Weaver's Week 2008-12-14

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Yorkshire Television for Channel 4, 3.25 weekdays

We need to tie up the loose ends from the regular season. Denis Kaye won three games, lost on the fourth, and his aggregate total of 331 points is only enough to make him tenth seed. Lynne Cavanagh won one game, and the defending champion when normal service resumes will be Zoe Bowman, she won the last heat.

QF1: Charlie Reams (8 wins, 820 pts) beat Patricia Jamieson (3 wins, 332 pts), 82-69

So it's come to this, the beginning of the end of Des Chiffres et Des Lettres et Desso Connor et Carol Vorderman. There's been a slight change to the anticipated contestants: scheduled number seven seed Alex Horne was unable to make the recording date, and has been replaced by Patricia Jamieson, who was sponsored when she made her three appearances back in July. There's also been a late substitution in Dictionary Corner, where Pam Ayres has been replaced by Dr. Phil Hammond. This falls under the category of Good News.

Back at the game (goodness, we've not even started yet!) Charlie takes a lead with SAMPHIRE in the second round – it's a variety of parsley. It's the only difference between the players, so Charlie leads 37-29 at the anecdote. He puts up five vowels in round seven, perhaps going for a win on SAFETIES, except he offers the shorter FIESTAS. Still a winner, and it's worth a touchdown and a try. A selection beginning ZYJ has Carol suggesting we're playing Polish Countdown. Look, what are you going to do, fire her? Charlie's ZANEY* is disallowed – it can't take an "E". WRAPPED gives him a greater lead, and he leads 68-51 at the intermission. ATONAL puts Charlie further ahead, but Patricia begins an unlikely fightback with MATERIAL. The response is ASTEROID, giving Charlie an unassailable lead. He misses the last numbers game, and the conundrum defeats both players, Charlie has won with a surprisingly nervy performance, we thought.

QF2: Martin Bishop (8 wins, 809) beat Lee Simmonds (3 wins, 339), 112-64

In the bit before we begin, Carol explains why she's always stood to the right of the letters as they go up. It's so she doesn't block the view; if she stood to the left, she'd be obscuring three or four letters. In the game, Martin moves ahead in with SATIATE and SPIKED, and with a perfect score on a six-small numbers game, he leads 35-12 at the anecdote, where Phil Hammond is publicising his latest healthcare product.

Martin goes further ahead with REMOVERS straight afterwards, but honours then remain even until the intermission, with sixes and eights all round. Martin's lead is 73-42. "It's still possible," says Des, but we all know that 30-point leads don't get overcome in the final period, especially against the best players in the tournament. Martin offers RETINUE in the penultimate letters round, and the game is as good as over. It's been a low-scoring game – only a couple of rounds had eight-letter words on offer, but Martin has again made the best of difficult selections. His winning score is a very impressive 112.

QF3: Neil MacKenzie (5 wins, 409) lost to Junaid Mubeen (8 wins, 790), 57-124

Neil MacKenzie of Notts County was the first professional footballer to appear on Countdown, winning five games in July. Junaid was an octochamp in October, and had a best score of 121. Junaid moves ahead in the second round with TELECOM, then puts up the nine-letter winner NOTARISED in round three. Is it fair to write "game over" in our notebook already? Probably not, but READIEST is another winner for Junaid, who leads 49-16 at the anecdote.

Junaid continues to pull away in part two, ROMAINE is a winner, and Neil's WARBIEST* sounds like it should be in, but even Jo Brand's nonsense won't run to that. We know it's one-sided as Des forgets to give the score out; Junaid leads 85-38 at the intermission. Letters games with lots of sixes and no sevens keep things quiet in the final period, and bring up Junaid's century before the numbers game. He's picked one-large in both numbers games, and when Junaid gets the conundrum, it takes his score to a personal best 124. It's not quite as high as Charlie Reams's 126 in the heats, but it's a magnificent score at any time.

Image:Countdown deso and carol square.jpg

QF4: Kai Laddiman (8 wins, 756) beat Debbi Flack (6 wins, 600) 82-73

If she were to win, Debbi would be the first female champion since 1998; Kai is the youngest octochamp since before he was born, and the only person here to get all eight conundrum puzzles. Both players stick with the safe eight MORALISE in round two: dared they have stuck the R on the end? It would have been another nine-letter word. The deadlock is finally broken in round four, when Debbi offers CAROMED, a term in the table sport of Carom. They had an hour on Eurosport earlier in the year, if we remember correctly. It's the only break in the first period, and Debbi leads 37-30 at the anecdote.

Kai STUNNED his opponent straight after the break, levelling the game. And on we go, seven and seven. Do we believe in Kai's chances of victory? He offers ATHEIST to take a seven-point lead. We believe the second numbers game to be impossible, but Kai comes within two to lead 65-51 at the interlude. Jolly well done! Just when we thought the match was over, Debbi offers OILINESS to slash the gap, and FEINTED in the next round giver her a one-point lead. Game on! It's seven-all in the final letters game, and the last numbers games strikes us as an easy one. Debbi fails to score, and Kai takes a lead, 82-73. He's never failed to get a conundrum right, and this crucial conundrum – CLASSRIDE – ticks on. And on. Has it beaten the master? Has Flack been deposed? Time expires, the audience is beaten, and Kai has won a nail-biting game.

SF1: Kai Laddiman (9 wins, 838) lost to Charlie Reams (9 wins, 902), 70-99

Des remarks that the two contestants look like brothers, or the children of Dr. Phil Hammond. They're both credits to their separate sets of parents, that's for sure. It's Kai who takes the early lead, winning with STATELY as Charlie forgets the word he's not written down. Kai doubles his lead with SPANIEL, but Charlie pulls back with IONIZES. Three winning words in the first four rounds, that's a very good result. Charlie does better on a seemingly-impossible numbers round, leaving the game tied at 21-21.

Charlie has a habit of spotting the one good word from an awkward selection, and SPRAINED puts him ahead in the seventh round. It's the first round where any player has scored anything other than seven points. Charlie's been picking five-vowel selections almost right through the game, and it pays off with OUTRAGE. Both players spot FORAGED, the only seven in that selection, and Charlie does better at the second numbers round to lead 57-35 going into the intermission.

Honours are even early in the final period, with the players offering ORDINATES and NOTARISED to boost their scores. With all the won and lost rounds, it's been a low-scoring game. Charlie wraps it up with SUNDIAL in the final letters round, both players score on the numbers. The conundrum goes to the audience, and it's picked up by a well-known LAMEBRAIN, Jo Brand in Dictionary Corner.

SF2: Junaid Mubeen (9 wins, 914) beat Martin Bishop (9 wins, 921), 96-56

Useless statistic of the night is that both of these players have now scored more points than the official number one seed Mr. Reams. Look, it's better than the Des O'Connor album they were discussing. Junaid takes the lead in the second round with SPATIAL, and THRONED doubles it. Junaid also gets a moderately difficult numbers round, leaving him 36-12 ahead at the anecdote.

Martin pulls back some ground at the start of part two, when Junaid offers STAKEY*, more in hope than expectation. The comeback ends abruptly when Martin's MOANIER* is disallowed. Junaid is picking five vowels with his letters, a tactic we reckon leads to lots of sevens and never any eights. An easy six-small numbers selection leaves the scores 66-41 in Junaid's favour at the intermission.

The first letters selection of the final part features three vowels, and has loads of eights. But no nine – PRECASTED* isn't the past tense of "precast", and that gives points to Martin. In the final letters round, Martin needs a win, and tries SOMAINE* – it's not valid, and that puts Junaid 23 clear with two to go. Junaid confuses Carol terribly by getting within one on the last numbers, and gets the conundrum to cap a handsome win.

Image:Countdown carol withmumEdwina GylesBrandreth.jpg Before the final, a farewell programme aired, in which Gyles talked to Carol's mother Edwina and many other friends of Countdown.

Final: Junaid Mubeen (10 wins, 1010) beat Charlie Reams (10 wins, 1001) 88-84

"Afternoon Countdowners everywhere!" A phrase we won't be hearing again. We didn't realise it, but we have an Oxbridge battle here, Junaid is studying in Oxford, Charlie in Cambridge. Carol (a Cambridge graduate) makes her final introduction, and dictionary corner sees the return of Gyles Brandreth (Oxford). Is it really February last year since we saw the perpetual guardian of the dictionaries? On with the game, and Junaid gets off to the best possible start, picking STAINED. He loses the lead with the incorrect SLOPERS* in the next round, levelling the scores. Gyles says that when he met Susie Dent, he proposed marriage. She proposed adoption. Five each in round three, both finalists spot the only eight in round four, and absolutely nothing from an impossible numbers game leaves the scores tied. We've noted in the past that the score is deuce (40-40); this game is tied at 20-20, demi-deuce. On the grounds that neither contestant was around when he first dwelt in a grand final, Gyles repeats his brief poem, Ode to a Dead Goldfish.

Junaid starts the second period as he means to continue, offering the fabric ORGANDIE. Sixes all round, including a snigger when Charlie offers WEEING. We understand that he offered a well-known out-take in the heats, too. Charlie offers ALIENER* in the next round, but it's simply not there, and the lead's up to 14. Sevens all round in the letters, tens in the numbers, and Junaid's lead is 57-43.

With both players picking five vowels, the scores are always seven and rarely eight. Both players score eight with CARRIOLE, and six on a really difficult letters game. Charlie needs to score on the numbers, it has been his forte, and he picks four large, much to Carol's chagrin. It doesn't happen, both players get a relatively simple target, and the conundrum is of academic interest only. It had to be apposite: ERACLOSES turns into CASSEROLE into ten points for Charlie.

All of which means that Junaid Mubeen is the latest champion, and he'll be back – alongside Charlie, Kai, and Debbi Flack – in the Championship of Champions, which starts in a month's time. There'll be a new host, Susie thanks Des for the past two years, and for not once singing; Gyles has flowers and a poem as Carol blubs her way into the end credits. We'll finish with the poem Gyles recited, all from his memory.

From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There's nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.

University Challenge

Second round, match 4: Queen's Cambridge v Warwick

Warwick and Queens' Cambridge were winners in consecutive weeks during the summer – Warwick had a high-scoring win over Surrey during a thunderstorm, Queens' beat St George's London during a regular rainstorm. We'll be referring to Queens' as QCC, otherwise we're sure to get the apo'strophe's in th' wr'ong pl'ce's.

Number of the week is 14, the value of Zap in Scrabble. One of the sets of bonuses is on fictional captains, but they're only asked after an inordinate number of starters have been dropped. The first visual round is Name That Acquisition, the countries that (rather foolishly) sold bits of their territory to the United States so that it could expand past the Mississippi and south of the Chattahoochie. While our founder ponders autumn without the Great Cook-in at the Gastrodome, we'll note that QCC leads 65-10.

And we'll move on, where the teams are discussing food dishes associated with specific hotels. Rupert Cullen of QCC gets to declaim "Great bustard!" on national television, in answer to a question about a bird reintroduced to Salisbury Plain. The answer's far more interesting. Word puzzle of the week is on palindromic phrases, at which Warwick prove to be a bit rubbish. Never mind, they can always go on NPR and outsmart Liane Hansen. Thumper advocates shooting for people who don't know "Great Expectations", which (mercifully) doesn't include any of the teams here. Readers are warned that the audio round is on England football songs, in which QCC confused the sublime New Order with the somewhat less tuneful Hoddle 'n' Waddle. That's still put QCC ahead by 130-35.

It's very hard to get excited about this week's game. We've been royally spoiled in the last few weeks, with all four winners comfortably passing 250 points and the scores ticking along at a merry old rate. This week, starters are dropped, bonuses are dropped somewhat faster, and it's just dragging. The second visual round is Name That Portrait Painter, which no-one can do, and QCC's ahead by 160-55.

"Your bonuses are on cheese," is clearly phrase of the week, spoiled only slightly when Warwick puts Gloucester on the river Soar. "Four minutes to the gong," says Thumper, and we're already itching to zap over to Victoria Coren. Warwick's staging a bit of a comeback, getting two starters in a row, cutting the gap to 90 points? Can they overturn this? Not likely! Warwick does cut the gap to a more fair reflection of their talents, it's just a little too late. At the gong, QCC has won, 205-125.

For Queens' Cambridge, Jonny Nye was the six-starter guy, as the side answered 15/37 bonuses correctly. Warwick's best buzzer was Srdjan Garcevic, correct on four starters. The side had one missignal, and 8/27 bonuses correct.

Next match: Lincoln Oxford v St Andrews

This Week And Next

Image:Square eurovision logo.jpg

One further update to next year's Eurovision Song Contest: the error of televoting deciding the winner is over. Since 2004, all* the votes have been assembled by calls from members of the public. It's become increasingly obvious that expatriates were skewing the vote, with people allowed to vote 20 times by phone, and a further 20 times by SMS** before their votes were ignored. From next year's contest, the televotes will only count for half the ranking, the remaining half will be decided by the national juries. This will be a worthwhile experiment.

  • —Except for cases where only a handful of votes were received, or fewer than ten countries received votes.
    • —Except in the UK, where the broadcaster doesn't believe SMS voting works.

Television ratings for the week to 30 November are out. The X Factor continued to prove popular, 12.67m seeing the performances, presumably egged on by Dermot's zillion plugs for Britney and her amazing performing Spears. Strictly Come Dancing was a dangling carrot for 10.5m viewers, and Saturday's I'm a Celebrity Honest was seen by 10.2m. Hole in the Wall was a sneeze below 5m, its best so far. BBC2's top game show was Dancing on Two, 3.45m on Monday night, with UC on 2.85m. Over on C4, 2.45m watched Deal or No Deal. Channel 5 found 960,000 saw The World's Strongest Man, barely half last week's audience.

On the digital channels, it's X-Factor all the way. 1.5m for the Saturday night post-match show, 1.34m for the Sunday night repeat. Come Dine With Me had 825,000, and Tuesday's I'm a Celeb – transmitted exclusively on ITV2 – had 700,000 viewers. Five Life's repeat of World's Strongest Man was seen by 195,000, a fifth of the original show's audience. UKTV Watch almost doubled its audience for Ballroom With the B-List, 175,000 tuned in on Friday.

Highlights for next week, then. ITV presents the Christmas Cooks Challenge (11am weekdays), Radio 4 has the first Christmas special (The Unbelievable Truth, 6.30 Monday), and we find out the winners of Last Man Standing (BBC3, 9pm Tuesday), The Last Millionaire (BBC3, 9pm Wednesday) and Election (BBC1, 4.35 Thursday). Go Quincy! Go Hazel!

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