Despite what you might think, everybody has the capacity to surprise you with what they know. I'll tell you what prompts me to make this far from startling observation. You may have noticed that “Who Dares Wins “ returned to BBC1 on Saturday evening. I didn't actually watch it at the time, but John was talking about it in the quiz in the Dyffryn Arms last night. In case you haven't ever seen it, I'll just briefly explain how it works.
Two teams of two players, who have never met before appearing on the show, play against each other in two games. Our host, Nick Knowles , announces a category, for example, the 30 highest grossing animated feature films of all time. Then the teams bid against each other as to how many of those they think they can name. For older readers its a little like the old Bid A Note game in Name That Tune. If the team with the higher bid suggest they can name 12, lets say and they do without a mistake, then they take that game. If they make one mistake, then the game goes to the other team. If both teams win one game, then it goes to a sudden death tie break. A category is announced, and the teams take it in turns supplying answers. The first team to drop an answer loses. The winning team goes on to play for the money. A category is announced, and they have to supply answers – for example , films starring Matt Damon. 3 correct answers brings £5,000, and another three £10,000, all the way up to £50,000. You can stick on any money amount, but supply a wrong answer and you get nothing. Winner stays on. As Alexander Orlov continually says, simples.
John's beef with the show was that he reckoned that the winning team looked as if they had been briefed before the show – not with the answers, but on which categories would be coming up. Well, I did tell him that I thought that this was unlikely. In my experience ( 18 TV / Radio appearences in 8 different shows, thanks for asking ) production teams are meticulous to ensure that contestants don't get any untoward advantage. The phone scandal of a year or two ago has made this even tighter, I'm sure. Still, I watched the show on the iplayer this morning to check out the two categories that John highlighted. The first was to name as many Central American countries as possible, including island nations of the Caribbean. The winning team offered, I think, about 9, and John was surprised that they went for island nations mostly. I'll admit that it was impressive the way that the lady rattled off answers like St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but I'd don't think for one minute that there was anything untoward there. Its just doubtless one of the things she knows.
The second subject which got John a little hot under the collar was Weddings in Eastenders. Again, though, while the knowledge shown was impressive, I can't think you could say that there was anything that unusual in it. They didn't, for example, go the whole hog for the full £50,000, and the knowledge shown was the sort which you wouldn't expect the average person in the street to know, but a regular viewer of the show wouldn't have found it too taxing. Everybody knows something. One thing John didn't mention when he was talking about the show, was how both teams struggled on a category asking them to name female characters who speak lines in Shakespeare plays. The champs offered to name 4. The challengers upped this to 5. Now, bear in mind that the champs were 1 – 0 down at this point, yet they still asked the challengers to name the 5, rather than risk trying to name 6 themselves. And they were right to do so ! The challengers managed 4, but couldn't get a 5th. Which kind of adds a corollary to my original point – people know lots of things you don't think they know – and they also don't know lots of things you think they might.
I do actually rather like the show myself. Its a lot better on the iplayer since you can skip the National Lottery which bisects it. Also you have to bear in mind that this is a big money show ( well, by BBC standards ) and its on the main channel in family viewing slot time, so a lot of the categories are going to be just entertainment – on Saturday it was something like 3 entertainment to 1 geography, 1 literature and 1 sport. OK, there's not a lot of questions asked in the show either. But for what it is its got something, and it does get you playing along at home, which is never a bad thing.
While we're on the subject of TV quizzes, I read in the paper that it looks like its farewell to “The Weakest Link”. Anne Robinson, the Queen of Mean, has decided to call it a day, so it seems, and the BBC have announced that they will not be commissioning any new shows with anyone else in her place. That's probably right. There's relatively few quizzes which wouldn't work with a replacement question master, but WL must be one of them.
I have a strange love/hate relationship with this show. For one thing it was one of the first shows I ever applied to. The first ever was Bob's Full House, back in about 1987. No reply. Then in about 2001 I saw that you could apply online to WL, and so I did. Again, I never heard back from them. Since then I've considered applying once or twice. I think, really, that I'd like to appear on it just so that I can add it to the set. I don't think for one minute that they would have me on now, and if they did, then the other contestants would vote me off sooner or later. But I'm not lying, I would have liked to be able to add it to the list of shows I've been on.
As regards the show's place in the pantheon – well – that's a tricky one. Any quiz which notches up more than a decade has done well, especially in these days. It started as a BBC2 show, and then graduated to the tricky BBC1 teatime slot, a measure of its popularity, even if the prime time big money version never really caught on. Its also been one of the most successfully franchised quiz shows ever produced in the UK – only Millionaire has had more licensed versions made in other countries. If its responsible for nothing else, WL is the quiz that made meanness permissible. Before WL , can you ever remember a question master on TV telling a contestant just how stupid their stupid answer really was ? Quite a number of shows have tried to pick up the idea of getting contestants to be mean to each other and run with it since, with varying degrees of success. One brings to mind the dreadful 'Shafted' – so bad that it was scrapped without the whole series being aired, if I recall correctly. Then there were “Sell Me The Answer”, and “Divided” where if I'm honest I found the unfairness just grating, and certainly not entertaining. WL may never have been my favourite quiz, but even I would admit that it managed to do mean with a little bit of style at least.