Weaver's Week 2013-11-10

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We hear that Daphne Fowler is to retire. We wish her well, and will review her long and glorious career in a future Week.


Prize Island

ITV, from 27 October

The evenings are drawing in, it's getting chilly out, so what better time to escape to a sunkissed tropical island? Emma Willis and Alexander Armstrong are our guides to this terra gloria, and they'll show us the many sights to be found here. The abandoned settlements, the wrecked ships, the caverns on the beach.

Prize Island And the local shopping opportunities.

And they'll bring our eight representatives into close contact with the island's unusal fauna. Here, for instance, is the Pisces aequortele, the flat-screen fish. Over on the beach, one of the Catinus ablutum, the automated dishwasher. And look! Flying above the trees! It's a migrating tribe of Ludus abaci, the lesser-spotted board game. Oh, who are we fooling. Of course the island isn't inhabited by various packs of white goods and consumer durables roaming free across the plains. No, these prizes are put there by the producers, and given away as the result of some games.

The games! In each episode, there are three main games and a couple of smaller ones. In one of the main games, there are a large number of prizes to be won, but many of them are relatively small and inexpensive – a vacuum cleaner, a lawnmower, an ironing board. Another of the main games offers one very large prize, a fitted kitchen or a holiday, but only to the winning team. The third of the main games, and the two smaller ones, fit somewhere between these extremes: they can go for quantity, they can go for quality, but nothing massive – no-one's going to win twenty-seven round-the-world cruises on this show.

Prize Island Some of our tourists made this trophy cabinet.

Many of the games are a bit cute and a bit silly. There's been a paintball game, splat the moving prizes with coloured blobs to win them. There's been a "guess the weight of the prize" sideshow, and there's been a hoopla game. That's one in which contestants win prizes by throwing hoops over them, and not by drinking bizarre concoctions made by Gypsy Rose Dick.

Lest we think that Prize Island is just a circus transplanted to somewhere nicer, we find there's a regular game, an obstacle course through the wreck of a pirate ship. Jump off the landing craft, onto the octopus. Scramble up the rigging, walk across the rickety bridge, then slide down the ship's anchor to run up the gunwales, before jumping off the remains of the boat to the life raft containing this week's big prize. It's a bizarre five minutes of television, moving from The Krypton Factor athleticism to Total Wipeout "ooh, he fell in the water" at a moment's notice.

Prize Island The surely impossible way of the octopus.

The other challenges on the island vary: there's usually a skills task, such as catching balls on the fly, and there's generally some sort of mental test, like a jigsaw puzzle involving water troughs. There's very little out-and-out mental work, there's a lot of testing the couples' ability to work together as a team. So catching the balls, that's done in a bucket that both of the players have to hold and move about. Going round the shipwreck obstacle course, that's to be done as a pair, riding together.

The viewer needs to suspend their disbelief, to simultaneously know that the prizes aren't there naturally and to share in the pretence that there's nothing unusual about the set-up. In lesser hands, this could cause an Unintentional Irony Overload; Willis and Armstrong are comfortable with the improbable, they act as though this sort of thing happens everyday in the crazy world of television celebrity, and this confidence tends to be catching.

Prize Island Our visitors participate in the local pastime of extracting the cloth without moving the cutlery.

Winners of each game progress onwards, of course. For the losers, the disappointment of losing, and that's about it. All the prizes they've won so far are forfeit, and they're left with the implicit consolation prize of a week in the tropics and an appearance on network television. We might prefer it if the consolation prize were announced as such, or if the losing finalists were allowed to keep one of the smaller prizes they'd won on the way.

From the first two episodes, it appears that however varied the opening parts, each show ends with the same endgame. Five caves, five possible answers. One of them holds the night's star prize of a brand new car and £50,000 cash. The other four will reveal nothing more the crushed hopes and dreams of losing contestants. The caves are named, and the final act will be for the hosts to give a general knowledge question to which one of the caves is the answer.

Prize Island There's got to be a successful format in here somewhere...

The contestants can help themselves by eliminating some incorrect answers in three challenges. They can try to create four four-letter words from a selection of seven consonants and two vowels – but there's only three copies of each letter, and no time to correct errors. The players can attempt to knock down the island's sacred statues, of Wattch and Munki and Tummbeldria. And they can try to find a buried treasure chest from the pictograph clues given.

Eventually, though, they'll have to pick a cave. A cave with a black door. The insides are black. It's filmed at night, against a clear black sky. The cave doors open, and the shot is of various shades of black, and we're thinking, "we could do better than that." Try sending the explorers in through a small passageway with a torch and head cameras, so that they find out for themselves and open the main doors from inside.

Prize Island You've won a black cloth!.

There are other little nitpicks – the water trough jigsaw required contestants to match up patterns of holes, and needed more shots of the holes (fitting or wrong) and less footage of contestants lugging about planks of wood. And the shooting gallery game relied too much on long-shot footage, making it hard to see for ourselves whether the player had hit or missed.

These are minor flaws: irritating while we see them, not big enough to spoil the programme. Nor are we tremendously put off by the blatant advertising that goes on in the Prize Island show. They're open that product placement has happened, that the makers of the flat-screen television or the fitted kitchen have stumped up money to appear on national television. References to the products aren't gloating, the descriptions are factual, and the whole process feels entirely natural.

As a comparison, we watched last Sunday's show immediately before the Formula One highlights. The motor racing coverage held on to shots of the pit lane and some of the corners far longer than were editorially justified, and it could only be to keep the sponsors' logos on screen for those extra seconds. There's none of this artifice on Prize Island.

Behind the scenes, we understand that there was much scratching of heads at ITV Towers about where to put this programme. We thought the series was going to go out on Saturday evenings in the early spring, and feared it would be burned off in the summer. Instead, it's in the Sunday teatime slot of family entertainment games. Once upon a time, there were bulls here, and the show does fit well in the cheese-sandwich-and-teacake slot.

Prize Island A sponsored picture.

Some years ago, we wondered what the children's programme Raven would be like if it translated to primetime television. We can just about detect an echo in Prize Island. It's a fantasy setting, a slightly fantastic setting, where the normal rules don't apply. Both shows require a massive suspension of disbelief to begin with, and then operate in their own little worlds. To the successful, there shall be rewards (gold rings in Raven, consumer goods on Prize Island), but only the tournament champions shall be granted their heart's desire (a staff of power, or a five-star trip to Dubai).

Not a perfect analogy, and we don't think that Prize Island will inspire much in the way of fanfiction. (There will be some fanfiction, there always is, please don't trouble us with it.) Nor do we think that Prize Island will run for ten series, or come to define a channel. We do hope it gets another outing, it's not a bad programme at all.

Only Connect

Series 8, Match T: Lasletts v Board Gamers

Ahead: walls 373 and 374. One of the Lasletts has a passion for Eurovision; one of the Board Gamers serenaded Bob Geldof in an airport lounge. And they've been practising for the skateboarding round, which makes us wonder if the Gamers' secret weapon is Eugene from First Class The Video Quiz.

First Class Are the Board Gamers old enough to remember this late-80s show?

The Lasletts begin the game, and sound the Five Point Klaxon. 461375808. Is, obviously, "bobsleigh" written upside down on a calculator. Board Gamers have Khartoum's street layout and a Pizza Margarita. They're all inspired by national flags? Correct! The Lasletts lead 5-3; a reasonable score at the end of the round, never mind after two questions!

Ah, music, that'll depress things. Lots of piano music in this round, and both sides guess: seasons, times of day. No, it's second piano concertos. Victoria digresses into her time playing the recorder; Hywel points out that there's a huge repertoire of recorder pieces: all the nursery rhymes! And more!! Victoria Coren Mitchell's Favourite Recorder Pieces, coming to a record store near you. For the Board Gamers, it's not "they can all be contracted", nor that "they all end in z", but things known as "Winkler". Like Victoria's brother's novel. Still 5-3.

The George and Dragon = 6. The Lasletts are sounding the Five Point Klaxon again, but silence it with an extra clue: Red Lion = 4 for three points. Score in pub cricket, a game played before motorways. Pictures for the Gamers: a singing nun, a picture, a bizarre architectural thing, and an unknown bloke from film noir. "Songs from The Sound of Music" is the offer. Well, it's better than saying nothing: the Lasletts know it's "The Singing", and the thing is The Singing Ringing Tree near Burnley, named after the frightening animation. It's 9-3 to the Lasletts.

Lasletts kick off Sequences with pictures: a doctor of divinity, Bette Middler, and they go for AA, because those were DD and CC in Beaches. For the Gamers, it's 4th Hemingway 3rd Pacific rim 2nd North Pole to South Pole. They might be too young to remember Michael Palin's Epic Journeys, but stumble their way to Around the World. 12-5 to the Lasletts.

"Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" "A man's got to know his limitations" "Marvelous". The Lasletts are confused: it's not "Rosebud", nor "Play it again, Sam". Lines from Dirty Harry films, and the most well-known one from the fourth is "Go ahead, make my day". For the Board Gamers, it's Ron Francis, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier. Is it Ringo Starr? It so isn't! Wayne Gretsky, being the successive holders of most career points in NHL (hockey, not hurling). 13-5 to the Lasletts.

On their own question: Cap height, Median, Baseline. Origin is not the answer; "the bit below the line in typography" is good enough for a bonus: descender height is the formal name. On their own question, it's a Nuclear missile launch. Bit harsh. UBS logo is clue two, and Jamie is all ready to push the button until Michael reminds him that he needs the link. "Pants". Might actually have been a correct answer, the hole in the front is sometimes known as the "key". But, yes, the answer is something with one key: donkey.

Trailing by 13-6, the Board Gamers start their wall with types of lager, and then while Jamie bangs out through various combinations he's able to discuss other possible links. This, folks, is a skill you get from playing lots of Pokémon. Elements of a total solar eclipse is the next group, then the team have a good think about the last two groups. Things from the rhyme "Hush little baby" generates a wonderful discussion about the ethics of buying a goat for a child. They don't get the last link: ____arium. Seven points!

The Lasletts make very easy work of their wall: characters in Blake's 7, colourful homophones, Radio 1 breakfast presenters, and Isles of. Ten points! And not even time to remind ourselves about the Keeper of the Queen's Khakis.

Only Connect (2) The Lasletts are surely through to the final four.

With a 23-13 lead going into Missing Vowels, the Lasletts should be unstoppable. Rhodes Scholars closes the gap, but only slightly, 2-1. Monty Python quotes also ends 2-1 to the Board Gamers; two names for the same chemical element is 3-1 to the Lasletts. Private Eye correspondents sees the Lasletts score and lose a point.

All of which means the Lasletts are through to the semis, 28-18. The Board Gamers will be back on our screens sooner.

This Week And Next

We're into the second round on University Challenge. York and Somerville Oxford had comfortable wins, over Bath and Pembroke Cambridge in mid-September. It quickly became clear that Somerville had been paying attention during last week's Only Connect, scoring well on questions about the first SMS and telegraph messages. Look out here in two weeks for a question about Clare Balding and/or Alice Arnold.

Being the highly professional quiz host, Thumper quite deliberately neglected to give the answer to a question asking after the four largest landlocked countries in Africa. Chad, Niger, Mali, and Ethiopia is the answer that he couldn't be bothered to give. Don't pretend you can turn your back on it, Paxman. Democratic Republic of Congo has a small coastline on the Atlantic, Ethiopia lost its coastline when Eritrea became an independent sovereign state and a member of the United Nations in its own right.

Back at the game, Somerville had the better of the first half, picking up six starters to York's two, and at one point opening up an 80-point lead. York weren't given the Kiss of Death, and it's still just possible that they could come back on terms. Somerville get some Hidden Transmission Indicators Of Anywhere But This Week, answering questions about Kwanzaa, American politics of 1912, and people born on 5 December. This edition went out on 4 November 2013.

York began a comeback, trimming the lead from over 100 points to less than 50. Game on for the final five minutes; game so much on that there were seven incorrect answers to starter questions until Somerville finally gave a correct answer, and knocked back questions about chemical moles; York responded with locations of governmental summits. Somerville won the game with a question the Board Gamers got in their OC heat, knowing there are seven Chronicles of Narnia and seven Harry Potter books. In the end, Somerville won by 240-135.

It's been a bad week for Jeremy Paxman. He's been criticised by politicians for always sneering, and for not actually doing anything positive with his life. Thumper has also been heckling Strictly Come Dancing, saying that he has turned down the programme twice, and would pay good money not to watch newsreaders making twits of themselves. Paxman said of television, "The great discovery is, I think, the off button." We agree, and use said off button at 10.32 each evening.

After a week off, Mastermind resumed.

  • Stephen Dempsey (Star Trek: The Original Series) began strongly, was ruled incorrect on the number of souls aboard the Enterprise, and seemed to lose steam afterwards. Not only was his round the usual tedious assortment of plot points, but the contender was forced to incur a pass because the present host insisted on jabbering on while the buzzer went, the contender couldn't hear, and wasn't even given the chance to answer. 8 (2), and quite rightly returning to his chair with a face like thunder. More normal service resumes in the second round, but only to the extent that he again starts strongly and falls away in the later stages of the round. Given the hostility from the chap behind the desk, there's no shame in the final score of 16 (8).
  • Allan Cook (Life of Giodarno Bruno) knew that his subject was a 16th century philosopher, burned by the Spanish Inquisition after he'd been acquitted by the Roman Inquisition. We're not entirely sure why the present host insisted on wasting time by repeating a perfectly correct answer, but the present host wasted time by repeating a perfectly correct answer. Long questions resulted in a lower score than he deserved: 11 (0). The contender appears to stumble a little through the general knowledge questions, but does keep on hitting the points he knows, and finishes with 24 (4). In another week, that could be a winner, but not this time.
  • Chloe Stone (The Feathering Mysteries of Simon Brett) probably knew that these are a series of mysteries set in the village of Feathering. It seems that everything goes on there, mostly death and murder and food poisoning from eating too many scallops. 13 (2). There's something we often see on Mastermind: a lady of experience, taking a literary subject, and as soon as she gets a tricky question in her general knowledge round, she crumples. Chloe Stone has to drag out Phoenix Park from somewhere, and passes on the nerve infection shingles. We don't expect her to trouble the scorers much more. But this contender is made of sterner stuff: she gets the next one right, and the one after that, and continues to give correct answers. 27 (2) is the final score, enough to cause the next contender some pause.
  • James Ludden (Rugby Union World Cup) took perhaps the perfect subject: large enough to be significant (seven contests, about 400 matches), small enough to be manageable (seven contests, about 400 matches). And manage it he did, dredging up some of the most obscure facts about the contest, and his reward is a Perfect Round! 15 (0), and the contender allowed himself to look ever so slightly pleased. As well he might. Perhaps it's a good sign that the contender knew the origin of the word "trivia"; if ever a show rewarded three-way junctions, this is it. Twelve and no passes will bring him home: or thirteen and some passes. The tactic quickly becomes getting in as many questions as possible, but he's answering quickly and well.

With a final score of 30 (1), James Ludden is this week's winner. He'll be back in the second round. With 27 points and two passes, there's a chance – not a certainty, but a chance – that Chloe Stone will also return in the new year.

BARB ratings for the week to 27 October show that Strictly Come Dancing remains the most-watched game show, with 10.65m viewers. The Great British Bake Off took its leave from BBC2 with a whopping, stonking, massive 9.45m viewers. It's the largest viewing figure for a single show on BBC2 since the present ratings system was introduced in 2002; the previous record-holder was an edition of Top Gear in December 2007.

Relegated to third place, and a distant third place, is The X Factor, with 8.3m seeing the results. It gets worse: the Saturday performance show averaged 7.4m viewers, and finished less popular than Countryfile One Man And His Dog on 7.45m. Matt Baker beats Simon Cowell, there. Result!

Elsewhere, 5.25m for HIGNFY, 4.5m for Pointless Celebrities, 3.3m for UC, 3.05m for The Chase with Celebrities, and 2.35m for QI. We've no figures for Channel 4.

There were 1.66m for Celebrity Juice, 860,000 for Only Connect, and ancient Come Dine on More4 (555,000) beat recent A League of Their Own (530,000). Watch's transmission of New Masterchef Australia brought in 290,000, it's the channel's biggest show, but it got beaten by 35-year-old editions of Top of The Pops on BBC4 (365,000). Still, it's better than the You Tube Video Awards: after heavy promotion in newspaper adverts, the event was seen by a worldwide global audience of 215,000. That's about one-fortyforth of yer Bake Off cakes. Crumbs!

This Tuesday, people in That 'London' will be exposed to the Puzzled Pint. According to the blurb, it's a pub quiz without any questions, but with various types of puzzle instead. The event is scheduled to run on the second Tuesday of every month, and the location is, itself, a puzzle. This month's location puzzle:

"It's at the Doggets Coat and Badge Riverside Bar, 1 Blackfriars Bridge, London, SE1 9UD. This Tuesday, starts from 6."

They might be starting us off gently. All good puzzle fans will be there, which explains why the Week will be at home. We may not always be absent.

On the telly, it's a good week for children – not just the BBC's annual appeal for Children in Need (BBC1, Friday), but also junior versions of Just a Minute (Radio 4 Extra, 4pm weekdays) and The Great British Bake Off (CBBC, 4.30 weekdays). A good week for the very old, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue is back (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday), and Never Mind the Buzzcocks pays tribute to Dr Who (BBC2, 10pm Thu). No Pointless next Saturday, and The Chase features Robbie Savage. Wonder if he's read his autobiography yet? Strictly Come Dancing has its annual trip to the Eiffel Tower in Blackpool, The X Factor invents the Great British Songbook. Mark your cards: next Sunday sees the return of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!.

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