Weaver's Week 2005-10-23

Weaver's Week Index

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


Glycosaminoglycan - 23 October 2005

Noun a complex carbohydrate.

Star Spell

Last year, we laid into Hard Spell, the children's version, for focussing exclusively on failure, and being a bit boring. The final and the January celeb special were a bit better, and the recent celebrity edition was actually quite good.

By reducing the number of competitors from ten to four, each person could receive some attention on screen. It didn't stop the opening round from being the usual lottery; 45 seconds of rapid-fire spelling, with definitions running down the clock. There is some merit in tailoring the list of words to each person, but not so much that one contestant gets a far more simple set than another.

All four contestants played the second round, where they were challenged to identify the number of times a given letter appeared in a word or phrase. So if we were asked for "E in 'Eamonn Holmes' annoyance level'", the correct answer would be "5". The person with the fewest correct answers over the two rounds would be eliminated.

The familiar first-mistake-loses round reduced the field to two, but the final was novel. Contestants bid for the length of word they'd like to spell, and received one point per letter if they were correct. Make an error, and they go away with nothing. This mini-game format is possibly the best thing about the show, as it ramps up the tension significantly, and probably won't result in a tie after three rounds.

Eamonn Holmes is still hosting the show, and had quite clearly been told to milk the first elimination for all it was worth. Most nights, it was clear to anyone who would be going home, but he still had to go through the "you're safe ... you're safe ... it's you or you ... it's you" spiel.

Last year's "pronouncer" was Nina Hossein, and we weren't particularly impressed with her enunciation. Ms Hossein has defected to the other side, and regularly appears on their continuous news channel to almost a handful of viewers. It's still more than watch Eamonn Holmes' new show, but we digress. Replacing Ms Hossein here is the similarly-named Mishal Husain. She's very good at this enunciation lark, and could bring something useful to major bulletins on the BBC. As we said when she was The Questioner on THE CRAM in June last year.

image:star-spell-parrot-snookered.jpg John Parrot spells "snookered", with definition from the Hard Spell Dictionary

If the best idea was the final round, the second-best idea was the Hard Spell Dictionary. Those watching on digital television could press the interactive button, and see brief on-screen definitions of the terms and phrases used on screen. These were the same definitions as Ms Hussein read out.

The Dictionary fitted in with the underlying excuse for this series - it's been Language Year on the BBC. Over the summer, the "Voices" project brought a number of programmes to local and national radio tracing the history of English, and the various local dialects in use around the UK. There was even a radio quiz celebrating these regional differences. More recently, the Beeb's launched RAW - its "Reading And Writing" initiative. That's the hook behind the recent Test the Nation language special, and this series.

As ever, the rules changed slightly for the grand final, featuring the five daily winners. The 45-second spell-off was replaced by the one-minute word ladder, where contestants attempted to spell a word at each stop from 6 to 12 letters within one minute. The additional round was "spelling tennis", in which the contestants would give alternate letters of the same word, stopping on the first error. This didn't really work on ITV's Spelling Bee programme over the summer, and certainly didn't work here, as there was no on-screen graphic giving how much of the word had been spelled out. When Vanessa Feltz and Gary Waldhorn were given "Massachusetts" to spell, it became almost impossible to follow their progress without a pen and paper to hand. Not good.

The two met again in the final, where a complete guess at how to spell "glycosaminoglycan" ensured that Vanessa Feltz would walk away with the Star Spell Trophy.

Antan Dec's Gameshow Marathon

Week Five: Play Your Cards Right

"I'm loving this!" proclaimed Ant, turning over over-sized playing cards while Carol Vorderman shouted at him. It's a desperate shame that this week's episode came over as wallpaper television.

There isn't much skill required in the underlying game, all that's required is a knowledge of basic probability. If you see a 2, 3, 4, or 5, the next card will almost certainly be higher; if it's an ace or a picture, you're probably right to go lower; eights (and not sevens, which always get a bad press) are your enemy. Repeat until your luck runs out, or you reach the end of the line.

The main attraction in this week's format is the banter between the host and contestants. Bruce Forsyth has set the standard, and Antan Dec didn't quite manage to live up to his standards. Their task was made much more difficult by the decision to spread the game out over half-an-hour of action (almost 40 minutes of screen time). There were some over-long introductions, and the contestants were encouraged to play to the crowd on the "we polled 100 people" questions. All of this served to break up the rhythm of the game. Though it was clearly enjoyable for the participants, the excitement didn't transfer as well as it usually does to this viewer.

The contestants brought along partners to play the game; this wasn't strictly mandatory, as Bruce's first series or two featured solo players, but it is the standard format here, and it helped the conversation to flow. Carol Vorderman came with her fitness trainer; Patsy Kensit was joined by a friend's husband. Over the rounds, Patsy played a cautious game with quite bad cards; Carol had better cards and her luck held out to make the final.

As ever, there was a parade of (sponsored) prizes for the final. There's never been any published correlation between the points and the prize, but more points do lead to better prizes. None of this advertorial puffery made any difference; Carol played well enough to make the 4000-point mark with a card to spare, and have the chance to gamble for the car. Which she won, meaning that there would be even more people calling in for the prize pool, and putting their 60p into ITV's coffers.

It's worth noting that the best programmes in the revival - The Price Is Right, The Golden Shot - were hour-long formats chopped down to fit. The half-hour programmes stretched out to fill the time have been less successful.

Next week is another expanded programme, Bullseye. Goodness alone knows how this will work.


Continuing the Ronnie Barker tribute.

"What would you use a ripcord to pull open?
"What sort of person lived in Bedlam?
"What is a jockstrap?
"For what purpose would a decorator use methalyne chlorides?

"What did Henri Toulouse-Lautrec do?

More of this next week.

Final eliminator, 3/6

Godfrey Newham's chosen subject is Vorticism. This isn't a set of rules for playing HH The Rangdo's favourite game, but an art-and-literature movement of the early 20th Century. Mr Newham rattles along, but his score is 11 (5).

Tom King will talk about Pleasure Piers of the English Seaside. It's a superlative effort, on a subject that's rather like this show - completely pointless, yet endlessly fascinating. 15 (1).

Thomas Dyer will take the Life and Work of Miss Elizabeth Smart. Mr Dyer is hoping to join Kevin Ashman in completing the Trinity of Intellectual Quizzes: series championships on this show, Brain of Britain, and Fifteen-to-One. However, he starts with a pass, takes a couple more early on, and finishes on 7 (6). There's always next year...

Robin Chapman will be discussing One Foot In The Grave. He'll be playing catch-up, finishing on 10 (3).

As one might expect from Mr Dyer, who took Gilbert last time, it's a great general knowledge round. He finishes on 22 (8).

Mr Chapman pays tribute to David Renwick's script, and Mr Humphrys gives away the ending of the series. Stick a bat up his night-shirt already. It was Igor Stravinsky last time, and Mr Chapman only just takes the lead, finishing on 22 (7).

Mr Newham took Delius in his heat, and explains that Vorticism puts the artist at the eye of the storm, yet detached from general life. Six passes - including the name of the US Vice President - and a lot of errors ensures he finishes on 21 (11).

Mr King needs just eight to win, and has been trying to see as many piers as he can in research for this programme. He's not had long, "Dad's Army" was the winner as recently as September, and he's not helped by forgetting Michael Parkinson's stint on Desert Island Discs, but so does everyone. This is one of many early errors, and his round stumbles to a conclusion, at 20 (7).

So by just one pass, Robin Chapman has crept through to pull off an exceptionally unlikely win.

University Challenge

First round, match five: St Hilda's Oxford v Durham

The "Hildabeests" competed in last year's tournament, and secured narrow victories over Portsmouth and Leicester before being beaten by Manchester in the quarter-finals. It's rare for any institution to be invited twice on the trot, so this year's team may be something special. Durham, however, is appearing for the eighth year in succession, a run that began with a semi-final appearance in 99, and was capped with victory in the 2000 competition. Durham's made the second round or further in each competition they've entered. This column is quietly expecting a very good contest.

English, French, English and French, and PPE make up the all-female Hilda side; Classics, Law, and two Chemists for the all-male Durham. Two Kentish students for the Oxford side; two from the West Midlands for Durham.

Durham's best on the buzzers in the opening stanza, but it's painfully slow going. By the time we reach the first visual round (stakes at Roulette, about which the Hildas have no clue at all), Durham's lead is just 35-25, and Thumper enquires:

Thumper: "How did you get to that answer?"
Jessica Mead: "A random number that just popped into my head."

He goes on to suggest that the team "take a random name" when asked for a Norwegian mathematician. Then comes this one:

Q: The area of France known as Aquitaine became an English possession by the marriage of its Duke's daughter to which king?

The Judith Keppel Memorial Question is worth ten points - and the lead - for the St Hilda's team. Durham come back with some good guesses about the colour of anti-quarks, only for Oxford to re-take the lead in the audio round, classic children's songs. It's the first set of bonuses that either side has correct, and St Hilda's leads 75-55.

Not a high-scoring week, but it could just be enough for the loser to come back in the repechage. Though not if Durham don't know the famous headline, "Dewey Beats Truman". They do get questions on classics and chemistry, playing to their strengths, but then there are the usual slew of questions on English lit. Durham has the better of that stanza, but St Hilda's are better at naming their spices in the second visual round, and take a 120-115 lead.

Hilda's pull out a 30 point lead, but Durham get the almost inevitable question about poker, and the sides draw level with two minutes to play. Then this happens:

Q: Originally made of whalebone and canvas...
Philip Lawton, Durham: Corset!
Q: Lose five points. Which item of weather [sic] has a name which comes from the Italian...
Elinor Landeg, St Hilda's: Umbrella.

Some skilful running down of the clock (nominating members to give answers) is perhaps a little unsporting, but perfectly legal. Suggesting a South American tribe called the "Mesopotamians" deserves a scornful moment from Thumper. The tactics work, and St Hilda's have a deserved victory, 165-130.

Repechage placings

1) St Hugh's Oxford 190
2) Durham 130
3) Exeter 125
4=) Magdalen Oxford, Hull 70

Why is this victory deserved? St Hilda's made 14/29 bonuses and one missignal; Durham 10/30 and four missignals. You can't win by answering just one bonus in three. Elinor Landeg was the best Hildabeest on the buzzer, clocking up 59 points; Alan Evans was the best single buzzer on the night, he was worth 64.

One question was left hanging at the end of the show. The middle of the five Langhorn sisters of Virginia, who came to play a memorable role in British politics, was Lady Astor, the first female MP to take her seat in the Commons.

Durham's chance of coming back through the repechage is small, but cannot be discounted.

Next: Birmingham v Strathclyde

Coming attractions

Some other highlights for next week: the Third Tournament of Raven comes to BBC2 at 7.30 each morning, They Think it's All Over is back at 10.35 Monday night, and just one more week until Channel 4 gets a quiz hour and a half.

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.

Back to Weaver's Week Index

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in