Weaver's Week 2006-08-06

Weaver's Week Index

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


Fort Boyard

"Sir, it would be easier to catch the moon with the teeth than take on such an endeavour in such a location".

Fort Boyard

Adventure Line for France 2, rebroadcast on TV5 Monde

For the past month or so, we've been spending much of our Sunday evening watching half-a-dozen people we don't know talking in a foreign language, running around a deserted fort in the Atlantic, and generally acting in a manner completely incomprehensible to anyone. And we've enjoyed every second of it.

The episodes so far have been from the 2003 series, so should bear a close similarity to the Challenge revival. Olivier Minne, already a familiar face to TV5 viewers from La Cible, is the nominal host for the show. Like Chris Ellison, he's moderately welcoming, human and not pantomime villain.

Sarah Lelouche is the Melinda Messenger replacement, and (in the first episode) wore an eye-searing pink get-up. There's no room for pastel shades in this production. Yann le Gac plays the iconic Pere Fouras, the doddery old bloke in the tower. He's playing a very similar character to Geoffrey Baynham, slightly confuzzled by everything that's going on but clearly keeping his faculties.

Perhaps the biggest point of departure from the UK is the length of the show. Our edition ran for about 45 minutes, plus commercials. The French equivalent goes for just over 100 minutes; with adverts, it's a two-hour programme. There's also a more clear explanation of the time for the original - 45 minutes to obtain seven keys, then the night-time trial, and then 20 minutes to find the clue words.

The night-time trial? In the games for keys, it's possible for there to be some prisoners captured. In our episodes, they were automatically reprieved once the required number of keys had been secured, or they'd served a time penalty. This is more than a little unsatisfactory. Instead, the French version puts them in some cells, with rats, or spiders, or a shallow pool containing crabs. And leaves them there after sunset.

The rest of the team get to hold on to a lantern containing a crystal. The lantern is suspended above a pit, and if the team drops the lantern, the crystal is lost, and the prisoners are stuck in their cells until the end of the show. However, assuming the team can keep holding the lamp for many hours - typically about three - they'll get the crystal.

The crystal grants access to the Chambre du Maitres de Tenebre (Room of the Masters of Darkness. Four dudes with horned masks who stand behind desks.) In turn, the team will play against one of the Dudes of Darkness in a fairly simple game - last person to hammer a nail into the wood loses, or a simple Rock Paper Scissors game. Two wins from four chances frees one prisoner, three wins will free two people, four wins will release three. If the team has no prisoners - whether through lock-ins or exchanging for the seventh key, they're playing for extra time in the treasure room at the end.

Holding on to a lamp, like Survivor's famous Standing About On A Log challenge, makes for decent OK television. Unlike the famous Standing About On A Log challenge, there's a clear end to this one. Perhaps this part of the show is best watched in the twilight of a blisteringly hot day, with no light other than the gentle glow of a television screen.

The games themselves are mostly familiar to us, the usual trials of skill, brute force, strength, and (occasionally) observation, plus the traditional riddles. There are a few games we didn't get to see much, and subtle changes from the UK editions - incorrect answers to the riddles result in the key landing on a net, not being thrown out to sea. One or two tests feature red timers, rather than the usual blue - once the time has run out, the player may continue and get the key, or the team may move on and lock the player in. The difficulty of the key games is carefully worked out, so that a team needing three keys with ten minutes to go can still get the seven before time runs out. And, as in the Challenge edition, clue words aren't revealed to the team until the end of the ordeals.

The presentation is modern, with split screens (a la The Mole) and replays of what you've just seen (as opposed to what you're about to see) as break bumpers. The teams are composed of five celebrities of a major or minor nature, plus one person nominated by the charity they're playing for. And the sporting celebrities are current players - one episode featured Djibril Cisse, the then-international footballer; another included Corinne Neograit, champion biathlete. Compare and contrast against the newly-retired and minority sports featured on Superstars.

The question that will, inevitably, be asked: could a UK channel take on Fort Boyard in this format? Undoubtedly. The two-hour programme flows far more easily than Channel 5 and Flextech's one-hour version. We get to know the team in that greater depth, and there's always something happening to entertain and excite. Yes, two hours is a bit of a long time, but no longer than a football match or a feature film.

If ITV were still in the business of taking creative risks, we would suggest that the channel rustle up half-a-dozen of its staff, book the Fort for a week, follow the French cook-book to the letter, make three or four special editions, and slip them into the schedule when there's a Saturday night to fill or there's a Tuesday without football. However, ITV has even smaller budgets than Flextech, so bang goes that idea.

French For Beginners

A guide to Fort Boyard catchphrases, and their approximate English translations.

Pret? Attention. C'est parti!

-- Jacques, the door.

Tu as les temps!

-- There's plenty of time.

Tu jamais as pas les temps!

-- There's never plenty of time.

Sors! Sors!

-- Come out.

Tu es un prisoner!

-- It's a lock-in!

Maitres de tenebre

-- The staff at the British Rail complaints office.

Je demandes un jeu!

-- May I have one of your fine diversions, kind sirs.


-- Jacques.


-- Jim.

L'enigma qui est Pere Fouras

-- The Professor in the tower. Geoffrey Bayldon had P Fouras down to a tee, a remarkable performance. Tom Baker was less close to the original.

Prendre la coupe sur la cafetiere.

-- Put the tea-cup in the tea-pot.

Laurent Romenjko n'acceptes pas ici.

-- You wouldn't catch Des Lynam putting up with this.

Ou se trouve l'auberge de jeunesse

-- We have no idea what this means.

Il y a plus d'information au bar d'ennuance.

-- There's much more at Bother's Bar.


First round, episode 18

David Pollard will talk about venomous snakes. He starts well, but takes a long time to get question four wrong, and loses a little confidence. Good finish, though, and 10 (2) means he's not out of it.

Barry Simmons has been swotting up on the life of Robert Fitzroy. This was the inventor of the weather forecast, and who gave his name to a shipping forecast area, thus ruining Humph's joke "Who Wants To Be In Finnisterre?" No joke about this round, scoring a remarkable 16 (1).

Trying to follow that is Anna Statham, taking the "Hilda Tablet" plays by Henry Reed. These were a series of comedies about art and artists, first broadcast on the Third Programme (later Radio 3) in the 1950s and 60s. The contender scores three passes, and thrice three correct answers.

Christopher MacKay tries to channel the winner from two years ago by taking World Cup Football - implicitly, 1930-2002. Shaun Wallace, you may recall, took narrow football subjects in all three rounds. The contender today doesn't start that well, with a pass, and it becomes apparent that this was a subject too large by many orders of magnitude. 4 (4) is the score; this is not likely to be a winning score. His general knowledge round is somewhat more productive, and the final total is 11 (9).

Mrs Statham may not have been able to revise to the original Hilda Tablet plays, for they have not been aired in many years. Radio 3 marks its sixtieth birthday at the end of September, and it would be appropriate to repeat or re-enact one (or more) of these plays. Rather sadly, the contender drops into Pass Hell, so we will record the final score - 12 (11) - and move on.

Mr Pollard, the snake-charmer, next, and he's been interested in wildlife since he was very young. Again, a decent start turns into a run of passes, with a stronger finish. 17 (8) is his finishing score.

Which means that Mr Simmons needs precisely two points to win, a task that was beyond Kym Marsh at the start of the year. He pays tribute to Cpt. Fitzroy, suggesting that he was just as good as Cpt. Cook. He also gets the obligatory Top of the Pops question, one night after the show's current run came to an end. His final score is 26 (6).

This Week And Next

The producer of Love Island has been writing for A Demi Grauniad. Choice cuts have included, "The only answer in such circumstances is to hold firm and do what we do best, and that's to make very entertaining tv. ... The truth is it's a bloody good watch." We politely decline to comment.

The Gambling Commission has opened a public consultation questioning the legality of many prize draws and competitions, a process that could threaten the business models of call-and-lose operations. It will consider whether the simple questions used in various televised quizzes are a form of gambling; in particular, whether the question formats require any skill or if they are a game of chance. If such games are classed as lotteries, they will have to be regulated and 20% of revenue must go to charitable causes. Such a reduction in revenues would severely damage the profitability of the channels. Many could close, and ITV's decision to close its flagship news channel for a call-and-lose service will look even more incredibly stupid - quite an achievement. The full consultation is available on the Gambling Commission's website and responses are due by 31 October.

Two more entries on the Roll of Honour this week. UC The Professionals reached its final, and let us congratulate the Bodleian Library team for their victory. Less expected was Eleri Owen answering all twenty-one questions correctly on last Saturday's In It to Win It, scooping the theoretical jackpot of £100,000. It's the largest payout in a straightforward quiz in BBC history, and only the record contracts from Star Academy (notionally worth a million pounds, though mostly deductible from royalties) could rival it.

Top programmes as determined by BARB, the ratings agency that has been celebrating its silver anniversary this week. The UK has a new number one game show for the week to 23 July - In It to Win It is back, and notched up 5.6 million viewers, a full 650,000 ahead of Big Brother. The bronze medal may go to BBC1's Dancing In The Street (4.1m on Saturday night), which included a number of record attempts. It may go to Bad Lads' Army (3.3m for ITV on Tuesday), depending on whether one deems it a game show. Discount both of those and the 3m for Thursday's Deal takes the honour.

Also-rans: Celeb Love Island had 2.5 million on Monday, and squeaks the last place in ITV's Top 30. BBC2's Story of Light Entertainment had slightly fewer viewers on Saturday. UC Pro had 2m, Link 1.9m, Mastermind 1.75m, QI 1.65m, and Eggheads 1.6m. A similar score puts Big Brother's Big Brain into C4's top thirty, and that's believed to be the first time anyone has watched Russell Brand by choice.

The Big Brother franchise may be losing it on E4 - Little Brother got less than half a million viewers, and was beaten by dramas Lost and Sugar Rush. CLI on ITV2 had 340,000 tuning in, with a quarter of a million catching a Sunday repeat (sorry, alternate narrative performance) of Bad Lads' Army. More4's best Deal barely poked above 200,000, and Challenge's top was old Millionaire.

Next week's highlights, and an awful lot of old friends return. University Challenge is back (Monday 8.30 BBC2). Eamonn Holmes' Sudo-Q (3.15 weekdays BBC2) returns for a second series, hopefully a little less arbitrary than the first. Raven: The Island is a new quest for the greatest warriors (5.30 weekdays CBBC). And, just for good measure, Challenge gains Fear Factor (9pm weeknights).

Next week's Week is scheduled to contain short cuts on recent series - Bad Lads' Army, Annually Retentive, and - if anything moderately interesting happens - Big Brother.

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