Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Meet TVs Newest Egghead - Lisa Thiel

Some time ago I asked TV's newest Egghead, Lisa Thiel, whether she'd be willing to answer a few questions for LAM, when the time she takes her place amongst them draws closer. Being the good egg(head) that she is, she agreed to do so as soon as possible. So here they are. Thanks Lisa!

1.    Lisa, could you tell us how you first became interested in quizzing?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t! I’ve always loved finding things out and then spouting them back – I was the child with a lot of those Usborne books that told you about different aspects of the world.

The first formal quizzes I took part in were at school, when I was a ten-year-old sent off to quiz with the 12 and 13-year olds in inter-school competitions. At secondary school I was taught Latin by a fella named John Hart, who was Mastermind champion back in 1975 and naturally encouraged an interest in quizzing and general knowledge alongside his other duties. He used to act as quizmaster for inter-school quizzes. I suspect Jeremy Paxman – another alumnus of my school – picked up a few tips from John Hart during his time, because their question master styles are eerily similar.

2.    Other than Eggheads, which TV quiz shows, if any, do you enjoy now, and which shows have you enjoyed in the past?

I grew up with Blockbusters, University Challenge and Bullseye - I still remember getting my very first correct answer while watching Blockbusters when I was about seven. These days I can watch any quiz and get something out of it, but my favourites would be Pointless and Only Connect. I’m fully expecting to love the revamped Fifteen to One and, without wishing to sound sycophantic, I’ve been an Eggheads fan since it started.

My guilty pleasure these days is Challenge TV and the quizzes from the 80s and early 90s, partly to bone up on pop culture from the period, but mainly to admire the fashion and hairstyles of the day. It’s living history and it’s fantastic. I loved hearing Jim Bowen ask ‘Where will the 1988 Olympic Games be held?’ the other day…

3.    Lisa, I believe that you have been a contestant on The Weakest Link a few years ago. If so, how did you find Anne Robinson, and what are your memories of the experience?

Anne was perfectly gracious in a professional way – it was ‘turn up, shake everyone’s hand, congratulate them afterwards and the on to the next show.’ She wasn’t a chatty-type host in your Jeremy Vine or Bradley Walsh mould, but if I was on a five-show-a-day treadmill I doubt I would have been either.

We had a small set-to during the show when she asked me what I wanted to do career-wise, as I’d just left university when we filmed. I told her I wanted to work in television, to which she replied (you’ll have to imagine the sneer and the cut-glass disdain in the voice) ‘What makes you think you’re talented enough to work in television?’ I replied ‘Do you need to be talented, Anne?’ The resulting loud guffaw from the production gallery didn’t make the edit, but in fairness she did come up afterwards and say ‘the producer says come and see her afterwards, because she says you deserve a job in television’. Thirteen years later, here I am…

The rest of the show was slightly atypical in that we were one of the ‘nicer’ teams ever to film – there were no tactics to get rid of the stronger players and very little sniping between contestants. I made a hideous mess of the final – there were questions in there that I’d known the answers to since I was about five, but because I panicked under pressure I failed to get a single one correct. It was a salutary lesson in tactics, though.

4.    If my information about The Weakest Link is correct, then you have faced both Anne Robinson and CJ. Who do you think would win out of the two of them in a cage fight – no, only joking! But seriously, which was the more daunting experience – facing Anne Robinson in The Weakest Link, or facing CJ in Revenge of the Egghead?

In the cage my money’d be on Anne because she’d fight that bit dirtier, but it’d be a close-run thing…Quizwise, I’d actually go for CJ, simply because it’s quite difficult to play a quiz format with which you’re not familiar. On The Weakest Link, I knew roughly what to expect of the format, the level of questions, expected banter etc., but I couldn’t be sure at what level Revenge of the Egghead would be pitched or how it might have developed since the auditions. The questions were harder on Revenge too. I was lucky with a few of my answers.

5.    Prior to joining the Eggheads, what would you say is the quiz experience or achievement that you are most proud of?

Edging my solo round of The Chase against Paul Sinha. How I survived that I have absolutely no idea, given the questions. Not my finest hour knowledge-wise but probably the finest in terms of sheer nerve and persistence.

6.    Since you have joined the Eggheads, has your approach towards preparing for quizzes changed, and if so, how?

I’ve tried to make sure that the kind of absolute ‘core list’ with which all quizzers should be familiar is fully up to scratch, so that really basic quiz fodder like world capitals, or Olympic host cities, or American presidential office holders, doesn’t catch me out. Every day on Eggheads throws up a new area for me to look into, though, so I suppose it’s more a broadening of research areas than a change of approach per se. I think the most conscious change is that when I read the news, I find myself muttering facts and lists over to make sure they sink in.

7.    Could you give us an idea what the reaction of friends and/or family has been when you revealed to them for the first time that you were becoming an Egghead?

My immediate family were all in New Zealand when I told them over Skype, and I don’t think they’ve scraped their jaws off the floor yet. Most other people have actually been quite laid back about it, particularly my work colleagues.

The best reaction was my father-in-law’s – he’s a dedicated Eggheads fan and we’ve often joked about getting a team together. My husband rang up and said ‘Lisa’s going on Eggheads’. My father-in-law responded, in a slightly hurt tone, ‘Oh…who’s on her team?’ to which my husband replied ‘You know, Kevin, Barry, Pat, Judith…’!

8.    What are/were your thoughts on taking over from such a popular, respected and talented Egghead as Daphne Fowler?

Let’s get this absolutely straight – I am not, repeat not, ‘replacing’ Daphne in any way. You cannot, by definition, replace a one-off. Daphne made her first appearances on TV quiz shows before I was even born, and her level of performance is a benchmark to which all quizzers, particularly female quizzers, can and should aspire.

I understand that the idea of a like-for-like replacement will be people’s natural assumption, because Daphne and I both happen to be women. But I don’t think anyone expected Dave to be exactly the same type of quizzer, or have the same type of personality, as CJ when he arrived to fill that particular vacancy. So from that point of view it’s basically sexist for people to think that I’m a straight swap for Daphne.

From what I’ve been told by various people connected with Eggheads, the idea of finding a new female Egghead had been around for some time, and while a lot of people (including a large number known, I suspect, to this blog’s author) (Really? Could be - Ed) were considered, the producers obviously had quite a specific blueprint in mind. I think it’ll be immediately obvious when I appear on screen that the last thing they were thinking about was finding another Daphne, even if such a thing were possible.

9.    Regular viewers of Eggheads have noticed that particular Eggheads are often targeted for specific subjects, where, rightly or wrongly, they are perceived to have an Achilles heel. Do you feel that you have been targeted for any specific subject more than any other, and if so, which?

In my first week of filming, I’ve competed in head to heads for eight out of the nine question categories, which I think is a clear indicator that nobody quite knows what to make of me just yet. I actually expected a little more targeting for some subjects based on assumptions about my age and gender, but it hasn’t really been evident except in a couple of cases – and happily I was able to prove contestants wrong on those occasions. As a result my win-loss record for this week is a little better than most of the other Eggheads, who suffer to greater or lesser degrees from this type of targeting. And I’m not going to tell you which subjects…I’m trying to preserve the mystique for as long as possible!

     You’re now an Egghead, but if you weren’t, and you could appear as a contestant or contender on any other quiz show (past or present), which show would be at the top of your list?

Now that is a great question.(thanks - Ed!) I’d love to have made it onto old-school Blockbusters with Bob Holness, because he was a legendary example of hosting and Blockbusters still wins in the ‘best quiz theme tune’ stakes (sorry, ‘Approaching’ what now?). These days I’m dying to have a crack at Only Connect. Are you listening, producers…?

Lisa - once again thanks for being a sport, and answering so fully and frankly. I'm sure all LAM readers would like to join me in wishing you every success. (We'll argue again about the best quiz theme - in fact I think I feel a podcast coming on . . . )


George Millman said...

I'm so excited for when Lisa joins the team! I really liked her on both Weakest Link and Are You An Egghead? Do you know when it will be at all? I'm presuming it will be at the time when Jeremy takes over from Dermot as presenter, as that has been a time when things have changed somewhat - Dave took over from CJ on that occasion, I think.

I reckon she'll freshen up the Eggheads team, firstly that it will be good to have another woman now Daphne's gone and also because she's quite a bit younger than most of them. I think it's good to have a mix of ages. On a more personal level, whenever I have tweeted Lisa she always responds very promptly, usually within the hour, which I appreciate a lot.

Londinius said...

Hi George - I don't have a date yet, but it's definitely going to be soon, because the Producers have allowed her to reply to the questions now, since they are starting to build up to her first appearance.

Unknown said...

Not sure the OC producers will allow an Egghead in - having QI Elves on is about as far as they can go I think. Should have come in last series!

George Millman said...

They had Chris, Barry and Pat in a special against three of the strongest OC players of all time, who all happened to be called David... I didn't think the Eggheads were very good actually, it takes a special type of mind to do Only Connect.