Friday, 1 April 2016

Mastermind Grand Final 2016 - Full Review

Strictly speaking I should have gone to bed a while ago, but I’m still buzzing over the final, and have to write this up before I go to bed.

I had two favourites who I was cursing with my support for this final – Alan Heath, known for his exploits with Heather and Kip in Only Connect a few series ago, and LAM reader Jim Maginnis. More about that later.

Alan kicked off with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Thunderbirds. Quite poignant really, since Sylvia Anderson passed away in March. Like Alan, I absolutely loved Thunderbirds when I was a nipper. Unlike Alan I could answer hardly any of the questions. I knew that Alan was the only other of the Tracy brothers who ever had to do a stint in Thunderbird 5, but that was about it. Now, it’s as true in the Grand Final as it is in any other round of the competition that while it’s nice to get a perfect score at specialist, the most important thing is to give yourself the chance to win it on GK. In the context of what we’ve seen in the last few series, Alan’s 13 looked highly competitive, especially considering that he looked likely to be one of the stronger contenders in the GK round.

After Entertainment, then, we were offered Sport, in the shape of Richard Tring’s round on English Test Cricket since 1970. It was nice to see Richard visiting the Oval for his film. The only Test Match I ever got to spectate was the 1984 test v. the West Indies at the Oval. I’d not wish to give you the idea that I actually know much about cricket, because I don’t. Don’t have the attention span for it, I suppose. Still even though I would far rather watch an episode of Thunderbirds than a day’s test cricket, I was rather surprised to score 6 times as many points on Richard’s round than I had on Alan’s. Richard’s 12 was a good, competitive performance, and it meant that he would be one of the contenders still in with a chance at half time.

Christine Harrison had the honesty to admit in her filmed insert that she would really love to take the trophy home with her. I was asked a similar question in my filmed insert in 2007, and I rather fudged my answer to it. When asked how much I wanted to win, and what I thought my chances were, I replied that of course I wanted to win, but I was sure the other 5 contenders did as well, and that I rated my chances as 1 in 6, same as everybody else. Coming back to Christine, having seen previous performances the rather ungallant thought struck me that her GK may not be strong enough to give her a realistic chance. As it happened, though, it was her specialist round which really put her on the back foot. Don’t misunderstand me, 10 is by no means a bad specialist score, but 3 points is a significant gap to make up, even more so in a Grand Final.

This may sound as if I am speaking from the benefit of hindsight, but in all honesty I genuinely started to fear for Andrew Diamond during his filmed insert. He said that he’d had difficulty with the Austro-Prussian aspect of the Seven Years War. He then went on to say that he’d encapsulated his reading on the subject into 100 questions. That worried me. I’m honestly not bragging here, but on my less complex subjects I compiled sets of between 700 – 1000 questions, and on my most complex specialist subjects it was between 1500 – 2000. I’m not saying that’s the only way to do it – I’m not saying it’s the best way to do it. But I do know that anywhere you’re light on preparation for a specialist, the question set will find you out. And so when Andrew got found out on one of those nasty Austro-Prussian bits it wrecked his round completely. He fell into a pass spiral, and finished with 3 points.

No time to pause to extend sympathy, though, for this brought Ewan Paton to the chair with the Ryder Cup. I liked it that Ewan talked about tactics and not passing, in his filmed insert. Quite prophetic words really, in the context of what we were going to see unfolding in the next half hour or so. Ewan was answering on the Ryder Cup, and he scored 12, putting him one point behind the leader, Alan, and also in contention at the halfway stage.

Jim Maginnis also talked about tactics in his filmed insert. Apparently he began just by writing down questions and answers on the same sheet in an A4 folder, which wasn’t very effective. His daughter suggested using flashcards, and from what he showed us this looked like exactly the same method I’d used in all of my appearances. He also looked to have several hundred questions there as well. Now, the highest score up to this point was Alan’s 13. In the context of this series, we’ve seen that it is possible to score as much as 15 on specialist, so there was always a little bit of daylight for Jim to set a higher target. He did too, and it took a perfect round to do it. You can’t do better than a perfect round in the Grand Final, and that’s exactly what Jim did. He had a two point lead with 15 at the halfway point.

The title looked like a four horse race to me, but there were 6 GK rounds to come. First was Andrew Diamond’s. John H. frankly did not need to make a comment like ‘I don’t need to tell you how many you scored in the first round’. No John, you didn’t. and you certainly didn’t need to draw the attention to Andrew’s disappointing first round, which is what I feel your comment was designed to do. Best say nothing, and allow him to concentrate on GK. Which, to be fair, he gave his best shot, and I reckon he did well to put that first round behind him and get into double figures, with 10 on GK for a score of 13. John’s comment ‘You’ve redeemed yourself’ was, I feel, unnecessary. Andrew had nothing to ‘redeem himself’ for in the first place. The man is a Mastermind Finalist, and nobody and nothing is going to take that away from him.

Christine went on to prove that she would have been a title contender if she’d had a better specialist round. She managed 12 on GK – not a world beating score, but a good one in a tight match. However, she started the round 5 points behind Jim, and I just couldn’t see her making up this gap. At least, though, 22 was a high enough score to at least open the door to the corridor of doubt. It remained to be seen whether any of the 4 remaining contenders would have any inclination to enter.

Richard didn’t. He missed a few in the first minute or so, but in the last minute and a half he gained the momentum which is essential to building a convincing GK score. Were this year’s contenders especially mindful of last year’s final, which was decided on points countback, I wonder? Richard had avoided any passes on his specialist round, and he managed to maintain this record in is GK round. The 13 points he scored put the target at 25, and that’s the sort of score which would mean that every contender remaining would have to enter and pass through the corridor if they wanted to win.

So far I’d felt that all of the GK rounds were pretty much of the same level, and would have fancied my chances of setting a decent score in them. In my opinion – l free to disagree – Ewan’s certainly started harder, and it was impossible for him to establish any consistent momentum. By the minute and a half mark he was well behind the pace, although I was pleased for him that he managed to take his score up to 20. To win Mastermind takes hard work, but it also takes a little bit of luck, and Ewan was unlucky that the GK questions just didn’t run for him. Hard lines, sir.
And so to the first of my boys, Alan. Had the scores been reversed, I would have fancied Alan to win with a little bit of daylight, as I felt he would probably score more highly on GK than Jim. Could he score three points more than Jim, though, for that’s what it was going to need to win outright. Well, he gave it a good old go, pacing his round extremely well, picking off all the answers he did know, coming up with guesses for all the answers he didn’t know. This might sound like hindsight, but I honestly thought that Alan needed a score of 15 to be sure of a win. So he went and scored 14. Working on the old golfing principal that it’s better to be leading the Open in the final round when you’re back in the clubhouse, than to be on the 17th tee and needing to birdie the last 2 holes to win, I still thought that he had a very good chance.

Mind you, I was having second thoughts about this after the good start that Jim made to his round. He was picking off everything he knew, and not wasting too much time on things he didn’t. But the GK round in the Grand Final is a marathon, not a sprint. By half time he was not answering as well as Alan was. The question which remained, though, was this – was his round going to turn out 3 points worse than Alan’s? A late rally put him through on 27 with one question to go. If he could come up with the answer – coyote – then he would be champion. He asked for a repeat, but when the buzzer has gone John is not allowed to repeat the question. I know, for I asked for a repeat after the buzzer once. Was Jim playing for time, or had he honestly not properly heard the question? Who knows? He didn’t come up with coyote though.

So, in 2004 a tie between Shaun Wallace and Don Young was decided on passes in Shaun’s favour. Then last year, in 2015, a tie between Marianne Fairthorne and David Greenwood was decided on passes. This year, 2016, neither Alan nor Jim had incurred any passes. There have been precious few tiebreak rounds ever in Mastermind, and as John informed us with ill-disguised glee, never one in a Grand Final. So five questions would decide the Grand Final.
Alan went first, and you could tell by his face that he knew he’d only got 2 of them right. What must have gone through his mind, though, when he heard Jim get those 2 wrong. Had he managed all, or any, of the other three though? The answer was, no. In the closest and most exciting final Alan had won.

Well played all 6 finalists, and once again, commiserations to Jim, a gracious and dignified runner up. But congratulations, Alan Heath. Mastermind Champion, 2016. Well played, sir.

The Details


Alan Heath
Thunderbirds
13
0
14
0
27
0
2
Richard Tring
England Test Cricket since 1970
12
0
13
0
25
0
 /
Christine Harrison
Mrs. Gaskell
10
1
12
0
22
1
 /
Andrew Diamond
The Seven Years War
3
3
10
2
13
5
 /
Ewan Paton
The Ryder Cup
12
0
8
0
20
0
 /
Jim Maginnis
The Battle for Berlin
15
0
12
0
27
0
0

11 comments:

Jim Maginnis said...

Londinius, thank you for your kind comments. It really was a tense evening, but Alan was a worthy winner!
However, I must add one point about something that wasn't shown in the Grand Final that was eventually transmitted...the tie break broadcast was actually the second one - the first ended 3-3!

Regards

Jim

Dan said...

I concur about Andrew Diamond. I think there are only about 200 people who can say they are Mastermind finalists. Even if you don't get to take the glass bowl home, that's bragging rights a-plenty.

But then I would say that, wouldn't I.

Gavin Tillman said...

I always wondered what would happen if the tiebreak was a tie. Now I know. That was one nasty tie break! I don't think I got any of them.

I was a Thunderbirds fan as a kid (alright: still am), but the only specialist Q I got all night was the Alan and John question although I nearly got one of the cricket questions (I said Oliveira rather than d'Oliveira)

A great final and a great series (with one caveat). Congratulations to Alan and commiserations to Jim.

As to the caveat? I don't like the semi final format with only 90 seconds in the first round. At that level you are going to get a lot of bunching of marks, and can't really use the first round to make a difference. I've seen several shows in this series where I thought to myself "that was an easy/difficult GK round" and the close bunching after round one means it can be a lottery who wins, depending on the standard of the GK round, and I felt some who deserved to be finalists were hard done by. I think the final was the same format as the heats which is much fairer.

Londinius said...

HI Guys

Jim, you're very welcome. As it happens Kip, Alan's daughter, told me about the first tie break after I wrote the review. I think it's just wrong of the BBC not to show it, and thus deny you the credit. They could easily have found time to show it,

Gavin - I know where you are coming from. I'm a traditionalist myself, and would love to see
a) A return to two rounds of two minutes in each round
b) A reduction in the number of overly wordy questions in each round. For the last 2 years it's been noticeable that some of the questions in each round are unnecessarily long, and it makes the show less enjoyable. Just my opinion, and feel free to disagree

Gavin Tillman said...

I often wonder if wordy questions are there to counterbalance snappy questions so that at normal pace, each contender is expected to face the same number of questions. Unlike other quizzes where you can interrupt at your own risk, e.g. UC, in Mastermind, JH ignores interruptions and continues with the question, which perhaps backs up this theory on timing.

davidshah1967 said...

I'd like to pass on my best wishes to Jim Maginnis, who was a clear and worthy winner in the semi-final that I was lucky enough to be involved in. Quite aside from the vagaries of tie-breaks, length of specialised subject rounds viz. general knowledge and the date Sinatra's actual demise, I hope that Jim feels justly proud of his achievement, being as good as a winner in my books. Well done sir!

David.

Jim Maginnis said...

David, many thanks for your kind comments! I'm sure that the Grand Final made for great TV, although it was difficult to watch from behind the Maginnis family sofa!! With regard to the 'Sinatra situation' the producer rang me on Saturday morning to explain what had happened and how it was unprecedented that the slip had not been picked up by anyone during recording, post-production or pre-broadcast, and we agreed that there really was nothing practicable that could be done so long after the event. To be honest, I'm actually (now) quite sanguine about the whole thing, and, in the words of another standard from the 'disputed' Francis Albert Sinatra...'That's Life'!

Paul Gilbert said...

A very enjoyable final, although I was somewhat disappointed to discover that a tie-break was edited out when it could have been fitted in (editing a tie-break out of a heat or semi-final would make more sense as there would be less time available).

Knowing that tie-breaks are edited out did make me wonder one thing: in the first semi-final, Richard Tring and Dave Barker both finished on 21 points and 0 passes (thus requiring a tie-break), with Rachael Neiman finishing on 21 points and 1 pass. Rachael's pass wasn't really a pass at all, as (IIRC) she did give half an answer. Could it be that initially the answer was not taken as a pass, but then edited so that the tie-break would only feature 2 people? Unlikely, but possible.

Regarding the 'unprecedented' error, it is not the first time that a slip has gone unnoticed - in c2008, the question was asked 'Which chemical has the symbol Ti?' The contestant gave the (correct) answer 'Titanium' - however Humphrys said that the answer was 'Thallium' (he had obviously misread the lower-case L in the chemical symbol Tl as a capital I).

And one observation about the series - all 6 of the highest-scoring runners-up came from the first 6 heats (as did 2 of the finalists including Alan Heath, and 2 others who tied on points with Richard Tring in the first semi-final). In fact, since the highest-scoring runner-up rule was re-introduced in the 2009-10 series, the first heat has always produced a highest-scoring runner-up. This did not happen in 2003, though.

Londinius said...

Hello Paul

Thanks for taking the time and trouble to leave a comment. Yes, I remember the Titanium incident, now you come to mention it, and I believe that it happened during 'my' series in 2007/8. Errors are unfortunate, and errors of this kind are extremely rare. This is probably why we remember them, and why they garner comment. At the end of the day we're all human - nobody's perfect. Just out of interest, if anyone actually is interested - how did the phrase 'nobody's perfect' give rise to a sporting nickname?

neil wright said...

The current fashion seems to be to avoid passes at all costs but if everyone is able to do that we will end up with a lot more tie-breaks. There have been two in the last few weeks, in both cases with no passes at all over the two rounds and that is highly unusual.

All of which makes me wonder: How do they select the tie-break questions? They are presumably selected in advance and there must be at least two sets. But are they completely at random? What made me think of this was the Manchester Ship Canal question. It just so happens that I live about two miles from Eastham Locks at the start of the Ship Canal so that would have been a gift to me (although I would like to think I would have got it from just the date without the geographical clues). In the GK round "gift" questions like this, perhaps as a result of where you live or what your job is, might be expected to even themselves out. However, if it happens in a tie-break, it could look like bias.

Of course, I wasn't involved here so there wasn't a problem. So do the production team leave it to chance and say that it was just the luck of the draw? Or do they try and screen tie-break questions so they don't favor one particular player?

neil wright said...

Further thoughts on the tie-break situation. If I was in Jim Maginnis's situation, going last in GK with 0 passes, against a current leader with a total of 0 passes, then if the scores are tied, I can't do better than a tie-break. I don't think it would have made a difference as it happened but it would have been very tempting to change strategies and pass quickly, when necessary, and hope to get in that extra question.