This week, my conversation with Julia moves on to her appearance on Australia’s Brainiest TV Star – a one-off special in 2006 which pitted 9 Australian TV stars against each other in competition for this prestigious title…
SH: I want to talk for a moment about Australia’s Brainiest TV Star… Which you are, officially, ever since 2006, when you went on the show of the same name… and won! When they invited you to do it, what was your first reaction, and why did you say yes?
JZ: The only reason I did it was because we were doing our first series of RocKwiz and I thought “I just want publicity for that show”.
SH: Oh really?
JZ: That’s the only reason I did it. I got the opportunity and let’s be honest; I was by no means a “TV star” at all. And frankly, most of the line-up weren’t. But I just thought “how hard could it be?” It’ll be fun, and if I just got them to say “Julia Zemiro from SBS’s RocKwiz”, I would be happy with that.
And then by the time you get out there… what’s good about that format is that you have your own special area of interest that you will use eventually if you get to the final three, and the thing is to try and choose a topic that no one else can poach, because you can poach other people’s questions. So I chose Shakespeare because I know a bit about it; I toured high schools with the Bell Shakespeare Company and I’ve been in few of them and I thought “well, what’s the likelihood of dumb TV stars knowing anything about Shakespeare?”
SH: That’s logical.
JZ: Some of them might be actors and they might know Shakespeare quite well, but that was my logic. Of course, luck plays into it too, because once you are up there, you hope you pick the right questions or you hope you get the section you want or whatever. They were just nerves for some people, so Axle Whitehead (who still gets work, fascinating to me)… There was a question about music and he was a VJ and he got it wrong. It was “who sang Brown Sugar?” and he didn’t put The Rolling Stones down. It was extraordinary. So I think people do get nervous and don’t buzz in and as people kept getting eliminated I was still hanging in there and thinking “well, this is good!” I got to pick subjects I wanted; ‘Literature’, ‘Food & Wine’ (which I know a lot about, since my dad had a restaurant)… So I got lucky with my categories and I knew the answers, but gee, it was exciting! When I watch it back, I have never been a competitive person in sport, I never really played sports, but Wow! I’m really enjoying getting it right, and I am enjoying the challenge and it was fun. It was really, really, really fun.
And then I get down to the final three and it’s Gary Sweet, Andrew G – even though he’s got a different name now – and me. Andrew G’s special subject was Prince (the musician) and Gary’s was cricket and I thought ‘well, I know nothing about cricket, so I’ll poach a bunch of Andrew G’s questions’. And Andrew’s just completely forgotten why I’m there and that I do a rock music show. When I poached three of his questions he was so shocked, and then you see him say “Oh no! That’s right – you host a music show!” And I thought “Oh man, I’ve got this in the bag,” because I knew the answers and would have known them, even if I hadn’t been on RocKwiz. And the Shakespeare; of course, Gary did know some Shakespeare questions because he is an actor, but Andrew G didn’t.
I got one of my Shakespeare questions wrong at one point, and went ” Oh god, I can’t believe this,” but then by the end, won it! It was just a great feeling to have gone in there just to be able to hear “SBS’s RocKwiz” up there… but then to bloody win it was awesome!
SH: Yes. And you got to give money to a charity. Which charity did you nominate?
JZ: I just went Salvation Army. Mainly because of the Guys and Dolls musical, if I’m very honest with you! Then I did have a few friends contact me later and say “I’m really disappointed that’s the charity you chose, because I grew up gay, and they made my life a misery.” And then I realized; of course The Salvation Army, they’re church-driven, they’re religion and I thought “Oh what am I thinking?” I wouldn’t have chosen a religion. Then, on the other hand, I felt like often the Salvos are there; they do end up being the ones that are there in a very hands-on capacity. That was a very confronting part of the show, actually. Of going “who to choose, what does that mean?” That was a very new concept to me and I wish I had given it more thought and then I thought “Well no, its going to somewhere good…” That was weird.
SH: You mentioned you’d just started hosting RocKwiz at this stage. Was there anything you’d learned from hosting, that you had been able to put into play during the format of Australia’s Brainiest TV Star? Or are the two just too dissimilar?
JZ: No, there were lots of things. I didn’t get caught up in all the chats. I didn’t get caught up in all the “Oh, I am not very smart, you are smart…” No one really knew me, so that was an advantage. I just kept quiet. I just really listened and concentrated and I really had to concentrate, Stephen, because the voting system you had to use in the game was quite complicated. You know you can kind of lose track of what you are doing. I really do remember concentrating and just shutting everybody out. Not expending any extra energy where it didn’t have to go.
SH: Because the format of Australia’s Brainiest is like two or three formats in one; there’s different structures of questions and different types of questions and there’s even challenges where you have to unscramble anagrams in record time!
JZ: Oh yes! Also, you keep having to change positions. So you’re moving around on this set and they take out podiums, then it all gets smaller. I mean it was quite a business and it was a full day and it was really fun and satisfying. Especially when you win. (LAUGHING)
SH: (LAUGHING) Of course! Naturally.
Next week, Julia & I discuss her “journey” on the reality show It Takes Two, and there are some fascinating insights into the behind the scenes processes of a big production like that, along with the psychology…..