Well, on paper two of last night’s contenders looked to be favourite. Cliff Challenger and Neil Wright were actually the top two performers in the first round. Their GK scores were significantly higher than those of the other contenders. Although having one good GK round in the heat doesn’t mean that you can do it all over again in the semi, it is at least an indication that you have the potential to do so. Worth noting too is our own Daniel Adler, comfortably placed in the outsider position, with absolutely nothing to lose.
Lawrence Cook won heat 17 back in December with one of my favourite specialist subjects, Heavyweight Boxing 1960 – 2000. I’d thought at the time that his 11 was a good score, but there had been scope for him to have achieved a couple of more points on that particular round. Last night Lawrence opted for chess champion Bobby Fishcer. I was pleased with myself for managing 2 of these. Lawrence’s round somehow looked a little better than his score of 7, and I did think in my heart of hearts that this wouldn’t be enough to give him a realistic chance of a win.
Neil Wright won that amazing Heat 23, where no less than 3 of the top 10 scores of the whole series so far were set. Back then he was answering on French Wines of the Rhone Valley. He scored 13 that night, although it wasn’t a perfect round, and he had one pass. Last night Neil opted for the Life and Times of Cesare Borgia. This time it was a perfect round of 11 and no passes. To put that into perspective, in this series we’ve seen that anything in double figures in a 2 minute round has been a good score. Suddenly the job had become a lot harder for the other 4 contenders.
LAM reader Daniel Adler offered us Puccini in Heat 10. Now, sometimes the difference between winning and losing is in managing to dredge up a wrong answer in order to prevent a pass. Daniel won his heat by virtue of having only 1 pass, as the runner up, Richard Holness, incurred 2 of them. That night Daniel scored 9 on specialist. Last night, answering on the Philip Marlowe novels of Raymond Chandler. Once again he scored 9 points. This 9, though, was scored off just 90 seconds. It didn’t put him in the lead, but it was a good score, and at the very least it gave him a fighting chance.
Julie Aris last took part in a semi final in 2012. In her first round heat this year she offered The Simon Serailler Novels of Susan Hil, and scored a very impressive 13. Tonight she was going to need a performance of that calibre, because past performances suggested that she wasn’t lilely to win on GK. Answering on Amelia Earhart, Julie never looked quite at ease with the subject, and like Lawrence’s, although it looked better than the score, the score was still 7 points.
I’ve always said that first round heat form can be notoriously unreliable as a guide to semi final form, but you’d still be forgiven for identifying Cliff Challenger as potential champion following his magnificent performance in Heat one. His 15 points on the Life and Career of Benjamin Britten looked very good – and as the series rolled on it came to look better and better, and his was the best performance in the whole of the first round. However, the fact is that in every series of Mastermind since I started compiling this blog, none of the players who achieved the top score in the first round have gone on to win the title. We’ve had a couple of second places, with Kathryn Johnson and Andy Tucker, but that’s about it. So Cliff had a lot to do if he was going to buck the trend. Sadly, he wasn’t going to do it this year by offering British Political History 1964 – 1990. I have a theory about what might have happened in this round. Asked what caused Jim Callaghan’s resignation in 1967, a slip of the tongue saw him give the answer ‘devolution’ rather than ‘ devaluation’. I think that this might have played on his mind for the rest of the round, because he missed what I thought were some gettable points, including the reason for Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Rejoice at that news’ comment. 6 points was not a disaster, but it was not enough to give him a realistic tilt at the win.
When he returned to the chair, Cliff had obviously made the decision to blast his way through the round, answering as quickly as he could, and passing those where he couldn’t come up with a plausible answer as quickly as possible. It is a valid tactic, and it saw him accrue 12 points to take him to 18. 12 is a good GK score in the context of this series, but while it was certainly good enough to push him higher up the leader board, it wasn’t going to be enough. In fact he was overtaken in the very next round. Lawrence Cook scored 12 in his GK round in his heat. This, you will recall, was off a two and half minute round. Last night he only scored one less, which actually made it a much better round considering that this was done off just 2 minutes. This put him level with Cliff on 18 points, but Lawrence had been more careful to avoid passes, and thus took the lead.
Last time that she passed this way, in her 2012 semi final, Julie Aris had, to use the vernacular, a bit of a ‘mare’ on GK, scoring 4. Fair play to her for having the determination to come back and have another go after what must have been a fairly daunting experience. It went better for her this time, but sadly, not by much, as she added 6 to her total to make 14. Now, sometimes you can think you’ve picked up clues to how well a contender is going to do from their body language, their posture and their facial expression, and you can get it completely wrong. At other times the camera doesn’t lie. Daniel Adler had obviously been really enjoying his semi, and his body language as he walked to the chair seemed to say – right, I’m up for this and I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose. What he produced was actually a better round than his GK round of his heat. In both he scored 12, but in the heat he incurred a pass, and of course he had an extra 30 seconds back then in which to do it. This was a terrific round, which served very well to do the necessary, that is, to put the last contender, Neil Wright, firmly within the corridor of uncertainty.
Put yourself in Neil Wright’s position. You have a brilliant specialist round, which means that you lead by 2 points. You know that you scored a magnificent 18 points on general knowledge in your first round heat. OK, so you have 30 seconds less in the round ahead of you now, but you only need 11 to do it. Well, I’ve been in a similar position myself, being the last contender to go in GK in a semi final, knowing that I would never have a better chance of getting to a Mastermind final, and that I only needed to come close to what I’d already achieved to do it. Believe me, that is a lot of pressure. Neil’s GK round wasn’t a bad round, but it needed to be a good one, and it just wasn’t quite. In the end the tape at the finish line was just approaching too quickly, and he added 9 to his total. Which meant that it is our own Daniel Adler who goes through to the Grand Final. Many , many congratulations, Daniel, and well done for proving that there are lies, damned lies, and first round statistics.
|Lawrence Cook||Bobby Fischer||7 – 0||11 - 0||18 - 0|
|Neil Wright||The Life and Times of Cesare Borgia||11 – 0||9 - 5||20 -5|
|Daniel Adler||Philip Marlowe novels of Raymond Chandler||9 – 0||12 - 0||21 - 0|
|Julie Aris||Amelia Earhart||7 – 0||7 - 6||14 - 6|
|Cliff Challenger||British Political History 1964 - 1997||6 - 1||12 - 4||18 - 5|