Weaver's Week 2006-05-28

Weaver's Week Index

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

From The Times' website: "Big Brother - We're watching it so you don't have to." Thanks. Coming up: the Eurovision final, but first:


Countdown Finals Week

Image:Countdown-s54-trophy.jpg The winner will receive this cut-glass trophy

The world cup of Countdown begins right here. Competition is for a cut-glass trophy, and other goodies, including a complete 20-volume leather-bound Oxford English Dictionary.

QF1, 18 May: Daniel Peake (6w, 585 at +60) v Conor Travers (8 wins, 890 at -61)

Conor has grown his hair since he was last here, and will be opening supermarkets soon. He's all in black; Daniel is in a sporting red top, still has the spiky hair, and has met that well-known Countdown fan Mrs Windsor of Windsor. We'll best not mention Carol's frock, it would be best seen at Eurovision circa 1975. The first letters are D-A-Z, will everyone please keep calm, we'll get to the singing after the Dessing. Conor gets first blood in this round with TZARDOMS, then ALBINO in a round where Susie was talking about her libido. STEPSON is another winner, but Daniel comes back with a good save in the numbers game to trail 27-13 at the intermission.

Not that Dan's going to get much of a break - HORTENSIA means Conor's lead is growing once more. INVALID and BURGEON extend the Black Destroyer's advantage further, and though Dan recovers in the numbers, he's still 67-28 down. MEDIANT hits the right note, Dan's SWOONER* and CEACUMS* do not, and with a correct conundrum, Conor wins by 107-38. Even though he missed two numbers games, the niner means he beats the Par score of 101; Daniel declared for 80.

QF2, 19 May: Jon Corby (8w, 856 at -45) v Christine Armstrong (7w, 693 at +50)

In the opening period, Jon's visions of an early lead turn out to be more than MIRAGES, but that's the only round where a seven is available. Jon blobs the opening numbers game entirely, allowing Christine to draw level at 23-23. Both contestants are at sixes and sevens during the second period, but one of Christine's six-small specials puts her ten in front, 59-49. This may be a low-scoring game, but it's a quiet corker. Christine opens the third period with a safe seven, WELFARE, so Jon goes for the dodgy eight, WELFARES*, but it's a mass noun and he's now further behind. Not for long - AILERON propels Jon back to within ten, and the night's second ORGASM cuts the gap to four. Christine looks like she's going to pull clear on another six-small, but goes wrong, Jon picks up five, Christine gives the answer to a different puzzle, and suddenly Jon is 67-66 ahead. The conundrum looks like it'll evade both of them, but Jon spots it in the nick of time, to win 77-66. Par was down at 99 today, Jon declared for 89 (+10); Christine declared for 87.

Image:Countdown-trophy.jpg The winner becomes the first holder of the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy

22 May: Michael Bowden (8w, 739 at +16) v Matthew Shore (8w, 840 at -44)

Matthew gets the best of starts, the slightly unorthodox MORTARED is a winner, as is ATHIEST; with no-one scoring on a seemingly impossible numbers game, Matthew leads 29-14 at the interval. His offer of DEFUSIONS* is not accepted, allowing Michael to pull a little back. Honours even through the second period leaves the scores at 58-49. In the final letters game, Michael wriggles through with TADPOLE, and there are just two points in the game. Des is off on a flight of fantasy about hippos. Matthew has slightly the better of another impossible numbers game, and we have another Crucial Conundrum. Matthew solves it in ten seconds, and the scoreline - 88-69 - doesn't tell quite how close a game it was. Par for the game was within one point of the season low at 94, Matthew declared for 94, Michael for 89.

23 May: Keith Maynard (8w, 795 at +12) v Paul Howe (8w, 815 at -19)

"The Weakest Link - is that still going?" asks Des at the beginning. Carol wants Des to go on Strictly Come Dancing, but they don't need a new host, and may they not need a new host for many years to come. Paul starts with a dodgy nine - ISOGAMETE - and it turns out to be a Susie-beater and a huge lead. Keith goes for RETALKING* in the next round, but it's a push too far, and Paul's TRIANGLE stretches his advantage. INSHORE and ROWDIES are also winners, and when Keith goes for the wrong target, he goes into the break 50-0 down. PRAISES! Keith does come back during the second period, but LORINERS and DIOCESAN are winners for Paul, so it's 83-24 at the second intermission. Paul's charge continues in the final stanza - SEMITONE puts him further ahead, but Keith correctly risks IMPURELY. Paul goes on to get the conundrum, and in spite of not scoring in two rounds, he has won by 118-49. Keith pays effusive tribute to the behind-the-scenes team. Par for the game was 110, Paul declared for 131, so finished a remarkable 21-under-par.

24 May: Conor Travers (9w, 991 at -67) v Paul Howe (9w, 933 at -40)

Image:Countdown-easy-numbers.jpg Carol found something more time-consuming than solving this problem.

A brief chortle at the start, when Des talks about Conor's headmaster. "It's a woman," repors the young player. Sniggers all round when Conor offers ERECTION, can't think why. Honours are even through the first period of play, and the numbers game is so difficult that Conor has to confer with Richard. At the break, the match is at deuce. After the break, Richard and Susie discuss HAREMS, and singing "RAGSTONE cowboy", while the scores on both sides continue to mount. The deadlock is broken at the first numbers game - Paul picks six small numbers, fails completely, only to see Conor come within one. He leads 75-68 at the second intermission.

Both players come back with PROTAMINE. Neither player can define it - Conor says "It's a chemical," Paul says "It's a chemical, apparently." Both players score. Still just seven in it at the numbers, and both players have notched their century. Paul declares spot on, but has used a number twice. Conor is one off, and extends his lead to 14. The conundrum appears, and Conor gets it in about one second, to win 124-100. Par for the game was 104, so in spite of two incorrect numbers games, Paul has finished on a very respectable +4. Conor is now -87 for the tournament as a whole. The combined brains of the C4Countdown forum scratched their heads; though they were able to solve both the difficult numbers puzzles, no one could improve on any of the words offered. Eleven perfect words rounds has never happened before.

25 May: Jon Corby (9w, 945 at -35) v Matthew Shore (9w, 928 at -44)

A definite case of Follow That for today's players, but don't write them off yet. No breaking the players in the early round, but there's the first winner from Susie and Richard in a few days - POLITIES. Matthew is thinking about a gamble, but declines to offer them formally - he would have been wrong both times. It's not quite as high-scoring as yesterday, 37-all at the break. Matthew wins with JOCOSE - funny - at the start of the second stanza, and extends his advantage with the riskier-than-it-might-look PALENESS. The last letters game of this part is a dish served by Basil Fawlty on his gourmet nights, a FUMETORTE. Matthew uses a number twice in the second numbers game, allowing Jon to pull back a little - 57-64 at the interval. Matthew recovers his 14-point advantage in the next round - a poor set of letters yields EXORDIA. Jon pulls back in a SUITABLE fashion, and we eventually head to a crucial conundrum. Matthew gets it in two seconds flat, to win 94-78. Par for the game was 100, Matthew declared for 101, Jon for 96.

26 May: Conor Travers (10w, 1113 at -87) v Matthew Shore (10w, 1022 at -45)

"Like the Eurovision final, the question is who will meet their Waterloo," says Richard Digance in his half-time pep talk. Conor, once more, is in black; Matthew has a smart casual sweater. And Carol unveils the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy, clearly modelled on the FA Cup. It's big and heavy. Honours are even through the opening two rounds, but Conor proves that he's the NEMESIS of everyone else with a winner in the third. Matthew also errs on the numbers game, meaning that Conor takes a 36-22 lead into the break.

Image:Countdown-conor-trophy.jpg The winner becomes the first holder of the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy

Larger and larger grows the lead, thanks to POLONIES, a variety of sausage to put Conor 22 ahead. And then comes HETAIRAS, an educated young maiden in ancient Greece, to put the youngster in black 30 up. "I'm not very good at English," he says, causing Richard to give up, and Matthew to say, "Can I have a taxi please, Carol." Things are a little calmer for the rest of the period, and Conor's lead is 76-46. Eights in the first letters round back, but the second is a shockingly bad selection - par is 4, Conor gets DAMS, Matthew has MAIDS and is within 25. Sevens in the last letters means the competition is over, and Matthew gets the conundrum to recover the score to a far more reasonable 98-83. It's another low-parring Grand Final, just 101 points on offer to a good contestant. Matthew declared for 103, Conor for 102, his eleventh better-than-par performance. That is why Conor Travers is a tremendously worthy winner.

Next week, Countdown begins its first Championship of Champions since January 2003. The channel will give over prime-time slots for the final week. Sadly, and completely inexplicably, these have been given to here-today-gone-tomorrow flash-in-the-pan fashion Deal or No Deal. And they wonder no one watches Channel 4 any more. Anyway, here's the schedule for the first round in the Championship of Champions:

29 May: Mark Tournoff v Steve Graston

30 May: John Davies v Gary Male
31 May: Conor Travers v John Hunt
1 June: Jon O'Neill v Jack Welsby
2 June: John Mayhew v Paul Howe
5 June: John Brackstone v David Wilson
6 June: Paul Gallen v Eamonn Timmins

7 June: Chris Cummins v Matthew Shore

Thanks to Paul Howe of the C4Countdown group for this information. The full draw looks like this:

  First Round Quarter Finals Semifinals Final
 Mark Tournoff  
 Steve Graston  
 Chris Cummins
 Matthew Shore  
    Winner QF1  
   Winner QF4  
 Jon O'Neill  
 Jack Welsby  
 John Mayhew
 Paul Howe  
   Winner SF1
   Winner SF2
 Conor Travers  
 Jack Hunt  
 John Brackstone
 David Wilson  
   Winner QF3
   Winner QF2  
 Paul Gallen  
 Eamonn Timmins  
 John Davies
 Gary Male  

The Eurovision Song Contest 2006

Saturday 20 May, 8pm

Baltic Group Voting Fact: The UK has never finished below Finland. Even the year when Jemini failed to trouble any of the watching zillions, the UK beat the Finns, because the Finns didn't lose their house keys live on international television.

Promotion for the contest has continued apace - if the award goes to the people who have promoted themselves in the most unusual places, then we may as well beat the rush and book rooms in Helsinki now. Lordi, the death metal entry from Finland, has been responsible for a sticker campaign in much of the continent, have been featured on an amazed Radio 4's The World Tonight programme, a not-quite-getting-it piece from the US's NPR, and has the whole-hearted backing of Xfm's Lauren Laverne. The Dutch entry performed their song in all 37 voting countries, and promptly failed to get out of the semi-final.

We'll start at the semi-final, which was won by Finland on 292, well clear of Bosnia (267), with Russia and Sweden a further 50 points adrift. Lithuania, Armenia, and Ukraine got around 150 each, then a huge gap to Turkey (91). Ireland (79) and Macedonia (76) were best of the also-rans; Poland (70) and Belgium (69) were close, Iceland (62) just missed. It's worth noting that Bosnia picked up votes from all 37 countries, while Finland were blanked by Albania, Macedonia, and Armenia. The UK's vote, for the record:

1 - Poland*; 2 - Albania*; 3 - Armenia; 4 - Bosnia; 5 - Iceland*; 6 - Sweden; 7 - Cyprus*; 8 - Ireland; 10 - Lithuania; 12 - Finland.

The 12s and 10s were concentrated in very few locations, no fewer than 10 countries didn't get more than an 8, including qualifiers Ireland. Lower down, the Dutch finished 20th, with 22 points from 8 juries, never rating higher than fifth. Europe's models were Germany and Sweden, giving the top two marks in order; and Slovenia, giving the top two top marks in reverse order. The most unusual marks came from Monaco, with Albania not far behind - it's possible that juries were used in both nations.

All of which brings us to the Saturday final, and many of the usual customs were in place. The presenters were slightly bumbling, slightly out-of-place, and all the more lovable for it. Sakis got a shirt with some buttons, which is good; co-host Maria set an all-comers record for most dresses worn - three in 114 minutes. Terry Wogan continued to burble all over the songs - the sooner that the EBU introduces a button to switch off the commentator's mikes during the performance, the better. Worst part of the night was the presentation of the voting - the scoreboard was particularly small, and was on screen for only a few seconds. Those of us trying to keep up with the lead and the top-six finish and follow the UK had great difficulty locating the information. It was like going three rounds with one of the Klitchko Brothers.

Anyway, the results were:

24 - Malta, 1pt. Deserved to do a lot better (1). A feelgood disco tune, perhaps reminiscent of "Give me your love" (Sweden 03). It's still a case of when, not if, Malta wins. Albania gave the vote.

23 - Israel, 4; 22 - France, 5. Israel sent a decent song that would have done far better at position 22; France was uncomfortable viewing, but won the Charlotte Church Lookalike contest. Israel's vote came from France; Monaco and Armenia went for the French.

21 - Spain, 18. Sending one-hit wonders who can't sing is so 2003, and we can be sure that the chair dance won't be repeated in offices up and down the continent. 12 from Andorra, 6 from the quixotic Albanians.

20 - Moldova, 22. The song was a bit of a grower, but was more remarkable for the baggage arriving during the performance, and the presence of Moldova Club However Many. 12 from Romania, five small votes.

19 - UK, 25. Deserved to do a lot better (2). Daz absolutely nailed his performance, and the girls throwing the flags out of their desk should have been a clincher. The Lithuanian, Greek, and Finnish entries rather overshadowed a grand performance. Ten votes, including an 8 from Ireland.

18 - Denmark, 26. Very much a two-listen song, attracting just five votes, all from the extended Baltic area, including 5 from Britain.

17 - Switzerland, 30; 16 - Latvia, 30. Switzerland sent Ralph Siegel's school musical, when they should have send Pierro And The Tweenies again. Latvia's a capella entry felt too avant-garde for Eurovision. Latvia gets the tie-break on more votes (7 to 6), and two from the UK; Switzerland got 12 from Malta.

15 - Germany, 36; 14 - Norway, 36. Germany was surreal - a Texas country song, complete with high stools and long frilly dresses. Norway was a dreamy little number, all a bit Secret Garden, and none the worse for it. Norway had 12 votes, Germany 10, neither had anything in a top three.

13 - Croatia, 56; 12 - Macedonia, 56. Croatia was bouncy and entertaining and ruined by that Irish eedjit gobbing. Macedonia reminded us of Wannabe second time around. Macedonia has the tie-break 9-8, Croatia picked up 44 from former Yugoslavia, Macedonia had wider appeal, but finished bottom of the qualifiers.

11 - Turkey, 91. Even more tedious than before, but who needs to be entertaining when you've a reliable diaspora. Top marks from the Netherlands, France, and Germany, and three from Britain, but votes from just 13 countries proved crucial - the top ten come back next year, so Turkey are back in the Thursday qualifier.

10 - Ireland, 93. Twenty-three countries saw something in Brian Kennedy's number, which fitted better here. Ten from Monaco, 8 from the UK, and that depth of support proved the crucial point.

9 - Greece, 128; 8 - Armenia, 129. Greece looked like modern-day Madonna, sounded like Celine Dion crossed with Elton John; it was good, but never looked a winner. Armenia ended with a puppet effect, and perhaps relied on the overseas vote. Greece picked up 22 votes, including seven from Blighty, and top marks from Bulgaria and (shock!) Cyprus. Eleven of Armenia's 17 votes were top three finishes, Russia and (er) Belgium sent douze point.

7 - Ukraine, 145. Lost some impact by coming immediately after Finland, but was never challenging for the top three. 29 votes, six top three, winner in Portugal.

6 - Lithuania, 162. Hey, what's this? It's got a good beat! Thirty countries voted, seven top three places - including second in the UK, Iceland, and Latvia - and top marks from close allies Ireland. We can hear the Crazy Frog remix already.

5 - Sweden, 170. This could be an advertisement, or a patriotic song. No-one's favourite, second in Norway, Denmark, and Albania, 4 from here, and 31 votes in all.

4 - Romania, 172. "Top of the automatic entrants, lots of break dancing, lots of pace, not much of a song," were this column's notes. Six points suggests the UK begs to differ. 35 votes in all, including top marks from Moldova and Spain.

3 - Bosnia-Herzegovina, 229. Terry talked all over the introduction, and the best bit is at the beginning. Perhaps lost something on second viewing. 32 votes, with top marks from Turkey, Switzerland, Slovenia, Serbia and/or Montenegro, Monaco, Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania. The UK sent nothing.

2 - Russia, 248. Still a one-man boy-band tune, but better on second listen. Switzerland and Monaco gave nothing, the UK donated 1, top marks from Ukraine, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Finland, and Belarus suggest another diaspora vote. When Greece awarded Russia a mere eight points, we knew we had our winner.

1 - Finland, 292. Exactly matching their semi-final total, albeit without the help of Albania, Monaco, or Armenia. Top marks from the UK, Sweden, Poland, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Denmark, and that well-known Baltic nation Greece.

A lively and energetic performance wins the Grand Prix for Finland's surprisingly simple song. Strip away the pyrotechnics, wash off the make-up, concentrate on the melody, and we're left with a song that's almost as simple as Dana's All kinds of everything. Throwing in a key-change just before the end would have really taken the mick.

Two other notes: for the second year running, the BBC has cut the reprise and the end credits part way through. Very poor; airing sponsorship captions is preferable to cutting the winning song just when it's getting good. Over on Radio 2, Dr Wally and Sir Ken decided to cut away from the voting, and play a few records. Previously, they've given every vote for every country, but the new system makes it impossible to follow in sound only.

Next week, another look at voting groups, and suggestions for next year's contest, to be held in Rovaniemi. Well, so says Mr Lordi, and we're not going to argue.

This Week And Next

Mastermind - well, if BBC2 can be capricious in its scheduling, we can be capricious in our coverage. Next week at 10pm.

Viewing figures for the week to 14 May, and 305,000 saw the debut of BBC4's Full Stops. It'll be interesting to see how few came back next week. 671,000 for Pop Idle US - still the top-rated cable programme, 284,000 for Deal, 166,000 for the umpteenth repeat of Raven, and 139,000 for Bullseye.

Jet Set enjoyed its lead-in from the Cup Final and Dr Who, pulling 7.1m viewers. Dance Fever had 6m, marginally ahead of The Apprentice Final, ensuring a clean sweep for BBC game shows. HIGNFY got 4.4m for Michael Buerk, the UC semis had 2.7m and 2.5m, Link 2.3m, Great British Menu 2.2m, Eggheads 1.9m, QI 1.8m, and Mastermind is down at 1.7m, barely ahead of the third airing in a year for Coast. On the commercial channels, 4.1m for Millionaire, 3.6m for Deal or No Deal, and Channel 5 still hasn't had a game show make the weekly top 30 all year.

Test The Nation's Know Your Globe test tonight at 8, hosted by Anne and Gopherman, with special guest Rosie May. ITV's spoiler this week is Celeb X Factor, nightly from 9, opposite Challenge's Showbiz Blackjack game.

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