Sunday, 10 January 2010

TV Watch Extra - Sell Me The Answer

I’ve been meaning to catch this one for some time. I first heard about it last year when they were advertising for contestants, and it did cross my mind to try for it. Still, I doubt whether I’d have got on, and as it was I had applications for a couple of other shows to worry about at the time.

This has been a bit difficult to find, actually. There are certain Sky shows that they tend to shove on ad nauseam, and repeat a lot. This isn’t one of them. In fact it tends to be on in the afternoon a lot, which isn’t really all that convenient for me. Come to think of it, maybe the fact that Sky’s support for the show seems lukewarm at best should have told me something. Still, at last I managed to catch it on Sunday lunchtime.

Now, this is a quiz, but its also a game show, and it needs to be viewed in this light if its going to have a fair hearing. What intrigued me about the show is the fact that it is all based on having a group of people, the traders, who are prepared to sell each contestant the answers to a series of questions. This is done through a short but furious round of trading. If you’ve never seen the show, yet this sounds familiar, then there may be a reason for this. It started life as a gameshow on local radio in Manchester. However you might think its familiar because something similar was one of the unique selling points of ITVs The Vault of a few years back.

Each contestant is asked up to 10 questions, for which they win rising amounts of cash if they get a correct answer. If they give a wrong answer, then they leave with nothing, to coin a phrase. If they don’t know an answer, then they must shout “Sell Me The Answer”, and the 60 traders will each hold up a paddle with their unique number on it, and scream at the top of their voices to be picked. The contestant picks two numbers. Each person picked gets a few seconds to make a pitch to the contestant, who then picks one to come and trade. 30 seconds of horse trading follows, when they must agree on an amount of the prize pot earned so far for the questions. If they don’t agree, then the contestant has to answer on their own. If they do agree, then the trader must answer. However, even if they know the answer, they don’t have to give a correct one. At this stage the trader can turn round and say that they were bluffing even, and that they don’t have an answer.

If a contestant answers the 10th question correctly, then they have the options of either taking the money, whatever’s left, or going for the jackpot. I think a figure of £25,000 was mentioned.

That’s basically it. Now, I would imagine that if you are one of the traders, who I believe carry on from show to show, then it’s a hell of a lot of fun. As a viewer, though, its no great shakes. For a straight question and answer guy like me, the pace of the show questions-wise is absolutely funereal. One carry over contestant from the previous show was asked 4 questions, and the next contestant was asked 8 questions. 12 questions in an hour long show doesn’t cut if for me.

However it is a game show, and its not made for people like me. One suspects its for a considerably younger demographic – certainly both contestants seemed to be drawn from this group. You see the point of the show isn’t really the questions, it’s the trading. So if you start putting on contestants who need no help answering the first 8 or 9 questions, then you’re cutting out the traders far too much. Which leads you to make a choice. Either have some hard questions, or make sure you get people who don’t have a great general knowledge. On the basis of admittedly just the one show, I’d say that the producers have plumped for the latter.

Host Gethin Jones is likeable enough, if a little bland. Bearing in mind this is a game show, and not a real quiz as such , you couldn’t actually say it was bad, even though it really isn’t my cup of tea. Yet on the negative side, I did find that, while not as bad as Shafted, this show does to some extent seem to make a virtue of mean spiritedness. Our first contestant today was asked, for his 10th question, what the Christian name of Scott of the Antarctic was. He asked the traders, and picked one who looked him straight in the eye , and told him he knew the answer 100%, then proceeded to trade him out of a couple of thousand pounds of prize money. Then he had the cheek to say, well, what I think is the answer, what I THINK I remember, is that its William. The contestant didn’t have an answer of his own, gave William, and lost what remained of the wedge. All of which paled into insignificance against what happened to the next contestant. On her last question she was asked,
“Which French film actress and sex symbol became heavily involved with animal welfare and animal rights ? “ Now, if you went into the street and asked 100 people to name a French actress and sex symbol, even now, decades after she retired the majority of people would give the right answer. Our contestant didn’t know it. Instead she plumped for a trader who promised she was a journalist who worked for an animal rights group. The trader bullied her out of £1800, and then had the cheek to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have a clue. “ The poor contestant, who to be fair to her was out with the washing, offered “Marie Antoinette. “ Thank you and goodnight. I’m sure you get the picture. It seems to me that there’s a big, hard lump of coal where the show’s heart should be, and regardless of issues over the dearth of questions, overly easy questions, or poor contestants, the lack of heart is the reason why I probably won’t be watching again.


Chris said...

Sell Me The Answer is interesting, and it is (as you say) pretty overtly not feel-good positive entertainment throughout. It becomes rather easier to watch if you take it from a different persepctive: it's not the contestant's money. The contestant only actually gets any money if they answer question ten correctly, with or without the traders' help - and this is so rare that the contestant can more or less assume that they're there to win nothing, but to distribute money which isn't theirs to the traders. The really odd thing is that if they get past question then then they can gamble their nominal prize pot against a guaranteed £25,000 on one last question on their own - so it makes no difference whether they've traded away fifty pounds or five thousand!

In the past I've tried to wonder if there's a way for the trader and the contestant to align their incentives. The best I've come up with is for the trader to say "right, I'll sell you the answer, but I want not a guaranteed cash sum but 20% (or whatever proportion you negotiate) of whatever you win. Then you know I'm going to give you what I believe to be the right answer, because if you don't get paid, I don't get paid". I doubt this would be allowed in the context of the show, though, not least because it doesn't give a neat way for the "tube of money rising" effect to occur.

I don't think it's a particularly good show, though it's far from the worse ever; it's interesting enough to think about for a while.

Londinius said...

Hello Chris

Thanks for your very interesting and pertinent comments. I agree that its certainly not the worst show I've ever seen, and as I said my preferences lie on the other end of the TV quiz spectrum anyway, so my comments have to be viewed in this context.

I agree that I'm sure that the producers wouldn't let any deal such as a % of the jackpot take place.

As a show its an interesting concept, but its not for me.