This week, my interview with Sale of The Century Grand Champion Russell Cheek continues. When we left Russell’s story last week, he had played – and won – 7 of the 8 consecutive games that he needed to win, in order to take home “The Lot” (over $315,000 worth of cash and prizes). However, due to a technical problem in the studio, Russell then had to wait an agonising 7 days before playing that one last game! The one that would ultimately clinch it all for him. I asked him how he handled the suspense, and what he did during that fateful week…
RC: I did a lot of yoga, a lot of meditation, a lot of swimming. I really just tried to keep myself under control, but Steve, time would just not pass! I knew it was inevitable that in one week I would be getting on that plane, flying down to Melbourne. But a second was like a minute, time just would not go past. I suppose because I was on some kind of elevated megahertz, you know? My clock speed was running really fast so time just would not pass. I was visited by every possible demon in the Cosmos. One minute I would be thinking, as you said, I was popular on the show, people liked me, I was good television… then I thought “Well, they’ll only get average opposition for me to play because they want me to win, because I am good, I am good for them”. And then the next second I would think “No! Of course they would get the best players possible to play against me”. I kind of was on this rollercoaster and I was trying to keep myself as level as I could.
SH: Did you try to do any study or revision during that time?
RC: Yes I did. I had a lot of notes about things and lists of stuff. But I didn’t want to do too much because I already knew that I knew a lot of stuff. I would go over some things casually, but I knew it was much more to do with my mental state than it was to do with what I knew. This is why I tried to keep myself kind of on a level keel, just trying to keep myself within myself, and not let those roller coaster rides of emotion sap my energy.
SH: When you were in the studios actually doing the shows, was the experience pretty much as you’d imagined?
RC: It wasn’t. Even when you get there onto set, because of the focal length of the lenses they use on the cameras, the dimensions of the set – you never see the distance between you and Glenn. You don’t have any idea of what that environment is like. I used to try to make myself as comfortable as I could in that environment. I suppose this is where a bit of theatre knowledge comes in. I didn’t really think about it for that first game, but after that, I made sure to ground myself. I would touch the set, the set behind the chairs and the table where the buzzer was. I just tried to keep myself grounded and physically present in the room. I just wasn’t a head floating in space. I think that’s important. Your whole nervous system comes into play for these kinds of games. Your whole body is working towards that connection between your synapses and your hands, pressing the buzzer. So you kind of have to be present, I suppose. It’s what I learnt to do.
I suppose I kept myself to myself a bit. There were a couple of occasions in the dressing rooms. There were people really trying to psyche the other contestants out. This one guy in particular I played against in my 4th game – which was a difficult game – he was a Melbourne solicitor. He was at least 15 or 20 years older than me and he was very determined to win. He came into everyone’s dressing room and he was throwing his intellectual weight around a little bit. I’d always keep myself reserved and I would be very polite to people and I didn’t want to really engage in much conversations, I just wanted to keep my brainwaves to myself and keep focused. If I evolved a strategy in any way, I guess it was that – keeping myself contained. Just trusting myself to know that when I was answering the questions, my focus would come into play. I just had to trust myself that that would happen. Funnily enough before my final game, I remember just before we were going on to do the show, suddenly the Channel Nine promo crew was in my dressing room. They’re shooting me and asking questions and I’m being as amusing as I can be, under all that pressure. When they finished the job they said “OK, you’re on now – out you go!” I said “hang on, I just need 5 minutes now for myself, just to settle down after doing all those promos. I just need some time to myself, to centre. And to get myself to where I want to be”. And they let me do that, which was good. I was pleased with myself that I had actually asked for that time. I was pleased that I was at least assertive enough to say “No, I can’t go out there now; I’ve just been churned up by doing all these promos”.
And you know what? I was sitting in the room, I was trying to think of British Kings and Queens, and I’m thinking “Feck me! I don’t know anything. I can’t remember anything!”. Then I said “Wait a minute – they haven’t asked me any questions yet. I don’t have to know anything yet. I just have to wait until they ask me a question and then I will know the answer.”
SH: And when you were out there playing the game, did you have any self-talk or mantras? Or anything you would tell yourself when you were in the heat of battle?
Russell’s answer to that one was interesting. And I’m sorry to be such a tease, but that’s where I’m going to leave it for this week! Next week, the interview continues with Russell giving us more tips, and the low-down on his experience of being a genuine bona fide Quiz Show Champion in the time immediately after the event. In the meantime, though, you can catch up with what Russell’s been up to lately at his website: www.russellcheek.com.au.
Until next time!