Friday, 2 October 2015

Mastermind: Round One : Heat Nine

A check on my contender database confirms what I suspected, namely that all 4 of last night’s contenders were Mastermind virgins. Nothing wrong with that either.

First up was Christine Harrison. Right, I never set out to deliberately upset anyone in any of my comments, and so apologise now if this seems unnecessarily harsh. Still, for what it’s worth I thought Christine was a little bit lucky to only be given 9 years of silent cinema as the breadth of her subject. Personally I think that it would have been quite valid to have widened the subject to, let’s say, American Silent Cinema up to 1929. I’ll tell you why I say so – it’s because what happened was that a lot of the questions seemed to me to end up being of the rather obvious variety to ask. Sitting in my chair, with no preparation and admittedly no pressure either I managed 10 of these questions. Now, I hasten to add, I don’t blame Christine for any of this. She has every right to ask for the subject she feels gives her the best chance of building a great score, and she can only answer the questions that she is asked. Which she did very well to get a double figure score, although I did wonder whether she’d rue missing a sitter like Sid Grauman being the man who had the Chinese theatre built.

I proved to myself that I really don’t know enough about Hawkwind to be able to judge whether Alex Bryant had an equally benign set of questions on his own specialist set. I managed the grand total of one of these. Alex himself did considerably better, and was just a whisker away from getting himself into double figures. At the moment he was just two behind, and two is not a huge deficit to make up in a GK round, providing nobody came along and shoved a 14 into the mix.

Prior to the show starting I really wouldn’t have predicted that I’d have 5 times as many questions right on the Ballet Russes as I did on Hawkwind. Yet 5 points I managed, largely through knowing the obvious and guessing one or two others. Ed Greisl also benefitted from the decision to allow him to go with a nine year period although the Ballet Russes continued to tour until 1929 according to Wikipedia. I can’t really comment in how kind or otherwise this particular set of questions really was, but the plain fact of the matter was that Ed got 12 of them, which put him in the outright lead at the moment.

Tony Scarfi brought the round to a close. I’m sure that John said that Tony is from Newport, although not which one. If he’s from Newport, South Wales, then I’m afraid that I don’t think our quiz paths have ever crossed. Cards on the table, I like a good old traditional kings and queens subject – George IV served me well in my own time – and so I enjoyed this round – and look, comparisons are odious, but I think that I knew this subject well enough to say that taken as a whole, I thought that the questions were more challenging than the cinema round had been. More power to Tony’s elbow that he was able to equal Ed’s leading score, and in fact taken pole position for the last lap, bearing in mind that he had not yet accrued any passes.

Alex Bryant then returned to the chair knowing that he would have to be four points better than Ed and Tony, and three points better than Christine in order to win. Posting a likely repechage score would have needed an exceptionally good GK round. Alex did his best with the questions that he was asked, but didn’t have the in depth quizzing knowledge – or the luck – that you need to post a very high GK score. In the end he added 9 to his score to take the total to 18. Perfectly respectable, yet never a winning score.

Now, if I’ve suggested that Christine was fortunate in what she was asked in her SS round, and I have, let’s applaud her for the GK round she produced. We’ve always said that anything in the teens is a good score, and Christine gave a very good display of how, if you take your time, give half a second’s thought to the question if the answer doesn’t come immediately, and make sure that you answer everything that you actually know, and have a good guess where you don’t, you can actually build an impressive GK score. In the current era of the show 15  on GK is an impressive performance, and it had the combined effect of both giving Christine a shot at a repechage spot if she didn’t win, and placing both Ed and Tony not only within the corridor of doubt, but at the wrong end of it to boot.

I don’t often see a huge difference in the level of questions in the GK round, and I’d go further and say that the production team take care that in GK each contender has the same fair crack of the whip. I did think that Ed Greisl had a couple of snorters in his first few questions though, and not only did this take the wind out of his sails, I think it ensured that there was hardly any wind in them in the first place. He found it really difficult to establish any momentum after this start, and to be fair the rest of the round looked a bit of a grim old slog. Like Alex, he finished with 18.

Only Tony then could deny Christine the victory. After the first half dozen questions it became fairly clear that he wouldn’t be doing that in this show. Poor fellow, it seemed as if when he sat down in the chair for the second time, his mind just went a complete blank as the helpful sitters of his first few questions just wouldn’t come to him. To be fair to Tony after about a minute and a half he did seem to settle, and started producing 4 or 5 consecutive correct answers, but as far as the result went it proved to be too little too late. In the end he just nudged himself into second place, finishing with 19.

Well played Christine – Good luck in the semis.

The Details

Christine Harrison
American Silent Cinema 1920 - 29
Alex Bryant
Ed  Greisl
Ballet Russes 1909 - 1918
Tony Scarfi
King Henry V


Dan said...

"Contender database" - surely, you just do what the rest of us do, type the name into Google's search box followed by "".

Works when looking to see if prospective specialist subjects have already been done, too.

Londinius said...

Not sure what you're getting at here Dan.
On Excel I have a spreadshseet which contains the names of all the contenders from the old GeoCities site, which has pretty much everyone from 1972 - 2000. I have added names for every series since, not including Discovery Mastermind, simply because I have never been able to find a full list of who took part in that series. .

If I get a match then yes, I do use the search facility on LAM to find out details such as specialist subjects and scores, but that's only good for every series since my own, starting with Nancy's.

Adam "Addy" Lewis said...

As someone who has never done a TV quiz, but perhaps hope to be good enough for a go at Mastermind in a decade or so (3-4 quizzes a week, mostly on my own, for only a year so far, I know I'm nowhere near good enough yet), I'm not familiar with the application process for shows, and noticed something interesting in this post. It was this:

" I thought Christine was a little bit lucky to only be given 9 years of silent cinema as the breadth of her subject"

Which got me wondering, is the timescale for a candidate's SS their own choice, or that of the producers? My own specialist subject, at least one of them, would be James Bond films, for example. I know this has been done before, and it was Roger Moore Bond films specifically.

In the application form, would one simply put as a requested subject, James Bond films, or could one specify? If the producers were okay with one's subject but not its scale, how might this be addressed? I.e. would they reject it outright, tell the candidate what scale would be included and accept it on their own terms, or request a change? Since of course subjects for all three rounds are included on the form, if one is to be rejected, would the entire application be trashed based on this, or would there be possibility for negotiation with the candidate if the rest of the application warranted advancement to the next stage?

With reference to this specific case, I'm wondering if the candidate chose such a narrow stretch of time or if the producers did that.

Just curious for future use of the information, cheers!

Londinius said...

Hi Adam,

Well, I can only tell you about my own experiences. In the first place I applied online for the 2006 and again for the 2007 series. On the online form you were asked to suggest 4 specialist subjects, and give an idea why and where your knowledge came from.

What I call the 'horse trading' really started in the audition. If the team are not happy with your specialists for whatever reason, they'll tell you straight at the audition. I had three writers rejected at the 2006 audition because I'm an English teacher, and had to come up with others on the hoof during the audition. Then when they're happy enough with your choices there's a bit of wrangling can happen about the parameters of the subject. For example, when I opted for the Modern Olympic Games in 2006, I had to concede to do every Summer Olympics, but stuck to my guns that I would not include Winter Olympics, and we agreed on that.

In 2007 my three subjects (two of which I would have used had I won my first round in 2006) were accepted pretty much straight away. However there was a little discussion over my final subject - the History of London Bridge. I only wanted to do Old London Bridge, the first stone built bridge - and since that lasted over 600 years I didn't think it was unreasonable. However the team asked me to do every bridge which has been on the site, or called London Bridge, and I didn't think it was worth making a fuss over. Also we were a little while deciding on the exact wording of my semi final subject - the Prince Regent - later George IV. It sounds pedantic and nit picking to argue over the title of the round when I was perfectly willing to do the whole of George's life, but it is vital that the team get these things clear right from the start to avoid the problems that could arise if a contender's idea of the parameters of the subject were much at odds with the question setters'.

So, in my experience, the team are very accommodating, and would prefer contenders to be able to do the subjects they want to do. However, in order to avoid popular subjects recurring too often, and to ensure a wide variety of subjects, they will reject a subject when they feel the need to do so, and help the contender define the parameters of the subject - and can be quite forceful about this at times.

Hope that this helps.

Adam "Addy" Lewis said...

Does indeed, thank you very much!

As I say, I'm a long way off this sort of thing yet, as despite regular suggestions from friends that I apply for things, I don't feel in myself that 40-60% solo averages of ordinary quizzes puts me in a strong enough position for such a venture. Especially when that average falls to no better, if anything worse, than 20% for any music related subject (and that's a problematic area to be useless at for a solo quizzer given how often it features, though on the flip side, my average is higher when excluding it from results).

The studio lights and pressure are also likely to reduce my effective capability, as it's much easier when you have a few minutes to think of things and no real pressure to produce answers. Last night's show proved exactly that, which I say without intent to offend or cause disrespect to anyone who participated. It's annoying in ordinary pubs when your mind goes blank, and easily done. In the studio, I'd imagine far easier and more serious.

Always good to bear in mind though, as I may yet feature in a LAM entry in a few years time! Cheers!

Paul Gilbert said...

Another couple of questions regarding specialist subjects:

1. Is there a link between the breadth of the subject and the depth of the questions asked e.g. if somebody was to take Shakespeare's Plays as a subject, would the questions be any less 'difficult' than if the subject was, say, Shakespeare's Tragedies?

2. What are the rules regarding how similar one's specialist subjects are allowed to be? In 2004, Shaun Wallace took 3 different football-related subjects, and Isabelle Heward took 2 cinema-related subjects in each of 2003 and 2005 - however, subsequent series have suggested that the rules may have been tightened (although Rod Laver took 2 music subjects in the last series).

Londinius said...

Hi Paul – thanks for your interesting questions. Here’s my thoughts about both of them: -
1. Is there a link between the breadth of the subject and the depth of the questions asked e.g. if somebody was to take Shakespeare's Plays as a subject, would the questions be any less 'difficult' than if the subject was, say, Shakespeare's Tragedies?

Right, before I start answering I must stress that my answers are based on years of watching and commenting on the show, and of participating in two series. I have never been involved with the show on the production side, and never taken part in any discussion linked to policy on questioning. So what I say is just supposition based on observation.

I firmly believe that the intention is that every set of specialist questions is of a similar level of difficulty regardless of who the contender is, and what the subject is. The success of this can be gauged by how rarely there’s what we might call a relatively easier set. There’s been twice, for example in this series – the round on the Roman Army a few weeks ago, and the Cinema round in this week’s show. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in either of these subjects, but there was a lot in both rounds which the person with a slightly better than superficial knowledge of the subject could either guess or would know. These are, I believe, ‘rogue’ rounds – which just happened to be a little easier, rather than evidence of a conscious decision to make any of the rounds easier, or more difficult. If you think of it, it’s important that all the GK rounds are of the same level of difficulty – yet it can happen that you think one set is harder, or another easier than the others – it is all in the eye of the beholder. (2nd answer in next post)

Londinius said...

2. What are the rules regarding how similar one's specialist subjects are allowed to be? In 2004, Shaun Wallace took 3 different football-related subjects, and Isabelle Heward took 2 cinema-related subjects in each of 2003 and 2005 - however, subsequent series have suggested that the rules may have been tightened (although Rod Laver took 2 music subjects in the last series).

I don’t know if there ARE any rules regarding how similar one’s specialist subjects are allowed to be. I rather suspect that what there might be are guidelines, or rules of thumb, to give an idea of how close subjects might be. If you make hard and fast rules, then you are going to find that you’ll have occasions when you want to break them. For example, I was categorically told by one of the production team in 2006 that the rule was you had to wait 3 years before getting back on the show if you got to the semis, then 5 years if you lost in the final. I suspect that these ‘rules’ were nothing of the sort – rather guidelines, since they had already been broken in the Humphrys era by this time, and would continue to be broken several times over the next few years.

It’s important to remember that the Mastermind team are, first and foremost, making entertainment. Their first concern is to get a set of specialist subjects which will make an interesting and varied series for the viewers. Yes, Shaun did select three football subjects, but each of them was a different one, and the production team, I would suggest, saw football as a popular subject which would go well in any of the three rounds. Are a set of 3 closely related subjects easier to prepare for than 3 unrelated subjects? I honestly don’t know. I think that the fact that Rod had two music related subjects suggests that rather than having a hard and fast set of rules, the Production team looks at each contender and each set of specialists on an individual basis.

I can give you an example of this. In 2006 when 3 of my specialists were rejected at the audition and I had to come up with some others off the top of my head, one of my suggestions was the history of Tottenham Hotspur FC. This was rejected out of hand. Yet in the very next series, the 2007 SOBM, in the first round Susan Sworn offered Tottenham Hostpur as a specialist subject. Why was she allowed? Who knows – maybe enough time had passed since it was last used as a subject – maybe it fit better overall within the set of specialists for the first round that year. I don’t know but I would imagine that assembling the specialists for a given series is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, where you don’t have a picture on the box lid to show you what the finished product ought to look like.

Sorry – but these are the best answers I can come up with.

Adam "Addy" Lewis said...

Makes sense about Shaun's subjects. I could do something similar with Bond - I could (theoretically) select "The Connery films", "The John Gardner books" and "The Bond video games". Each of the three star James Bond, but other than a few core characters, some references to each other, and stylistic similarities between the plot structures, there's really nothing they have in common. I could sub any of the three for spy thrillers starring anyone else and it would be as similar, and as difficult to revise for.

I imagine similar must have been the case for Shaun.

The more I think about the subject jigsaw, the more complex it becomes. Assuming semi-final and final subjects are confirmed before the first round is filmed, they've got two completely unknowable collections of subjects after the first round, and the only thing they can really do to mix things up is to tailor the semi-final draw to separate similar subjects between shows.

Then you have the unique subjects to consider, like Oxford River Walks or something similar that we saw a couple of years ago. If these don't get rejected out of hand, they provide interest as a curiosity, I'd expect (as a viewer I do enjoy seeing such rounds for that reason).

Truth be told I'm not sure I envy the job of a producer on a show like this, sounds like an awful lot of hard work!

dxdtdemon said...

Would you be willing to make your Mastermind spreadsheet public on a Google sheet?

Paul Gilbert said...

Thanks David - an interesting view!

Apologies if it is obvious, but what does SOBM stand for? Series Of Blogger's Mastermind?

Londinius said...

Hi dxdtdemon - dunno about public. Might be persuaded to share it via email - but it's easy enough to make your own - the information on it is all out there.

Hi Paul - sorry - I guess I haven't used the acronym much recently. It stands for Season Of Blessed Memory - as it was the season when I (quiet voice) won.