Well, I will admit that I am not the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer when it comes to remembering to set the recorder before I go to work, and so I hadn’t caught up with Classic Mastermind before this week. It’s been nice seeing people like Darren Martin and Geoff in the semis. In fact Geoff’s semi was on today, and in it he faced Isabelle Heward. If you’ve not been a Mastermind regular for more than a couple of years then maybe the name won’t mean a lot, but by my reckoning she was three times a semi finalist, but never a finalist.
I’ve written about people making multiple appearences before, a couple of years ago, so I won’t labour the point. But I did end up reflecting for a moment or two on the reasons why people do want to come back on the show. I’m sure that we probably each of us have reasons that are slightly different. In my case, well it was a lot to do with a sense of underachievement. Not just in Mastermind, I hasten to add. My first appearance in 2006 was my third appearance on a quiz show, after Come and Have A Go . . . and Eggheads, and was followed almost immediately after by Millionaire. I didn’t win any of the first three, and as for Millionaire, I took home £1000 but it didn’t feel like a win considering I could have taken home at least £16,000 if I’d had any sense. I was arrogant enough to think – well, what the hell, if you’d only seen those four appearences of mine, then you’d have thought that I was a bit of a choker. So I gave it another go. Whether I would have become a multiple contender rather than just a double contender, I don’t know. I mean I distinctly remember in my Grand Final , as I was walking to the chair for the GK round thinking to myself,- well, enjoy this one Dave, cos you ain’t coming back here for the foreseeable future. – I’d made up my mind that, as much as I enjoyed preparing for a specialist subject (and I did always enjoy that. It appealed to the slightly obsessive side of my nature) it really wouldn’t be fair to my family to put them through it again. Besides that, getting to the final was enough. I reapplied for 2007 because I thought I could do better. Had I not won my final I would never have been so arrogant as to say, oh, I can do better than just making the final, and applied a third time for that reason. But who knows, the temptation might well have proved too much a few years down the line.
Of course, I’m not saying that every multiple contender applies simply out of a sense of an ability to do better. The fact is that it is fun. Maybe not what everyone would call fun, but there is a pleasure in it, even if it’s a kind of masochistic pleasure. I always enjoyed learning my specialist subjects, even when, as with the Summer Olympics, it looked at one stage like I’d bitten off more than I could chew. The meeting and talking to the other contenders can be really enjoyable – I still have friends whom I only met through Mastermind. There’s the adrenaline rush of playing, then. The satisfaction of putting yourself to the test on specialist, and the sense of satisfaction when you post a good score. I don’t know, maybe some contenders develop this kind of feeling about the show because of the amount of time you have to invest in it to give yourself a chance of doing well.
Coming back to my original point, one of the things that struck me about the 2003 shows is that the inter round chats – of which I was never a fan- seem somewhat shorter than I recalled. Of course, what you see on the screens is only the tip of the iceberg, since these chats would go on in the studio for quite a bit longer than you’d ever see on the screen. In fact I made a halfway decent joke in my semi-final chat, and was a bit miffed to see that it had been cut out in the edit. I understood why they introduced the chats, the purpose being, I believe, to show that contenders are not just one dimensional quiz machines, but have knowledge of their subjects, and life beyond the black chair. The problem with this was that I – and I guess a significant proportion of the audience – didn’t really give a stuff about that. As a viewer I always felt that they were an unwelcome hold up to the action, and as a contender I always felt that the poor researchers had to spend far too long on the phone with you trying to find an angle which John could explore with you in the chat. They were spending a hell of a lot of time on the least important aspect of the show. In the studio I used to just sit there wishing we could just get on with it. So full marks to the team for junking this feature of the show a few years ago. Replacing this with more GK questions showed, to my mind, and understanding of the show’s real strength in the first place.