OK – before I start let me acknowledge that I do know that this isn’t a quiz, and more than that, I knew it before I started to watch it. You know me, I’m a straight quiz guy myself, so all of my comments about this show should be viewed in this light.
The last time I can remember seeing a sort of mind games show like this was ITV’s “Britain’s Best Brain” from 2009. That show I did audition for. It was quite amusing really. As soon as I informed the guy on the phone that I had won Mastermind his whole attitude towards me changed, and he couldn’t get off the phone quick enough. Now, I’m not saying that the same thing is true of “Britain’s Brightest”. For one thing I’m sure that I saw Alan Gibbs of the Gamblers in the opening sequence, which means that nobody was being turned down because of what they’ve won in the past. I did actually see the contestant call for this one, but decided against it because, well, frankly because although I have a very good general knowledge I don’t really think I’m that much brighter than the average person. Certainly not in the way that brightness is defined in this kind of show, anyway.
On the iplayer this show weighs in at a hefty 1 hour and 13 minutes. It consists of three mini matches between pairs of contestants, then a set of final rounds whittling down the 6 contestants to 4 and a winner. The winner goes automatically through to the final, and 2nd and 3rd place play off to see who survives. I sat through the whole show, and I have a number of observations to make.
The FAQ (faffing about quotient) in the first half hour of the show is massive. Before each mini match we have a filmed introduction where two of the contestants are encouraged to boast about how brilliant they are, and how much better they are going to be than the other contestants. Do we really need this? I am quite sure that they are actually all lovely people in real life, but this doesn’t allow it to come across. Yes, we know they want to win. They wouldn’t be on the show if they didn’t – it’s kind of a given. Then after these you get Claire Balding – and as a sports presenter I think she is terrific, by the way - chatting with them for another couple of minutes. All totally unnecessary padding. As was the filmed insert between the mini matches, and the final section, where we were shown just how bad our general observation is. Not without interest, perhaps, but it just held up the game for me.
I don’t say that the games were not watchable. Alright, I ‘d have been angry if I’d been on the show, and for my first match I got the ‘ guess the age of a bunch of people’ game. But them that is the nature of the show. Intelligence is such a wide field, that the number of different ways you can test different aspect of it is huge, and it’s purely arbitrary I guess whether you get a game which suits you or not. For example, I’d have fancied my chances in a spelling game, which made up the third mini match. I did enjoy the second, as the two contenders had to solve a series of puzzles to escape from a room. This reminded me of some of the games you used to get in “The Crystal Maze”, a show I loved.
In fact, this leads me to an observation that you can make about a lot of game shows. Many of the aspects of this show reminded me of other games on other shows. Bits of it were a little like” the Cube”, for example, and bits of it were like bits of “The Krypton Factor”. To this extent it’s a bit of a Jenny Haniver, a creature stitched together from bits of dead creatures to fool the unsuspecting. Being fair, though, the show did get a lot better in the final rounds. We had mental maths. Then observation. Then a strange round, where contestants had to assemble 4 letter words in 22 seconds. When 22 seconds had passed in their opinion, then they had to stop the clock. If they stopped it on exactly 22 seconds, then they got 10 bonus points. Every second they took over 22 seconds saw them lose one of the precious points they had earned for their 4 letter words. Now, here’s the rub. Sam, the winner of the show, actually earned the 22 second 10 point bonus. Which was enough to mean that he won by 1 point. I’m not saying that he wasn’t a worthy winner. But I am saying that this 10 point bonus actually gave that particular skill a higher tariff than any other. There were no such bonuses in any of the other rounds.
This highlights one of the great difficulties of making a gameshow which claims to test the whole of what makes a person intelligent. How do you make it a fair test of all the different aspects ? Different amounts of points available for different skills can have a huge effect on the outcome of a show. Maybe you remember the Krypton Factor ? The GK round at the end meant that one really good GK quizzer could even win the show despite having been well beaten in all the other rounds. That’s why they tweaked the rules to limit the number of GK questions.
The show actually ends with the 2nd and 3rd place players going head to head. They both have 90 seconds. They pick numbers from a grid which contain puzzles or questions. When it’s their go, they have to give a correct answer while the clock runs down. A soon as they answer correctly they pass it over. You know how it works, you’ve seen it before in other shows. This was the only round where general knowledge was actually a help on some of the questions – for example players in a rugby team minus players in a netball team.
If my review was based solely on the first 40 minutes of the show I would have said that it was a grade A oven ready turkey. However I did get into the final rounds, and I did enjoy the playoff round at the end. I mean personally, I do think that any attempt to find the ‘brightest’ or ‘brainiest’ person in the land is doomed to failure since the whole idea of intelligence is so complex anyway. Still, accepting the show for what it is, I found something to enjoy in it. But I would say this : -
If there is ever a second series : -
* For heaven’s sake cut the padding. We don’t need the filmed inserts, trying to make the contestants out to be mean-eyed, clench-jawed, win-at-all-costs meanies. We’re not brain dead. We know that they would like to win. We don’t need the film in the middle telling us how remarkable the human brain is. If we want that sort of thing we can watch a documentary which will show us properly, instead of farting around in a marketplace. You could trim as much as half an hour off this show, and it would be all the better for it.
* Adjust the rules and the scoring so that there is as near as possible equal weighting between skills. After all you’re trying to find the best all-rounder, aren’t you , not just the person with the best time sense.
* Offer a really serious prize. Heaven alone knows, the unlamented People’s Quiz had its faults, but at least it was offering over £200000 , and this was over 5 years ago. Yes, I know that £50000 seems like a lot of money, and in any normal circumstance it is, but when you claim to be searching for the one most intelligent person in Britain, it really seems a bit cheap for a Saturday Night prime time show.
Well, the BBC has a pretty good track record for giving new shows a fair crack of the whip, so we’ll see. I’ll also be interested to see how they do the final, although I will confess with a heavy heart that I fear a whole new raft of filmed inserts.