‘Letters and Numbers’ and what might have been… Part I.

Hello! Today – and next week as well – a little trip down my (slightly uneven, pothole-riddled) Memory Lane, for you, Dear Reader, as HowToWinGameShows.com presents a little two-part post that I like to call…..

That Time I Auditioned For The Australian Version Of That Long-Running Quiz Show ‘Countdown’ Up In Sydney in 2010.

Catchy, eh? Now read on…

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Countdown. If you know your game shows, you’ll know that this simple yet very successful show has clocked up over 6000 episodes in the UK since it started there in 1982. And its French antecedent Des chiffres et des lettres has had more than 20,000 episodes since it started in 1965!

In 2010, I got word from my agent that the SBS Network would be producing an Australian version – called Letters and Numbers – very soon, and that they’d started looking for the on air team.

At this time, I’d had my game show victories, and had spent quite a bit of time on The Einstein Factor’s ‘Brains Trust’, and so I had some fairly solid TV quiz show credentials. My background in acting and stand-up comedy was something that also made them think of me, and so, when the call came through, I thought “Yes! I’d love to audition! I’d love to be a quiz show host on the big people’s television!”

So we booked in the audition, a time was arranged (in Sydney, which would mean a flight from Melbourne, where I live), and I started doing my research on the show. I quickly found that Countdown is a pretty sedate affair. When I played along, I realised that words and anagrams are much more my strong point then mathematics, so when it came to the mathematical equations, I was struggling a little bit… But I figured “well… I was only going to be the host; I didn’t need to know all THIS stuff”.

Eventually, the day of the audition came. I got a good night’s sleep, had a decent breakfast, put on my new suit, got all my notes together and made my way to the airport to catch the flight up to Sydney.

When I got there, I bumped into my pal game show champ, actor and comedian Matt Parkinson. I instantly thought “This is a bit too much of a coincidence…” Sure enough, he was also auditioning for the host role on host on Letters and Numbers that day. I’ve known Matt for many, many years, and he’s as lovely, smart and funny a bloke as you’ll ever meet. These days, he’s starring as one of The Chasers (“Goliath”) on The Chase Australia. He’s fantastic in the role, and that show continues to top the ratings here.

Matt Parkinson

But back in 2010, none of that had happened yet. We greeted each other, and very soon realised that not only were we both going for the same gig…. but the producers had booked us seats next to each other for the flight up to the audition and seats next to each other for the flight back after the audition. Okay, so not awkward at all. Of course, we tried not to think about it, and we genuinely wished each other well, but being in such close proximity to the bloke who’s going for the job that you want, for at least two hours leading up to the audition…

Well, all I can say is that if you happen to be a game show producer, auditioning two people for the host role, maybe don’t force them together for an extended period before they audition for you. I can’t speak for Matt, but it wasn’t especially good for my nerves, and I’d argue that the producer may not have got the ideal, calm, relaxed performance from me that I wanted to give. But maybe I’m imagining all that. When we got to Sydney, we jumped in a cab and went out to the Screen Australia studios at Lindfield to audition.

The auditions consisted of a few more games, with David Astle (who had already, I think, won the role of the dictionary expert). David was a natural choice for this role, having been a brilliant compiler of cryptic crosswords, non-fiction author, and self-confessed “word nerd” for many years.

On the day, they were also auditioning two young mathematicians for the Carol Vorderman role. One was a very tall, blonde model-looking type, with a Russian background. She was super, super confident, and a brilliant mathematician as well, of course. The other was Lily Serna, who was delightful, and charming and very excited to be there. It was her first gig of this type, and her enthusiasm was clear.
In two runs of the show, I auditioned opposite both of them (deep down, I really wanted Lily to get the gig).

I remember in the audition trying to keep it light, trying to keep my energy up, but not too be too manic. This was Countdown, after all. At one stage, the obscure word that David talked about was the word “folderol”; explaining its meaning* and derivation. I remember later on in the run being able to do a callback, and use that word in a sentence. My use of it wasn’t hilarious or anything, but I hoped that at least it showed The Powers That Be that I was paying attention, absorbing new information as it was mentioned, and that I could think on my feet. I did a couple of runs at the show (cut down, maybe just one round each, with crew members standing in as contestants) before Matt went in and had his turn…

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Next week, in the thrill-packed conclusion of That Time I Auditioned For The Australian Version Of That Long-Running Quiz Show ‘Countdown’ Up In Sydney in 2010, we find out who got the gig, what happened in the aftermath… and just who was the mysterious extra contender for host on the day?

All this – and more – will be revealed next week, right here at HowToWinGameShows.com!

 

 

* folderol

Noun – trivial or nonsensical fuss. “all the folderol of the athletic contests and the cheerleaders”

Now you know.

 

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