Posted on March 30, 2012


This never happens. I’m going to talk about something that annoys me, on TV.

I like a quiz show, me. I guess in once sense they fulfil some inner twelve year old smart alec know-all that never got over being praised for retaining abstruse information (yay, gold star!), but they can also be entertaining and very occasionally you can learn something. And that’s good because I love learning things.

The best one on the box at the moment is the epic Pointless. The chemistry between host Alexander “Jack Force” Armstrong and Richard “Hiya/Hello” Osman is already legendary. The obscurity of questions is often gleefully high, and the general knowledge on display is usually impressive. Usually, sometimes. See, I like smart contestants. I like to cheer them on. I like it when they pull something out that I didn’t know. Conversely, I hate it when people appear to be wilfully stupid.

On a tangential but related note, it was nice to see screen legend Robert Redford being interviewed on the BBC this week about bringing his Sundance film festival to London. You know, the world-famous superstar, Robert Reford? Who featured in some of the 60s’ and 70s’ biggest movies and who, as both a sex symbol actor and person of conscience and integrity, George Clooney surely learnt a thing or two? And who then moved behind the camera to become an Oscar-winning director and also founded the world’s most influential independent film festival. Yeah, that guy.

All if which I mention because on the opening round of an episode of Pointless this week almost none-of the contestants were able to name one of Redford’s films. Some of them hadn’t even heard of him. It’s not just me getting old, is it? He’s not been out of the public eye for *that* long has he? This *was* an unnaturally ill-informed bunch, and Xander and Richard proceeded to take the piss at great length. In fact, throughout the next day’s episode too.

Look, I don’t advocate ridiculing people for ignorance. That’s not what this is about. This is about people who go on quiz shows and don’t know anything. They’re rare on Pointless, and Eggheads at least draws its contestants from pub quiz teams, but they crop up regularly in other places. You see them on a Saturday night, on In It To Win It: “What’s the capital of Belgium? ” “Oh, I’m not sure Dale, but I think it’s Africa.”

Seriously, guys. Why do you go on a quiz show if you don’t know anything?  Is it just to say you’ve been on telly? To tick that particular Warholian box on your things-to-do-before-I-die list: #52, be famous? It’s surely not because you thought you’d walk away rich, did you? I know Million Pound Drop looks like a lot of money, but the last question may as well be a coin toss and to get that far you need to have a general knowledge that extends beyond what you read in Heat that morning. If it’s a fast buck you’re after, your odds are better taking on the banker in Deal Or No Deal.

And even if it is for the fame, you’d think people would want to be famous (among their friends and family at least) for being being clever, not for being dumb and having the pish ripped out of them. If it’s for the money, you’d think they’d take it more seriously. You’d think they’d try and cram some stuff in their heads that didn’t involve Corrie or Stenders.

Xander: “Is there anything you’d like to see coming up in the show?”

Contestant: “Ooh, soaps. Or musicals.” (Why is it always musicals?)

Xander: “And anything prefer not to see coming up?”

Contestant: “Definitely geography, politics, history, classical music, literature, spelling…”

I did like the one who answered the former question with “the Zombie apocalypse”, but that appeared to be her limit of expertise.

So, I know, this has been a moan, but it’s something I do wonder about; and more so than the motives of the contestants themselves, the motives of the production teams who select them. Quiz shows aren’t like X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. We don’t watch to see people fail. We watch to see people win. I do anyway.

When the contestants are rubbish, it just seems to defeat the point of the show, doesn’t it?

Posted in: Television