Weaver's Week 2005-02-13

Weaver's Week Index


13 February 2005

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

This edition of the Week comes in sixteen pull-out-n-throw-away sections.

Who Wants To Resurrect Old News?

Always first with the news, oversized paper The Sunday Times noticed last week that there's something strange about events on Millionaire. They're dubbing it the biggest scandal since the Ingrams, forgetting their previous "scoop" on the Northamptonshire qualifying scam (one that the UKGS mailing list had been discussing for some months previously.)

Apparently, and disbelieve this if you find it too outlandish, the programme's producers fear some friends may be sitting by their computers ready to search for the right answer if they get the Phone-a-Friend call. Gosh, we've never heard of that idea before. And we've certainly not been discussing the possibility on the mailing list for a year or so.

According to last week's edition, "Their suspicions were aroused by a man who came to the rescue of a contestant during a recent programme. When the friend was asked a question he 'ummed and ahhed' before going silent. He then came out with the correct answer. Asked if he was sure, the friend said he was '100%' positive."

The paper suggests, "it is the first time since the ITV programme began in 1998 that there has been a concern that the phone-a-friend system might have been abused." Er, no it's not; back in 1999, carry-over contestants would regularly alter their phone-a-friends to take advantage of a big winner on the previous recording. If that's not an abuse of the system, we don't know what is.

But this ludicrous non-story gets even sillier. "The friend's certainty, after what seemed a period of serious doubt, made some at Celador question whether he had used a web search engine. Celador decided not to launch an inquiry and the contestant went on to win a substantial sum. This is partly because it would have been difficult to prove if the friend had been on the internet... The advent of broadband internet means search engines can find answers much faster than when Millionaire was launched."

Someone, somewhere, is going to have to point to a clause in the rules that explicitly says Phone-a-Friends can't use such outside aids. And they'll have to tighten up the international rules: why should people in Australia be encouraged to use their net connections, yet it's the subject of tabloid press scandals in the UK? Except it's not the subject of a scandal, more a report by their regular correspondent Phil Page.

But back to the world's largest tabloid, where the non-story has crossed the threshold from banal to ludicrous. There's been a high-tech experiment to test whether it was possible to answer the programme's questions using a computer. Yes, journalists for a self-important paper have spent many hours going through tapes from the last series of Millionaire, and copied down the questions they used for phone-a-friends. Quite why they had to pick PAF questions we don't know, surely any old question will do. Like this for £500: "Where do bears traditionally relieve themselves?"

Anyway. These questions were then posed to a second journalist who was using the Sunday Times' in-house internet-linked laser-display web search facility gizmo thingummy. Can you guess the results? Well, almost. "In nine out of 10 questions, the friend was able to give the correct answer within 30 seconds. A question on what flavour is the liqueur triple sec was answered correctly (orange) in 13 seconds. In the actual programme, the friend did not know."

What does this prove? There's a lot of stuff on the web, and journalists for the Sunset Times are able to type reasonably fast and to process the results of a search engine query decently quickly. And, er, that's it.

On the UKGameshows discussion forum, opinion hasn't been running in Celador's favour. One correspondent suggesting having Celador arrange for police raids, no doubt conducted in front of television cameras and Martin Bashir, who just happen to be making a documentary in the neighbourhood at the time.

In a more serious vein, another writer suggested that if Celador really wanted to "level the playing field," they would limit each person to - say - one call per day. Is it good for the show that some winners can run up bills of hundreds of pounds just to get their minute in the hot seat? Or should we view Millionaire as an investment, where the more you stake, the more you're likely to win.

Perhaps the fairest option would be to put the research from the journalists to good use, and introduce a new lifeline: Ask The Geek. Put someone in a room with little more than a connected web browser, a screen, and a microphone. They'd see the question, then have the traditional thirty seconds to type furiously on the web and give their preferred answer. If the Sunday Times can do it, why couldn't Celador? They could even hold auditions for the post of Web Monkey Of The Week, with (doubtlessly) a premium rate number involved somewhere along the line.

University Challenge

Second round draw

  • Edinburgh bt Royal Holloway
  • Manchester bt Newcastle
  • St Hilda's Oxford bt Leicester
  • Corpus Christi Oxford v Sheffield
  • Balliol Oxford v Durham
  • Lancaster v Reading
  • Jesus Cambridge v University Oxford
  • University of East Anglia v University London

Sheffield -v- Corpus Christi Oxford

Sheffield dispatched Magdalene Cambridge by the convincing score of 195-80; Corpus Christi downed Trinity Cambridge by the nearly-as-convincing 195-110.

Our viewer response hotline reached boiling point this week, with a message from Steve, asking if he heard correctly. Did the makers of UC really say that the New York suburb of Hell's Kitchen was on the east side of Manhattan, rather than the west? Indeed they did, and as the Oxford contestant got the answer from that clue and nothing more, we're a little surprised. Good work, caller.

One of the early bonuses is straight out of the Bamber Gascoigne era, asking about literary figures in a Dictionary of Allusions. The early stages are a back-and-forth pendulum, Oxford take the lead, Sheffield come back to tie. The first picture round is Name That Pond Life, after which Oxford has pulled to a 80-45 lead. To pre-empt your letters, none of the answers was "Jeremy Paxman."

The teams are setting a high standard this week, it's not until the ninth collection of bonuses that a set defeats a team. Corpus Christi has a small lead, and it seems to be growing slightly. The audio round is Name That Shakesperian Opera, by which time Oxford's lead is 135-90. CCO's student from Italy was useful in this round.

Question we'd liked to have faced of the week: What foodstuff has varieties known as honey and bloodwort...
Sheffield: Tripe!

Thumper is perhaps a little kind to Oxford when one of their team couldn't quite find the words "ionic product" and gave a loose definition. As we all know, Thumper doesn't do science, so how he could possibly have given a reasonable decision on this is a slight mystery. The second picture round is Name That Watercolourist, and Oxford's lead has extended to 190-120.

Corpus Christi might have ridden their luck a little, but any team that knows Paul Revere earned his living as a silversmith deserves to earn a little luck. On the other hand, anyone who suggests that a town to the north of Southend-on-Sea is "Morecambe" deserves to be lightly ridiculed.

Sheffield have fallen over a hundred behind, and while they make a strong recovery, it's about three minutes too late to have any hope. Corpus Christi win 240-145, and they look like they could be dark horses later in the competition. Stefano Mariani led for the winning side, scoring 92.4 points. The side made 22/37 bonuses. Sheffield were led by Graham Gaff's 56.5, they made 13/27 bonuses with two missignals, and didn't really deserve to lose by a hundred.

This Week And Next

A brief mention to The Brain of Blue Peter. Or, as we might accurately call it, Test The Nation's Children: The National Children's Test. Tick off the elements. Some slightly obscure teams - yep, Game Wizards (captains: Matt Baker and border collie Meg); Pet Lovers (captains: Liz Barker and the new cat, Smudge); Fashion Freaks (captain: Konnie Huq, slightly handicapped by not having a pet); and Chocoholics (captain: Zoe Salmon, so a grave handicap, and no surprise they finished last.) Questions asked in one programme, and answered in another - yep, you had to watch Monday's show to play, and the next show for the answers. A host dressed in black - er, no, Simon Thomas may be leaving the show in a few months, but he doesn't look good in noir. Questions culled from around the BBC - very much so. About five of the sixteen questions required knowledge of CBBC programmes, while others featured Dick and Dom doing magic, programme themes, and two of the Newsround team dancing to a Busted track - but which one? This column finds your average Test The Nation to be a little easy, but BOBP was far more taxing - we scored just 9/16. The usual in-studio competition was present, but because the programmes were (ssh!) pre-recorded, there was no ranking of teams at home, and no excuse for Shelley the tortoise to pop up with some dubious statistics.

The final of Masterteam also took place this week. Though Grimsby had scored most points in their four league matches, Staffordshire - led by the redoubtable David Edwards - came out convincing winners of the final match. Their win was never in doubt after winning the opening buzzer round. And the special season of Des Chiffres Et Des Lettres has ended, with the winner taking a holiday in Turkey, a €2000 prize, and a rather lovely silver bowl.

It's not just the Sunset Times that practices poor journalism. Our favourite rubbish newspaper, the Daily Mirror, got completely the wrong end of this event on Monday's edition of Countdown.

Jennie Bond: We've got a couple of eights, one I don't think's too risky - FORESKIN - is that all right?
Susie Dent: Yes, that's fine, it's in the dictionary...
Jennie: (Turns to Susie) And you've got one!
Susie: Yes, MONIKERS...(tails off, as she realises Ms Bond's entendre)
Richard Whiteley: Well, that would be a one-off, Jennie - a bit of an exclusive there!

We hope that the Mirror will have realised the joke before it pops up on Mr Norden's 993rd Laughter File.

The concept behind Richard and Judy's You Say, We Pay competition is not difficult. A viewer comes on the line, describes something or someone they're seeing, and if Richard, Judy, or their star guest can guess what it is, the caller wins some money. Thursday's special guest was a Mister Tony Blair of Westminster, and he was only able to guess three of the six items - a courgette, Jools Holland, and Sharon Stone - after some not very subtle prompting from co-host Judy Finnegan. Maybe he needs to stay in and watch the show a bit more. Or concentrate on his day job, whatever that is.

No Superstars this week, some grown men playing with their balls are far more important. We do have a new series of Round Britain Quiz from Monday, and the beginning of Alan Sugar's search for an Apprentice is on Wednesday night. ITV's highlight next Saturday is an audience with Joe Pasquale, who was curiously absent from the CBBC showcase this week. Anyone would think he didn't want to publicise Friday's Tiny and Mr Duk's Huge Show.

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