Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Whatever Happened to . . .

Yes, whatever happened to the Consolation Prize ? You may have seen my recent post about Sky TV’s Show Me The Answer the other day, and there was this nagging question in the back of my mind. The two poor contestants, who had their chance of the cash snatched away from them, had to leave the stage with nothing at all. Now, this is perfectly natural now – it’s the way of the world now. But time was when a losing contestant in a show like this would be presented with something in the nature of a consolation prize. Nobody should have to walk away from a show like that with absolutely nothing to show for it. How did we ever get to this state of affairs ?

I freely admit that, at the more serious end of the quiz show spectrum, consolation prizes were never the order of the day. Mastermind, University Challenge, Fifteen to One, just never had ‘em. But at the game show end of the continuum there were, once upon a time, more consolation gewgaws than you could shake a proverbial stick at. To mention just a few of the more well remembered game show consolation prizes : -
3 – 2 – 1 had a ceramic dusty bin. Ted Rogers always used to say “You Know How Much They’re worth !” Actually I didn’t then, and I don’t now.
Bullseye had the famous Bendy Bully, and also a tankard and a set of darts.
Blankety Blank – the chequebook and pen
The Crystal Maze – I’ve cracked the Crystal Maze crystals.
Blockbusters - dictionary
and so on. My Mother in Law once had a little rose bowl which was the consolation prize for “Three Little Words”, come to think of it. No, I have no intention of making any jokes or rude comments about my mother in law. She’s far too computer literate for me to take the risk.

I’ll be honest now. I look at the quiz show spectrum, and off the top of my head I can hardly think of any show that offers a consolation prize. Why not ? There are a couple of theories that occur to me, namely : -

1)We’ve grown up as an audience, and grown out of the Lewis Carroll Dodo-esque idea that everyone must have a prize.

- The problem of this theory is, if we’ve grown up and become more sophisticated as a TV audience, then how do you explain BBC1’s Hole In The Wall ?

2) People are perhaps, as a rule, more affluent, so couldn’t give a stuff about being given a carriage clock or a canteen of cutlery to go away with as a consolation prize.

- Possibly true, but then lots of consolation prizes were of the useless memento variety, which you couldn’t actually buy for yourself, even if you wanted to.

3) Many shows are made by independent production companies, who don’t really want to shell out any more than is absolutely necessary.

Probably an element of truth in this one.

Personally, I can’t help wondering whether its all part of the TV quiz and game show culture that was ushered in by the amazing success of Millionaire. After all, lets be honest, apart from a tiny number of people, if you got through the fastest finger, then you were definitely going home with more money than you came. In such circumstances, then, who needs a consolation prize. So Millionaire doesn’t have consolation prizes – so why should any of the shows that followed it ? The Weakest Link makes a positive virtue of it, one of its main catchphrases being – You Leave With Nothing.

Do we actually want to see consolation prizes, anyway ? Well, all I can tell you is what I feel about it. Cards on the table, I am very lucky because I won Mastermind, which means I have a lovely Dennis Mann Caithness Glass Rose Bowl as a souvenir. But apart from that, I have nothing tangible to show for any of the other shows that I’ve been on. Come and Have A Go If You Think You’re Smart Enough was a lot of fun, but it would be lovely to have just a little something I could show and tell about it. Would it hurt 12 Yard Productions to, lets say, give each member of the challenger’s team on Eggheads a souvenir eggcup, perhaps emblazoned with the slogan ‘don’t Put All Your Eggheads In One Basket ‘ that Dermot is so fond of. Mind you, it would have to be a big eggcup to get that on. Alright, I messed up Millionaire and only went away with £1000. Well, I have to say that the money is long gone. Couldn’t they give you a chrome plated cheque, with the symbolic figure of £1 million pounds on it ?

Mind you, now I come to think about it, perhaps there is another reason why production companies don’t tend to give out consolation prizes any more. So here it is : -

4) Ebay


Unknown said...

Doesn't Countdown still have consolation prizes?

Des Elmes said...

I grew up when Today's The Day (the predecessor to Weakest Link, with newscasting legend Martyn Lewis) was prominent in the BBC2 afternoon schedule, and its consolation prize was always a copy of a newspaper from the day a contestant was born.

By what must surely have been a remarkable coincidence, Runway (one of the early ITV 9:25 game shows, latterly with Richard Madeley) had exactly the same consolation prize.

Londinius said...

Hi Andrew and Des,

Thinking about it, Andrew, I'm sure you're right. But then Countdown did begin in 1982, so in that sense its a show with old fashioned values anyway, and none the worse for that.

I liked the newspaper prize, Des. Can't have been all that expensive, yet at least gave the personalised touch - no wonder more than one show went for it.

Thanks for posting your thoughts.

Unknown said...

Thinking about it the other way around, why did UK game shows ever have consolation prizes in the first place? (Or, at least, why did they ever publicise the consolation prizes they had.) Historically, while US game shows made quite a big deal of their consolation prizes, quite often these prizes were supplied by sponsors in return for the publicity on the show - which is not something that has traditionally been a factor of UK game shows. I personally tend to blame The Weakest Link, as being the first one to make a point of its lack of consolation prizes, though you're right that WWTBAM? preceded it. (To me - and I fear there is probably no kind way of putting this, so I hope it doesn't cause offence - WWTBAM? always felt like its £1,000 guaranteed level was the consolation prize, though some contestants didn't win it.

Fun blog, though I haven't looked too far through it yet - I found it when searching to see if I knew this week's Only Connect contestants by some other means or not. :-)

Londinius said...

Hi Chris,

Don't worry about Millionaire, because you're right - and I'm afraid that this is going to sound terribly arrogant of me - when I walked away with just £1000 I felt like a loser. Which is funny really since its the largest sum of money I've ever won in a quiz in my life, still, you know what I mean.

Thanks for your comments about the blog. My life outside quizzing is very boring so I concentrate all of my blogging efforts on quizzing so as to avoid
a) boring the pants off the readers
b) upsetting my nearest and dearest with a careless comment.

Cling_peaches said...

I think your comment about the cost savings may well be a reason, marginal though the savings might be. Despite the catchphrase, I'm surprised that competitors in TWL don't receive a mug each or something similar as a memento. Additionally, I think that the modern Americanisation of British culture which has come largely through TV and film, has had the 'winner takes all' attitude as one of its effects. Part of the format of many TV quiz and game shows now is the 'total triumph', and as such, consolation prizes are out of fashion. As you say, WWTBAM appears to have been the watershed.

WWTBAM strikes me as a rather clever format. It combines fastest finger speed with the isolating pressure of MM, together with unusually long cogitation time. I divide participants into strategists and non-strategists, rather than 'those who win big', and 'losers'. I'm amazed by the number of people get through to face the millionaire-in-chief CT, seemingly with little gen knowledge and no plan as how to preserve their best aids until the going gets seriously tough. Arrogance is obnoxious but it is helpful to know one's limitations. I empathise with poor performance through nervousness, but I most admire those on WWTBAM who have the guts to take a calculated gamble in order to husband their resources. A winner's strategy, I think.

Londinius said...

Hello Maltina, and welcome to LAM.

Thanks for yout thoughtful and cogent comments, especially on Millionaire. It is a genuine phenomenon in British TV, I think. I too think its a very clever format, all the better for its relative simplicity. I would hate for anyone to think that I don't think that its a great show - it undoubtedly is. As I always say to anyone kind enough to ask - actually, I had a fantastic day on the show - apart from throwing away £15,000 . Speaking personally, I think that as a contestant, you feel that your so unlikely to get through the fastest finger, that any thought of strategy tends to go out of your head. Then when you do get through the fastest finger you're so ecstatic that all you can see are pound signs dancing before your eyes. Its easy for me to say this now, but looking back I do think that sitting in the chair with Chris Tarrant - for whom I have nothing but admiration as a host - was more nerve wracking than sitting in the black chair on Mastermind. So if some contestants do come across a little bit as headless chickens, it doesn't come as that much of a surprise to me now.

The application process has tightened up quite a bit since my day, and now involves auditions to some extent. I followed a strategy that involved investing £300 in playing online, all for the same day's show. This gave me a very good chance of being one of the many people phoned back, and asked a question to get on the show. This would have been money down the drain if I hadn't got on, or if I hadn't got through the fastest finger. So at least I got back the initial outlay with a little more besides. I am reliably informed that this strategy now would give you hardly any more chance than just ringing up to the show once. In my experience, once auditions become involved, unless its a higbrow show like Mastermind or Brain of Britain, significant quiz experience will often work against your chances of getting on. So if the contestants now seem to lack general knowledge, well the reason is that they are for the most part just ordinary members of the public.

Thanks for your contribution to the debate.