One month ago, The Chase: Australia debuted on Australian television on the Seven Network. For those who don’t know, this successful quiz show format from itvStudios pits a team of quiz contestants against one of four expert quizzers, known as “Chaser”s. Each Chaser has a clearly defined character, and a nickname to match: there’s ‘The Governess’, ‘The Supernerd’, ‘The Shark’… and ‘Goliath.’ And it’s Goliath (the alter-ego of 6’6” Matt Parkinson) who I’m speaking with exclusively for www.howtowingameshows.com today. Matt’s a familiar face to Australian audiences; he’s a comedian, MC, actor and writer with 30 years of professional experience in theatre, stand-up, television, feature film and radio. He’s remembered as a regular member of ‘The Brains Trust’, on ABC-TV’s The Einstein Factor, as a breakfast radio host (The Cage, Triple M FM), and as half of the incredibly successful comedy duo Empty Pockets. BUT, in addition to all this, Matt’s also a Quiz Show Grand Champion, having taken home ‘The Lot’ on Sale of the Century in 1992. So, there was quite a lot I wanted to chat to him about. And chat we did, in this far-ranging interview that begins…. right….. now!
SH: Matthew J Parkinson, thank you for speaking with me today –
MP: a pleasure.
SH: – for Howtowingameshows.com
MP: It’s an honour! I feel I’m being inducted into some sort of elite club.
SH: Well, you have earned your place there, by virtue of winning Sale of the Century in 1992. And how much did you win?
MP: Not as much as you. I won $114,000 in cash and then their valuation of the prizes took everything to – I’ve got the number in my head – $239,000. Because I remember thinking “it’s almost a quarter of a million”. So I guess it’s about the same again in the value of the prizes, but I do remember distinctly $114,000 cash, because that is a number that stays with you.
SH: Yes. Seven nights?
MP: Seven nights is what you had to do back then. They would do five every Wednesday, and I did three on the first day, and four on the next week. So you have that seven-day thing in between them.
SH: How did you keep sane during that seven day gap, when you were in limbo?*
MP: I kept sane by just doing what I had always done to provide that general knowledge. So taking time to read the newspaper every day and watching the news and watching more documentary television than non-documentary television I suppose, reading, paging through my Book of Lists, which is my lucky charm that I was given in my teens. Do you know that famous book?
SH: I think I do. They were best sellers. There’s a number of them. We had them in our school library and they were fascinating.
MP: Compiled by the family of the author Irving Wallace and even though a lot of the information is not factual, some of it comes in very handy because, as the name implies, a lot of it is just lists; “The 15 Worst Experiments That Ever Failed” or “Ten Spectacular Deaths”. The little paragraph that followed each entry in the list would give you a bit of information in context and give you a rough idea so that you can make educated guesses about related things.
SH: Were you always interested in trivia and quizzing? Did you go through any training before going on Sale of the Century? Did you audition more than once?
MP: My first quiz experience was on my school’s It’s Academic team.
SH: Oh, really?
MP: In 1978, I’m going to say. So this is Perth, West Australia; “Number 13 please, Mr. Newman”. I played left wing; I was the specialist in spelling and Geography. So that was my introduction, and we did quite well. We made it to the state final. Our team was quite good. I wasn’t what you call a super student, I wasn’t one of the top ten students in my school, but I just really liked the simplicity of being asked a question and giving a correct answer and someone going “that’s right”. Because there’s so much in the world where it’s like “it’s mostly true, except in these specific cases…. and sometimes that happens”. So it is really nice to have that neat thing where it’s like “What’s this? That! Yes, that’s correct, that’s what’s it is”. That really appealed to me.
SH: This was in your school years. Did you grow up watching Sale of the Century? Always wanting to go on it?
MP: I think I did. I wouldn’t say I always watched it but it was the sort of thing where at that time of night, when you were channel surfing, I would settle on Sale. For quite a few years, I’d been thinking “I could probably do well at this if I went on”. What happened in ’92 was that the comedy work just dried up a bit and I also wanted to move away from it a bit, I got tired of doing it so my bank balance dwindled down. Way, way down. And I was watching Sale of the Century one night and Pete Smith’s voiceover came on and then that graphic card came up; “if you would like to be a contestant, write a letter” (That takes you back!)
SH: Yes – those were the days!
MP: … “write a letter to this address, with a stamped, self-addressed envelope”, which I did. I got a fairly prompt reply. It was 6 weeks later that I did the audition. Which was – I don’t know how long they used it – but it was in that church at the top of the hill in Toorak where good looking, wealthy people have their weddings. I think the fact that I was not a middle-aged male with a bow tie and a membership of Mensa or a chess club or a bridge club helped a lot, because I got the feeling there is a certain kind of person that they have an oversupply of, as contestants. And the fact that I was youngish and a comedian sort of made them go “that guy would be funny even if he is not going to answer all the questions, he might give us a couple of good one liners”.
SH: So it was a fairly short gap between auditioning and getting on the show?
MP: Yes. I know that, because once I was on the show, in my group of contestants, there was a woman from Roma in Western Queensland and she had been on the waiting list for so long, she had been waiting so long to hear back from Sale of the Century that she’d told all her friends that she’d applied and she would get prank calls from her friends going “Hello, Sale of the Century here…” To the point where she had so many prank calls that when Sale of the Century actually rang her, she told them to f**k off. More than once. And they had to ring back and say “No, it really is us. And we really do want you to be on the show.”
SH: (LAUGHING) That’s funny.
MP: I think there was two years or perhaps longer she had between her initial application and hearing back from them.
And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. “Two years” – Cripes! I guess the lesson there is after you audition, try and move on with your life; don’t sit by the phone waiting. My interview with Matt continues next week, when we discuss his Sale of the Century journey, how people’s perceptions of him changed after his Big Win… and the longevity of dining settings and refrigerators.
* “Keeping sane in limbo” is an important part of the whole game show process, and if you’d like to get the bonus chapter from my eBook, that outlines strategies for doing just that, you can! It’s COMPLETELY FREE for everyone who signs up to the How To Win Game Shows mailing list. So if you haven’t subscribed yet, why not do so today, by using the handy form to the right of the page? You have a free bonus eBook chapter to gain, and nothing to lose!