Weaver's Week 2010-06-20

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For reasons of complete incompetence on our part, we managed to miss the lead-up to this Countdown finals week; we thought it would take place a week later. We left Chris Jones in the champion's chair, he only had one win (totalling 123 pts) before being beaten by Lee Graham. He looked set for octochampdom, but fell with six wins and 627 pts. Gwen Robinson (1 win, 141) was beaten by Paul Stevenson (2 wins, 247), who fell to Steve Wilson (1 win, 173). Danny Pledger beat Steve, as he would beat the other seven people he faced, becoming only the second octochamp of the year. His total of 635 is the lowest eight-win total since the current format was adopted in 2002. James Saker (1 win, 126) collected a teapot, Dominic Travers (5 wins, 515) fell one win short of a place in the finals, and Scott Gillies (5 wins so far) is already wondering what he's doing in the run-up to Christmas.

QF1: Claudia Tyson (8th seed, 6 wins, 545 pts) lost to Oliver Garner (1st seed, 8 wins, 802) 75-123

Claudia is a nurse from Ampthill in Bedfordshire, and won six games in April, five of them with scores in the 80s. Oliver was the first octochamp of the year in January, he's fifteen and attends Tiffin's School in Surrey. Or, as dictionary guest John Inverdale calls it, the kids over the garden fence. The host remembers a time when he was introducing himself on the radio and couldn't remember his own name. Des somebody, we reckon.

Is there a game in here? Very much so, and Oliver gets off to a great start with the winner ABOLISH, but everyone misses EUROLAND in the next round. He extends the lead in the fourth round with AWAKENS, in a round where we were hoping for a final "R". A simple numbers round means Oliver is ahead 38-24 as Inverdale tells us about the 1829 University Challenge Boat Race, when Jeremy Paxman was still perfecting his sneer. Cambridge beat Oxford that year, too.

For obvious reasons, Oliver isn't a VIRAGO himself, but the word extends his lead to twenty. Honours are even in the next two rounds, but then dour times strike for Claudia – the lead seed declares MISROUTED and we're reckoning it's game over even before Susie can tell us how "strike", as in industrial inaction, is a nautical word. Another simple numbers round puts Oliver up 85-47 at the interval. There's nothing to split the players in the last letters frames, and a moderately difficult numbers round (at least if you don't know your 111-times table), brings up very respectable scores for both players. It's the third time Oliver's been past 110 points, and when he solves the conundrum he takes the score to 123-75. The highest score of the series; indeed, only Oliver has beaten 110. So far...

Countdown Quarter-finalist Claudia Tyson

QF2: Danny Pledger (2nd seed, 8 wins, 635) lost to Nikki Sellars (7th seed, 6 wins, 556), 60-100

Nikki, a trainee teacher from Swindon, was another consistent player, consistently winning her games with scores around 80 points, consistently blobbing a word every day. Danny is a web developer from Southend-on-Sea, and in his eight wins, his highest score was 96, and you really can only beat the people you're up against. Such is also the case at the Olympics, which John and Jeff discuss. It's Nikki who gets off to the best start, PIMENTOS beats Danny's offering. Sevens all in the next round, but PINKNESS has Nikki blushing with a sixteen-point lead already. A decently difficult numbers game is solved by Nikki, and her lead is 41-15 before Inverdale talks about John Wayne.

Can Danny pull off the biggest comeback since Jessica Garlick? Not in the letters rounds – winners DISOWNER and ABASHES elude both contestants. Lots of eights in round 8, and PULSATED comes up in the next round. It's spotted by Danny, and – to misquote Peter Dickinson's End Of The World Voiceover™, it's Comeback On! Promptly followed by Comeback Over: Danny misses a simple numbers game, Nikki's lead is 72-54 at the interval. Flat letters games after the interval, and Danny sees a letter that isn't there to ensure the game's as good as won. It's reasonable that he risks LATCHER* in the final letters round, it would have made the gap bridgeable, but it wasn't to be. Perfection in the final numbers round brings up Nikki's century, and the conundrum evades both players – and the entire studio audience.

Countdown Quarter-finalist and octochamp Danny Pledger

QF3: Lee Graham (6th seed, 6 wins, 627) beat Dave Wilkinson (3rd seed, 7 wins, 647), 79-67

Lee Graham is a book editor from Highgate in London, and his top score at the start of May was 109. Dave is a former football ref from Leicestershire, his heats went out in late March, and his highest score was 90 in the game he lost. This week's dictionary dweller is Paul Zenon. The first round has an eight-point winner, but Lee's offering of SWATTIER* (as in, more likely to batter a fly) is rejected, allowing Dave to eke out a lead. Turnabout in the next round, as Dave's FLUXER* is also disallowed – REFLUX would have been fine. Another disallowed word – ENSEALED* doesn't score for Lee, and a nigh-on impossible numbers game means Dave leads by 19-12 at the magic trick, which features the Richard Whiteley Memorial Bad Puns.

It's sevens as far as the eye can see after the break, apart from one round when there's eights to be had. Lee has a winner in round nine, DISPOSE, and that brings the scores level again. It feels like there's a crucial conundrum in the offing, unless one of the players manages to fail miserably. That doesn't happen in the numbers round, so it's 51-51 at the interlude. Lee comes back with the winner, OUTWENT, where one's outgoings – well, went. Dave picks five vowels with his last selection, hoping to flatten the round and stay in contention. It almost worked, there were fives and nothing better, but RIOJA* is a proper noun, Dave can't score for it. The final letters round is the flat one, the six-small selection fails with a nice simple target (420 with a 10 and 7 involved), and that's game over. Dave tries on the conundrum, Lee guesses in the final second, and the game ends with one of the audience getting DISPERSAL.

Countdown Quarter-finalist Dave Wilkinson

QF4: Peter Zyss (4th, 7 wins, 617) lost to Craig Chittenden (5th, 6 wins, 662), 76-98

Peter comes from Sheffield and played in early April. He scored 90 on Easter Monday and later lost to Claudia Tyson. Craig, a chef from Bishop Auckland, played in February, and his lowest winning score was 92; the defeat to Christopher Smith was one of the finest games of the series. This one gets off to a humdrum start, with sixes all round; both players spot POLENTA, the only seven, in the next round. Their EGOTISM counts for naught when Susie and Paul are involved in an EIGHTSOME; there are PARODIES to follow. We finally get a difference in the numbers round, as Craig resolves a tricky little target for ten points, and a 38-28 lead. Paul Zenon's little piece of misdirection is very well done, even though how he did it is obvious in retrospect.

It's back to the same word in stereo – nothing FANCIER. They finally differ in the next round, though Peter's REGAILS* isn't going to get anywhere. It's back to POUNDING out the same words in the next round, then Peter has a nine-letter winner BLATHERING. It recovers the debt, and gives him a one-point lead. Craig chooses six small, the target's absolutely massive, and remarkably comes within four – Craig's back in the lead, 67-61. Peter misdeclares his word after the interlude, and that allows Craig to double the lead, and it does feel like game over. An ATOMISER each makes us wonder where the YTV budget went, and – at the final time of asking – both players score with different words, DECREES and REDUCES. Craig caps his win with another marvellous numbers solution, and another winning score in the high 90s. We'll see him tomorrow.

Countdown Quarter-finalist Peter Zyss

SF1: Oliver Garner (1st, 9 wins, 925) beat Craig Chittenden (5th, 7 wins, 760), 105-69

It's been a tournament of upsets – Oliver was the only higher-seeded player to win his quarter-final match, and he's playing the man with the second-highest total from the heats. Paul Zenon is wearing a fishy shirt, and he'll spend most of the game looking for words that are fish. Jeff is remembering how Grimsby fans sing "Swing low, sweet halibut", and the contenders shake hands before the match. It is only a game. The players offer different seven-letter words for the first round, we're not going to have another game of Countdown Snap. Craig is beaten by Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells in the next round – his offer of LITERAGE* is disallowed, not because it's not in the dictionary, but because it's marked as a US spelling. We know the rule is that American spellings are not valid, we still think that that rule stinks – if it's in the dictionary, it's a valid word. This is a fair rule, but it's certainly not just. The next two letters rounds are flat six-letter games, the numbers round is taxing but very possible, and Oliver leads 37-29, thanks only to the green ink brigade.

It's the way Paul tells his magic stories that we love him, always a couple of minutes worth watching, and today it's the dehydrated water trick. No danger of RAINOUTS on this show, unlike at the London Umbrella and Anorak Exposition next week, and it gives Oliver a winning word. The BIONIC player moves ahead in the next round, before both players are right to risk THIEVED. Oliver pulls off a remarkable win in the numbers round, beating Craig at his six-small speciality, and there's only one winner at 74-42. Oliver extends his lead with DISCORD after the interval, MALTASE is also a winner after Craig offers a ridiculous eight we didn't quite catch. The numbers game is easy to bring up Oliver's century, his sixth, and the conundrum — well, it goes to Craig, giving him the final word in the show. He's not surprised to have lost.

Countdown Semi-finalist Craig Chittenden

SF2: Lee Graham (6th, 7 wins, 706) lost to Nikki Sellars (7th, 7 wins, 656), 51-89

It occasionally happens that two contenders who met in the heats are reunited in the finals sequence. With the growth in octochamps recently, this isn't so common, but it happens here: Lee beat Nikki 76-73 when the two met on 30 April. Paul Zenon tells us how he created his name – it's the sort of thing Hawkwind might have had, and he was going to be Xenon except no-one could pronounce it. EIGHTS all round in the opener, so six points each. Sevens each in the next round, but Nikki lets fly with her secret WEAPON to crack the game open. She gets the numbers game spot on to lead 36-20 as Paul does his magic trick, involving a vase of flowers.

Both players risk SUBHEATED* after the break, but it's not going to happen, not in this book. DISPLACE gives Nikki an even larger lead in the next round; can she lose from 24 ahead? Lee offers ADROITER* but, again, he's not scoring as it's an invalid word. He'll have to recover from 31 adrift. In the next round CANTON CANNOT be beaten, only equalled, and Lee blobs his chance at the numbers game, allowing Nikki to lead 62-26. Palindromic scores, but it's clear who the winner will be. VALISES is another winner for the Swindon sensation, unlike Jeff's joke about Nikki being on her case. She picks five vowels for her last letters game, and promptly loses it to GOUTIER. Lee's comeback is on, he only needs a nine-letter word here, maximum on the numbers, and the conundrum. There's no niner in the selection, but Lee does climb his MOUNTAIN to reduce the arrears. An easy numbers game and a good conundrum spot for Nikki concludes the game, and she reckons Oliver is unbeatable. Is she right?

Countdown Semi-finalist Lee Graham

Final: Nikki Sellars (7th, 8 wins, 795) v Oliver Garner (1st, 10 wins, 1030)

Jeff promises us the 60-second final. Does he really mean that it'll be completed in a minute, that we'll have two rounds and that'll be it? Ah, no, this is final number 62 in a never-ending series. Nikki says that she'll enjoy the "surreal" experience, Oliver says that Nikki will be a tough opponent. Again, there's a handshake before the game starts. Letters, MAESTRO, please; Oliver spots the only seven for an early lead. The next round has the POOREST selection we've seen in ages.

If this were a one-minute final, Oliver would have won 14-7. It's not, we play on, with sixes in the next and MOIETY adding to Oliver's advantage. He gets the numbers, too, and extends his lead to 36-13 at the magic trick. Just when we thought it was going to be a one-way street, Nikki offers TAMPONED as a last-gasp eight, and – cripes! – it's a winner. Game on! Both players decide to risk VOIDNESS in the next round, and both score with their risk. Oliver restores his lead with TAWNIER, then both are DREAMING of eight. Both contestants pull funny faces during a very simple numbers round, so Oliver goes into the interval ahead by 69-47.

After the break, Nikki tries ORALIZE* to reduce the arrears, but neither it nor ORALISE* are allowed, so Oliver wins to stretch his lead. Looks like a game-winning moment. Nikki seems to be SQUASHED, a word also offered by Oliver, and both score in the CAPTION competition. Oliver gets closer in a tough numbers game, and only a few moments ago Jeff said Rachel should be paid by the solution. She earned her money there. Oliver solves the conundrum to bring up his century and win the game, 107-62.

Countdown Finalist Nikki Sellars

Countdown All hail Oliver Garner!

So Oliver Garner, a schoolboy from Surrey, adds his name to the list of Countdown legends. Who will follow him? Series 63 begins on Monday.

This Week And Next

Big Brother also came back this week, and we note that, for the eleventh year in a row, the public has voted for one of the women to be first out. Unlike some previous years, this was a foregone conclusion, as the vote was between the tense hippie, the quondam nude model, and the lookalike of Nick Knowles' daughter. We find it quite remarkable that all eleven public votes should end with this result, and suggest that it might actually say something about the audience. Quite what it says, we're not sure.

Why is Jeopardy! like chess? Buzzerblog reports that some of the show's all-time greats are going to take on a new opponent: a computer. Watson has been programmed to interpret the answer offered on the show, and to buzz in if it thinks it knows the answer. We'd dearly love to see Watson will take on the champions of Brain of Britain or Mastermind, or have a shot at Only Connect.

Viewing figures for the week to 6 June, and – guess what! Britain's Got Talent was the most popular show, with 12.8m seeing Men In Tight Shorts beat One Woman And Her Dog in the phone vote. Have I Got News For You secured 5.15 million viewers, and Junior Apprentice 4.6m, showing that the BBC1 audience likes being lectured by former government ministers. Can't think why. Great British Menu climaxed to 2.5m fans of fine dining, and in a very poor week for Channel 4, Three In A Bed had 1.3m live and 225,000 on 4+1. No major surprises on the digital channels, 1.625m viewers for Good Grief Hasn't Cowell Finished Yet, 1.005m for Come Dine With Me Repeats, and 435,000 for Would Dave Lie To You. Total Wipeout is proving a ratings winner on CBBC, with 360,000 seeing the Sunday morning show.

There are far too many ball sports clogging up the schedule this week, and almost no time for games. The highlight is the return of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday). The lowlight is the return of Quote... Unquote (Radio 4, 1.30 Monday).

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