Friday, June 26, 2009


I Watched the Darned Thing

Many congrats to Nancy, it was a brilliant performance. I was mightily impressed by her ultra-cool head and swift recall.

Nancy's achievement cannot be understated. In becoming the first woman in the Humphrys era and (thinking off the top of my head) the third youngest in history to win the Mastermind title, while having a baby (like, wow), it is quite possibly the finest achievement on the show since Kevin got his never-to-be bettered 41 (his MM record being the quiz show equivalent of Jim Laker's 19 for 90). It's the kind of triumph that is utterly refreshing because you only see it once in a blue moon, if barely that.

What elevates this feat even higher above the fold is the fact that she's American born and bred and been around these parts for only six years. As many others have commented, the likes of any of us Brits going over there and doing the same kind of thing, i.e. beat the best quiz brains in the entire country or, more realistically, have a champion-run on Jeopardy, is practically unthinkable.

Even if we gave ourselves six years to acclimatise to the trivia climate, our cultural blind spots - which can be exposed easily if you mosey on over to the J-archive and go through a few shows - would need serious work if they need to be fixed, with the sports, food (candy bars, cereals), TV, brand names and other American culture you soak up just growing up in the States being the typical kind of things that puzzle us alien Brits.

This point is illustrated perfectly (to myself) whenever I watch a syndicated episode of WWTBAM. I actually find answering the big money questions easier, than a lot of the lower-middle section ones which US citizens would slap themselves upside the head with a big "DUH!" sound if they didn't get them right. I mean, what in flipping crikey are Gangbusters and H&R Block and Urkel and Junior Mints???

Commiserations to Ian on another runner's up spot in a nationally broadcast quiz final. He was as clinical and impressive as I expected him to be, though on a luckier day there I have no doubt he would have got "Coe" and "Wrist". They're just the kind of 50/50 questions that anyone can get wrong and anyone can get right depending on how Fortune favours you. As with all of us, there will always be another quiz, another series, another tournament to set out sights on.

Self-Centred Analysis
As for the questions, here are the ones I got wrong in the GK rounds (from my armchair and minus the studio pressure):

Richard H: "coral", "buccaneer"
Roger: "Llandudno"
Richard S: "pundit"
Stuart: "nasturtium", "angling", "Mull"
Ian: "fluorine" "knot"
Nancy: "Meeting House", "jacaranda", "corn"

Personally, I found myself going "ooh! That's a bit hard" more often during Stuart, Ian and Nancy's sets. Stuart got the very nasty (if you're not much of a WW2 buff) Pegasus Bridge only the second Q up and got torpedoed with several others (e.g. Chorleywood process) I'd be left feeling mugged by if I was comparing my questions to everyone else's. I also thought Nancy did well to cope with an onslaught of stuff that made me wonder: "Are they actually asking that question, and not something slightly more gettable?"

I thought Richard S's set, as perhaps evidenced by his getting the same GK score (13) as Ian and Nancy, was the least perilous of the lot, and even then I should have got pundit (my instant-answer was "guru", which is just plain stupid).

But, as we all know, and which I repeat enough to sound like someone with anterograde amnesia: question-writing and subject distribution is an incredibly difficult thing to get right. One man's bread-and-butter is another woman's rat poison. And what do I know? I terrify people with my quizzes. I have no idea about the pain I conflict without knowing it. And, certainly, there is no real injustice to scream about with regards to the Grand Final's question difficulty; all that's needed, as ever, is a bit more finessing and care and everything will be la-dee-dah lovely.

Finally, cultural bias. Seeing as one of our top contenders was American would there be any anomalies in the geographical specificity of the questions Nancy and say, the contestant who preceded her (Mr. Ian Bayley) received?

(Bear in mind, I counted up while slightly brain-tired and sleepersome at 2.45am, so these "stats" may well be faulty)

Well, Ian got eight heavily* or noticeably** Britishised questions and, I thought this was weird, not a single American (or North American) question. Nancy got seven heavily or noticeably Americanized questions (including Gila Monster, because Gila is a pretty famous American lizard and is named after an Arizona river) and one Shakespeare question (Falstaff) and one that was almost British (the River Boyne in Ireland). So she basically got a WQC-knowledge set and Ian got the QLL ones.

Anyway, none of that bias really matters. As I've said, her GK questions were just as hard as Ian's. Plus, Nancy had already fought through two rounds (and therefore two Britannicised-up GK sets) of the competition, putting away a trio of impeccable specialised subjects, and done all that I had outlined in the first three paragraphs of this post (and much kudos on the Fritz Lang selection).

When people look at the record books, all they will see is that Nancy Dickmann was the 2009 Mastermind champion (2008 if you want to be confused by the actual recording dates), while everyone who watched the thing will know that she fully deserved it.

** mentions a UK (or US) person, place etc in the question
* is about something/someone from or in the US/UK


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a quiz:

It's a toughie on world cinema - how many can you score?

3:46 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Wow Olav, thanks for the glowing review! Coming from someone with your credentials, it means a lot. Do you think you'll have another go at it sometime?

3:14 PM  
Blogger That Quiz Guy said...

Noooo, I think I will work on a quartet of specialist subjects for three or four years, then do it. Hopefully, if I talk about it enough for the next FOUR years then I will scare away everyone of my quizzing acquaintance from doing the series I happen to choose. Mwaha-ha cough cough splutter... excuse me.

Actually, I'm not sure I can do it at the moment due to my freelance employment by BBC-broadcast shows (I already get idiotic accusations chucked at me about colluding with quiz show contestants on internet forums). They've got a lot stricter with regards to participation rules for the "serious" quizzes. But then again, I wasn't going to try my luck in the near future, so what the hey...

8:57 AM  

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