LOCATES a winner in the opening round, proves SWEATIER in the second, but "Tommies" is disallowed in the third. Paul wins again with PALINODES, a poem where the writer retracts a previous opinion. Even the numbers game doesn't come to John's aid, and he goes into the first break 40 down. After another disallowed word, John finally gets off the mark in the seventh round, only to fall further behind with SPRAINED in the ninth. TALONED is Paul's last winner, in the eleventh round. Paul wins by a knockout, 108-47. Par for the game is 101, Paul declared for 108, John for a respectable 71.

SF2: Jack Welsby (2nd, 9w, 924p, -53) -v- Mark Tournoff (3rd, 9w, 947p, -92)

Thanks to Mark's superlative performance on Monday, he's now become the top points scorer after nine matches, and is 39 clear in terms of par. Mark is wearing a dark red shirt that goes wonderfully with the pinks and purples of the set, Jack is in black, and also looks very good. Richard W's tie and Richard D's shirt are the same icky shade of green. Round two is our hidden dot of the day, containing both LEOPARD and POLKAED. The first period deadlock is broken by Jack's winner LIBRATES in the fourth, a word to do with the movement of the moon. Mark pulls back with the surprise winner PEANUT in the sixth, and then offers VERONICAS in the seventh. It's a herbaceous plant with blue or purple flowers, and counts for eighteen points. Mark leads by 24 after another winner MINTIEST.

But this game isn't in exhibition territory just yet. Jack cuts back with PALMATE, and a superlative numbers game. The gap's seven points going into the final period, and it closes to nothing with Jack's DEBITED. Three rounds ago, Mark led by 24, now it's down to nothing. Round twelve, they both score - this hasn't happened since the opening numbers game. Jack tries "Atoner," it's not there, and Mark scores with OFTEN to go five up. Mark picks four large numbers, but takes no advantage from his choice.

We have the first crucial conundrum in a long time. AMENUTREE. Five seconds pass. Ten seconds. Fifteen. Twenty. The ticking and the tension. Jack pulls back from his screen, he's defeated. Mark buzzes on 28 seconds to say ENUMERATE. When they count the great games of Countdown, this will be one of them. The winner, 88-73, Mark Tournoff. Par for the game was 92, Jack declared for 91, Mark was helped by his niner and declared for 112.

Final: Mark Tournoff (3rd, 10w, 1035p, -112) -v- Paul Gallen (1st, 10w, 1046p, -41)

Has yesterday's classic game sapped Mark's strength? It's certainly taken something out of Carol, she has some sparkly star earrings that do go with the decorations this year, but don't last more than a minute on her head. First blood goes to Paul with FIACRES, which he doesn't know is a horse-drawn carriage. Mark decides not to risk a winning eight, and falls further behind when Paul does offer MITOGENS, another word that Paul cannot define. Mark's perfect numbers game cuts the lead to 5 after the first period. Honours remain even during the second period, both players picking up a couple of points to par, and using some unusual ways of reaching the numbers target.

The deadlock has to be broken sooner or later. In the twelfth, Mark offers "internets." According to the ODE, it's still capitalised; we offer this column (which hasn't capitalised "internet" in its four year life) as a counter-citation. Susie doesn't have the chance to discuss if "internet" can take a plural. INTERESTS gives Paul a 13 point lead, but Paul's "miriad" is disallowed, allowing MIKADO, and Mark's deficit is 7. A distinctly possible numbers game is missed by both players, and we're down to a second crucial conundrum in as many days.

GREATDRIP. Paul buzzes on a second. He doesn't offer an answer - we later find that he thought it was DEPARTING. With the rest of the time to himself, Mark starts to write down the answer. Paul has his head in his hands, he knows the answer, but it's too late. Mark frowns, concentrates, then lets out a sudden grin and bangs the buzzer as if his life depended on it. Twenty-seven seconds in, Mark says PARTRIDGE. He's correct, and takes the win, 92-89. Par for the game, as if anyone cares, was 104: Mark declared for 105, Paul for 96.

So Mark Tournoff, a novelist from Hove, the number three seed and top to Par, has become the latest Countdown champion. Until we do it all again in the new year, that's time.

University Challenge

First round, match 13: St Andrews -v- Manchester

St Andrews is making its third appearance in four years, and defeated City, Queen's Belfast, and St Edmunds Cambridge en route to the semis last year. Manchester last enjoyed home advantage two years ago, when they beat Middlesex and gave Cranfield a very good match. St Andrews becomes the third side from an Old Scottish University to appear this year, there is no representative from Wales at all. It's surely coincidence that St Andrews appeared in match 13 last year as well. St Andrews has a decently balanced side; Manchester lacks a social scientist, but does have Nick Mills, a finalist in this year's Brain Of Britain contest.

It's a good standard into the first picture round, Name That Scout Activity Badge, and Manchester's lead is 45-25. Thumper takes a pop at typical student accommodation when mentioning "How Clean Is Your House?" forgetting that students have long enough to keep their houses cleaner and more spotless than most working people.

Fairly quickly, this turns into the Nick Mills show - he answers six of the first eight starters correctly, and helps Manchester to a 145-25 lead by the audio round, Name That Madonna Movie, helped by Thumper accepting "Who's That Girl" as both song title and motion picture, when the team had declined to offer anything.

Quite frankly, though, this isn't going to change anything on the show. Manchester is gunning for the highest total of the series - Univ London's 260 - and St Andrews will be hoping to score more than the 40 against Churchill Cambridge three years ago. The latter cause isn't helped by St Andrew's suggestion that the Act of Union occurred during the reign of Elizabeth I. The second picture round is a Name That Fruit From The Thing It Inspired, after which St Andrews has pulled to within 225-35.

St Andrews finally pass their previous level of ignominy with four minutes to play, and Manchester's next set of bonuses takes them to the highest score of the series. However, St Andrews picks up a missignal when they confuse post-natal depression with syphilis. They're not going to get the chance to do any better, the final score being St Andrews 40, Manchester 315. The aggregate is the third highest of the year.

For the record, St Andrews' top scorer was Sam James, credited with 26.9 points. The team made one missignal, and 3/9 bonuses. Nick Mills led for Manchester, scoring 159.9 points, the highest individual total of the year, and the fourth personal mark over 100. The team made no missignals, and combined for 29/48 bonuses.

With one match to go, three sides are sure of a repechage place. Surprisingly, St Andrews is not amongst them.

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

Match 14: Royal Holloway College London -v- Greyfriars Oxford

Neither side has appeared in the revival, though we could have sworn that Greyfriars had appeared at least once. The Oxford college has about 40 students, is allied with a monastery, and seems to teach English, modern history, theology, and little else. RHC has the full line-up - a mathematician, a social scientist, and a linguist.

The show gets off to a subdued start. The first picture round is Name That Bed, after which RHC leads 30-25. Thumper moans at the London side "you could have done with a scientist on your team." He could, but doesn't, make the same criticism of the Oxford side.

By a strange coincidence, there are more religious questions in the opening five minutes than in most complete shows. All of them go to Oxford, where one of the team is a monk. By a not-so-strange coincidence, all the students are stumped by the definition and etymology of "pornography." Innocents, the lot of them.

Scoring remains slow through the second quarter. Thanks to a good audio round, Name That Rock Martyr, RHC leads 80-40. And then, up pops this question.

Q: Thought to be based on the amount of land a team of oxen could plough in a day, what unit of square measure is equivalent to 4840 square yards..?
Greyfriars, Cochrane: A hectare.
Q: ...and 0.405 of a hectare.
Royal Holloway, Freeman: An acre.

They'll be dancing on the streets of UKGS tonight, as no one has associated the acre with oxen all year. Thumper is harsh to disallow "fire" as an answer when he wanted "firemen," but the question did ask after Captain Flack and ASLEF. That goes against Greyfriars, but they do have the only Scot on the panel, and they get the bonuses about Scottish new towns. Not that they score from it. The second picture round is Name That Railway Station, and RHC's lead is now 115-45.

We may as well call it a night, RHC aren't going to lose, Greyfriars haven't a hope of troubling the repechage. They do crawl towards respectability, but this week's show just isn't going anywhere. Other than the record books. RHC wins 135-75, which is the lowest aggregating show of all time, ever.

Richard Freeman's 61.9 was the biggest score for RHC, Paul Coleman made 50.5 of Greyfriars' score. The bonus conversion rate was something to write home about, but for the wrong reasons. RHC made 7/30 bonuses, Greyfriars 3/21 with two missignals.

This was the last match in the opening round, and the median aggregate this year was 285. Incredibly, that's five points down on last year's record low.

The repechage is next, featuring:

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

Commiserations to Portsmouth, who also scored 120 points, but missed out on a second chance thanks to their poorer bonus conversion rate.

3 Jan: University Oxford -v- York

10 Jan: Jesus Cambridge -v- Queen's Belfast

This Week And The Next Few

Channel 4 has lost the rights to test match cricket. From 2006, there will be an additional 30 episodes of Countdown to watch, the first time Richard and Carol will have run through a year since 1998. Now, if we can persuade Channel 4 to return the show to a start time after 4pm...

Angela Jain is a new face at Channel 4, joining from Channel 5. She's the new commissioning editor for factual entertainment, and will be responsible for the renewal - or otherwise - of the Endemol format when its contract concludes next year.

We've thoroughly enjoyed this year's Raven, where the winner was always in doubt until the final moments. Not so the course of the final day, as there were enough clues in the opening titles and the CBBC trailer for the sharp-eyed viewer to work out the essence of the game. Clues in the show are good so long as they're subtle.

Compared with some years, this isn't a classic festive season for the game show fan. Celeb Millionaires get re-runs on ITV through the holiday season, along with some old editions of Wheel Of Fortune and Family Fortunes. There are The Weakest Link specials on the BBC, along with celebrity University Challenge and Mastermind programmes. The Test the Nation annual test airs this Sunday, while BBC4 repeats old editions of Mind Games most nights.

Challenge has some classic old game shows, including The Adventure Game tomorrow, Winner Takes All, The Golden Shot, and Sale of the Century.

Highlights of the last week of the year include Channel 4's Big Fat Quiz Of The Year on the 27th, and a retrospective on A Question of Sport on the 29th. E4 will be spending oodles of time in the Big Brother Panto, and Sci-fi has another shot at scheduling Mad Mad House. It would be nice if they could stick to that schedule.

The Week's publishing schedule will be erratic over the next few weeks. As noted above, this column grew a review of the last UC first round match shortly after publication. The review of the year will go out on or around the 27th, with the next Week proper following on January 8. Television guides will still be published on Thursdays.

To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day, 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.

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