Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Return of Mastermind - First round Heat 1/24

In case you're wondering why I didn't post this on Friday, I was away at a family gathering over the weekend, and there was no slur intended to any of the 4 contenders.

This was the first heat of the new, revamped Mastermind we've been promised, a fact which was made obvious when all four contenders stood lined up ominously behind John Humphrys in the opening shots. John himself felt compelled to point out "You may notice a few changes". Well, yes, and the two most obvious changes are things which a body of public opinion has been asking for now for quite some time. Most significantly, although the series will still feature 96 contenders as per usual, the 6 highest scoring runners up of the first round will now also gain places in the semi finals. This is something of a return to the show's Magnusson heyday, and I have to say that I feel that this is a good thing. Several previous champions took this route to the final in the old days.

The other main change is that each contender films a short contribution to camera which is shown before the commencement of the specialist round. There is no chat interval between John Humphrys and the contenders before their GK rounds. Now, don't misunderstand me, I think that John is actually very good at this, but it seemed to me to slow the show down a bit.I certainly don't think that removing the chat takes anything away from the show, and speaking as a former contender I think that this can only help the contenders before they embark on the GK round. You see the filmed chats often went on for quite a bit longer than you got to see on the telly, and I always found sitting through all of the chats really irritating when I was a contender, and this had nothing to do with how interesting they were. I just wanted to get on with the serious business of the quiz.

Lets get onto the actual show, then. The honour of kicking off Mastermind 2009 went to Abigail Maher, who was answering on Louis Wain. 5 years or so ago I'm sure that I and many others would have looked blankly at the mention of his name. However thanks to the plethora of antique based programmes which make up part of the BBCs daytime output I know that Louis Wain was the victorian artist who painted cats, to make them look human. Oh well, you pays yer money, as they say. Abigail Maher knew considerably more than I did, which she proved with a very impressive 15 and 1 pass.

Tony Esau, like all of Friday's contenders a Mastermind virgin, offered a real traditional Mastermind subject of the kind that wouldn't have been out of place in any series going back to 1972 - the Greeks in Sicily 500 - 212 BC. He too knew his stuff, scoring just one less to get 14 and 1 pass.

There's something about Mastermind which attracts teachers and lecturers like moths to a flame. I believe Mr. Esau said that he was a retired teacher, and the next contender, Roy Watson-Davis, is also a teacher. Actually, if h's THE Roy Watson-Davis, then he's being rather modest just calling himself a teacher, since I believe that he's the same person who has written books on the role of the Form tutor etc. Whatever the case, in a nice twist on a traditional subject, Mr. Watson-Davis answered on Sherlock Holmes, but the Basil Rathbone films as opposed to the stories of Conan Doyle. Like the first contender he scored 15 and 1 pass. An impressive performance.

Our final contender is a not someone I know personally, but he's definitely someone I know of. William de'Ath may not be a name everybody is familiar with, but believe me he is a superb quizzer, and ranked among the very best in Britain. For which reason I expected a 4th very good specialist score, and to be fair , he didn't let me down. Answering questions on the Life and Works of Kurt Vonnegut he too equalled the leaders with 15 and 1 pass.

Now we noticed the changes to the show, as the GK round was considerably speeded up by the removal of the chat intervals. Tony Esau, remarkably , had found himself in last place at the halfway stage, although he was only one point behind. On a very fair set of GK questions he didn't particularly seem to be going all that fast, but he still managed an impressive 13 and 1 pass to set the bar at 27 and 2 passes. To put that into perspective, had the 6 highest runners up rule applied in any of the previous John Humphrys' series, then that would have been enough to claim a spot in the semis. So it seemed as if he virtually guaranteed himself a place with this.

Abigail Maher followed. I'm afraid that she never really got to grips with the GK questions, and scored 5 to end with 20 and 4 passes. To put this into perspective she can take heart from the fact that lower scores than this have won shows in the past.
Mr. Watson-Davis had a similarly testing time with his GK round to go ahead of Abigail Maher by one, scoring 6 for 21 and 3 passes overall. Worth noting in this round was that in the week that Teddy Kennedy died the contender was asked a question about which state he had represented as a senator. Pure coincidence since this was doubtless recorded quite some time ago, although it must have been since the final of Britain's Got Talent was shown, since Abigail Maher had been asked who came runner-up to Diversity.

So to William de'Ath. 12 points and no passes or better needed for an outright win. That's not as easy as it sounds. It doesn't matter how good a quizzer you are, the time element is such a crucial factor in this show that anyone can find a double figures target daunting. Mr. de'Ath started well, but hesitations seemed to be putting him in jeopardy, and with 15 seconds left it was obvious that he was behind on the clock. In the end he managed double figures , scoring 10 and 3 passes, to give him 25.

So Tony Esau is our first winner of the 2009 series. Congratulations to him.13 on GK is a figure to conjure with, and who is to say that he couldn't win a place in the finals ? As for Mr. de'Ath, as runner up he is certainly eligible for one of the 6 semi final places. 25 seems to me to be right on the cusp. In my first series in 2006 I was one of 3 highest scoring losers with a relatively modest 24. On the other hand , in the blessed 2007 series three contenders all scored 29 without winning their heats. Still, the next best after that was 25 too. So time alone will tell. At least he is in with a fighting chance.

This is all subjective, but personally I thought that the changes to the show worked pretty well. The second half of the show especially is more tight, more fast moving and more exciting than before. And it wasn't bad to begin with ! Joy of joys, John Humphrys made a call for contenders for Mastermind 2010 as well, so for the time being at least the show's future seems assured .

The Details
Abigail Maher The Life and Works of Louis Wain15 - 15 - 3 20 - 4
Tony Esau The Greeks in Sicily 500 - 212 BC14 - 113 - 127 - 2
Roy Watson-DavisThe Sherlock Holmes films of Basil Rathbone15 - 16 - 321 - 4
William de'AthLife and Works of Kurt Vonnegut15 - 110 - 325 - 4

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