You’ve probably worked out for yourselves that I’m pretty much ‘semi retired’ as regards quizzes, judging by the dearth of posts in the last couple of years. It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with quizzing so much, but the things which really irritated me about quizzes were irritating me more and more. So I only play in one fairly big quiz competition a year now – Brain of Mensa – and I only play in one pub quiz, and not every week either, for that matter. I still watch and enjoy every episode of University Challenge, and Mastermind, and still enjoy writing the reviews of them, and I still enjoy new episodes of Pointless, and there are a few other quizzes which I won’t switch off when they’re on. But I don’t seek out and try every new quiz on television.
So, over this summer, I’ve been rather surprised to find myself looking forward to each weekday evening’s edition of Impossible! I think we’re actually on something like the 4th series now, but I’d never seen it prior to this July. And of course, I’m usually a far more forgiving viewer during the long summer holiday from school. But I have to say that I’ve been rather enjoying it.
Impossible for me pulls off being entertaining enough for the man and woman on the Clapham Omnibus, and yet there is enough there to sustain my interest. If you haven’t seen it, basically a wall of three tiers of contestants are asked five questions. Each question has three answers to choose from. One is right, the other could be right, and the third, according to the terms of the question, is impossible, hence the title. So for example if the question was – which presenter of the BBC television show Mastermind was born in Wales – you might be given the choice between Magnus Magnusson – Peter Snow – John Humphrys. The correct answer would be John Humphrys, while Peter Snow would be impossible since he presented the Radio 4 editions of Mastermind. If a contestant selects the impossible answer, then they are sent home until the next show. All of the contenders change at the end of the week. The contender with the highest score in the quickest time gets to play for a place in the final. They get a board with 9 answers on and the first half of a question. For example – Which BBC Blue Peter Presenter – and five of the answers would be impossible. The contestant has to pick the five impossible answers, earning money for the prize pot with each. Then they get shown the rest of the question. So if the rest of the question asked – went on to co-present Saturday Superstore and Going Live – then the answer would be Sarah Greene. If the contestant picked a wrong but possible answer, then the next best contestant of the previous round would get to answer. If he/she answers correctly, then that earns a place in the final. If he/she gives a wrong answer, then our first contestant automatically gets a place in the final. If any impossible answers remain on the board, and they give it, then that’s them finished for the show. Basically this process is twice repeated until there are three finalists. The final is in two parts. The first is a buzzer quiz. Answer a possible question correctly, and it knocks a life off the two opponents. Identify an impossible question correctly, and you knock two lives off. When one contestant remains, he/she has another 9 square grid, and a question. Three answers are correct, three possible but wrong, and three impossible. The contestant must select three answers. If all three are right, they win £10,000. If all of the answers are at least possible, then they scoop the prize pot, normally about £1500. If any of their answers are impossible they leave, as Anne Robinson once said, with nothing.
Its sounds very complicated but it really isn’t. Host Rick Edwards might well be no Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman – well, there’s no might about it, he isn’t. But he moves things along at a fair old clip and doesn’t really irritate. For me, the show has play along value. I get a kick out of spotting the Impossible answer asap, and explaining why it’s impossible. This probably explains why my mother in law didn’t want me to watch it while I was in Spain a couple of weeks ago. Alright, it’s not Pointless, which for me is the king of teatime shows which carry out the delicate balancing act of having enough entertainment value for most, while having a great enough level of challenge for . . . well, for me. But it’s not bad at all, and I’ve been really enjoying it. In fact I did go so far as applying, but didn’t hear back. Never mind, I don’t hold it against them.
Of course, there are criticisms I could make. Now, it’s a given that a tea time quiz show which isn’t setting out to find Britain’s best quizzer is going to have a significant proportion of entertainment questions. But it does seem to me that a huge proportion of the questions which have been asked for the £10,000 have been on entertainment, and a large proportion of those on modern pop music. Variety being the spice of life, I would like to see a more random selection.
One nice thing has been seeing that the production team doesn’t seem to have a bias against people who have appeared on a number of other quiz shows, who might be expected to do well. Our own Rachael Cherryade Neiman was a contestant only last week. Yes, of course she got to the final – twice as it happens, and the second time of asking she made it to the final question. She avoided the impossible, so took home a cheque, but sadly not the £10,000. Which underlines that this does have a good level of challenge to it.
I don’t know if it will be back for another series when this one finishes, but I hope so.