Tell Me Something I Don’t Know!

Hello.

Just a quick one this week – I wanted to let you know about a podcast that I’ve discovered, that you may like too. You may remember that I’ve mentioned the podcast Freakonomics a few times on this blog over the years. Well, this is their very own version of a game show. It’s called Tell Me Something I Don’t Know!, it’s a podcast, and it’s always recorded in front of a live audience.

The goal of the show isto tell you the things you thought you knew but didn’t; and things you never thought you wanted to know, but do.”

Here’s how it runs, according to the show’s official site, “Three celebrity panellists listen as contestants come on stage before a live audience and try to wow them with a fascinating fact, a historical wrinkle, a new line of research — anything, really, as long as it’s interesting, useful and true (or at least true-ish). There’s a real-time human fact-checker on hand to filter out the bull. The panel — an eclectic mix of comedians, brainiacs, and other high achievers — poke and prod the contestants, and ultimately choose a winner.”

There are no huge prizes; the whole raison d’etre of the show is to learn interesting and obscure knowledge while having fun along the way. And it delivers! I subscribe to it, and always find it entertaining and educational. So, if you’re a podcast kind of person, I recommend it. Each episode goes for just under an hour, and you’re guaranteed to learn some cool new stuff each time.

Because I firmly believe you can never have too much obscure, arcane, trivial knowledge. And this is a fun way to get it.

And that’s it for this week – until next Tuesday!

Tales from the ‘Jeopardy!’ Rabbi…

Hello! Well, after all the excitement and publicity of last week’s big announcement (rather odd to be so celebrated for something I haven’t actually done yet), it’s now back to business as usual here at HowToWinGameShows.com.

And this week, I want to share with you an article – or a series of four articles, really – by Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, from Westchester, New York, about his experience as a contestant on Jeopardy!

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Alex Trebek with Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman on the set of ‘Jeopardy!’

The series is entitled My Jewish Approach to Being on Jeopardy. I found Rabbi Mitelman’s perspective fascinating. I’d never seen a faith-related approach to game show contestant preparation and performance before, but his approach is far from exclusionary; these articles are chock full of ideas that can be applied by absolutely anyone who’s serious about winning game shows.

The articles are chatty and engaging, but Rabbi Mitelman is clearly someone who takes game show preparation very seriously. In the first article, he gives three great essential principles for game show success, which also happen to be great principles for the wider world, and life in general, that have also served him well in his career, and his education. They are, in essence:

1. Control what you can – and realize you don’t know how much control you have

2. Pay attention to the small — and seemingly irrelevant — things

3. Remember that remembering requires effort

Then, in the second article: How I Prepared, he discusses studying, practising, test-playing / rehearsing and buzzer technique – all pillars of a solid preparation regime. he even recommends an app called Jeopscore which allows you to keep track of your score as you play along at home. (I think it’s an Android app. I’ve searched, but haven’t had a lot of luck finding it. Please let me know if you fare better!) There are links to other great Jeopardy! resources here too, such as The J-Archive, the Anki flashcard app, and this great article by Karl Coryat.

The third article (The Lead-Up) covers the nuts-and-bolts of the online test, the audition, and receiving The all-important Call; The Call that means you’ve been selected to be on the show. This article is really more anecdotal in tone than the previous ones – it’s mainly outlining that particular part of the Jeopardy! contestant journey… although there is a mention of another training app called Knowledge Trainer, which I haven’t tried, but it does look pretty good!

The final article in the series of four – The Day Itself – chronicles Rabbi Mitelman’s in-studio Jeopardy! experience, and as such, contains spoilers. Spoilers which I certainly won’t reveal here. To find out what happens, you’ll just have to go and read it yourself!

All in all, this is a really great series of articles for anyone interested in winning game shows in general, and winning Jeopardy! in particular. As we see so often, there is so much more to winning game shows than meets the eye, and the well-prepared contestant will have the edge over the unprepared contestant each and every single time. In this series of articles, Rabbi Mitelman outlines a series of tips and hints that he used, and that anyone contemplating an appearance on Jeopardy! would do well to consider.

It’s an entertaining read, it’s jam-packed with useful tips, and I recommend it highly. So thank you again, Rabbi Mitelman, for taking the time to chronicle your Jeopardy! experience so thoroughly – I absolutely loved reading it!

Exclusive interview with ‘Jeopardy!’ and ‘Temptation’ Champion Blair Martin – Part VIII – FINAL Jeopardy!

Blair-Winning-Reaction-DSC_This week, my interview with Jeopardy! champion and Temptation Grand Champion Blair Martin comes to a close.

When we left off last week, Blair was outlining all the amazing travel opportunities that his win on Temptation had made possible. But, as you’ll see, his competitive streak is still alive and well. Once a trivia buff, always a trivia buff…..

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BM: These experiences that I’ve had, I am really grateful for them. I regularly go to a weekly pub trivia – that has been running for over 20 years – that has a core group of about eight teams who regularly turn up, and I play as a solo team. It is a little bit of my own internal fight. It is me versus 40 other people. 

SH: You’d give them a run for their money, I would think! What advice would you give to someone wanting to go on a quiz show?

BM: Enjoy the experience. Even if it is 20 minutes only on television, you’ve got an experience that millions of people in Australia would love to have, but will never have the guts to do it. Also knowing that you have already got past the selection process. You have already won in some way. If you want to prepare for it, get your mind going. My definition of intelligence is having an open mind, not a vacant mind. Because too many people in our contemporary society have vacant minds that get filled up with whatever garbage is pushed at them. Whether it’s a political spin line about being afraid of a ragtag bunch of religious fundamentalists who are fighting in a far off country who have no direct influence on this country, or who is cooking the best Crème Brulee under completely artificial conditions, whether sport is the absolute be-all and end-all… which I think is ridiculous. I think in a well-rounded life, sporting prowess or appreciation of sport is as valuable as the appreciation of music, of literature, of arts, of science, of faith, of politics. I think you have to have a balance. When I was in Ireland, I heard an Irishman mutter “I’ve always believed in the saying ‘everything in moderation’… including moderation.”

SH: (LAUGHS) That’s good! I like that.

BM: So that, to me, is the success of it. If your mind is opened and you can read widely and develop a sense of the curious. You want to be able to just keep your mind fresh. The internet is a fantastic gift, that you can sit there and just start WWILFing on! (“WWILF” is an expression Blair mentioned earlier. It stands for ‘What Was I Looking For?’ – SH) Get on and go round and round and just look for stuff….. and always back yourself. If you believe you can do it, then you are half way there. When Andrew Skarbec won the million on Million Dollar MinuteI really admired his fortitude to keep going.

SH: Yeah, that’s gutsy.

BM: I know that pressure. When you think that you’re filming five episodes in a day… by the middle of the afternoon, everyone’s getting tired and it is a special kind of stamina. I really appreciate the way people are able to do that. Hey, it’s been lovely to talk to you, Stephen. 

SH: Oh, my pleasure, Blair. Thank you so much again.

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There you have it. I’d like to thank Blair again for this great chat, and for giving so generously of his time. If you’re interested to see what Blair’s up to these days, you can follow him on Twitter, at @BlairmartinSEE, or check his website at www.seentertainment.com.au.

And speaking of websites*, here’s another one:  howtowingameshows.com/products. That’s where you can get my eBook How To Win Game Shows, still at the price of $19.99 AUD.

 

*This has been another in my series of patented Ludicrously-Tangential-eBook-Plugs-At-The-End-Of-My-Weekly-Post, for your enjoyment and edification. I thank you.

Next week on www.howtowingameshows.com, my first book review in… well, quite a while. Until then!

Exclusive interview with ‘Jeopardy!’ and ‘Temptation’ Champion Blair Martin – Part VII

Cover Boy - CopyIn 2007, actor Blair Martin completed an incredible 8-night winning streak on the Australian game show Temptation, taking home a prize pool worth over $600,000 for his efforts. Over those eight nights – which were recorded over two separate sessions, two weeks apart – I wondered if Blair’s resolve to go “all the way” had ever wavered. 

So I asked him.

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BM: In my run on Temptation, Stephen, there was never really ever a thought of “No, no, no”. Even that second episode, the near-death experience. And I’m so glad that was at the end of the taping day because it allowed me to go away for two weeks and go back to my normal life. And I went back two weeks later and Jess (the contestant co-ordinator) asked me if I’d told anyone and I said “no, no, I signed an agreement”. And she looked at me and went “that meant not telling any of your journo mates”.

I’m in the union with them – do you reckon I’m gonna tell them anything?” (LAUGHS)

I went “no, you’ve asked me to do something, and that’s it”. The closest I ever came to telling anyone? At the time in 2007, I had two cats and my next door neighbour would often look after them when I was gone. I was literally walking down the corridor of Brisbane airport to the departure gate on Sunday night and I rang and I said “I have to get back to Melbourne and I am on my way now. Would you mind looking after the boys when I am gone?” And she was like “yeah, sure… Melbourne?” And I went “Yeah, see you later!”

Even on Jeopardy!, my then-housemate made a comment about one of the episodes of Jeopardy! and said “the woman on tonight seems really good”. She won some smallish amount of money, and I just turned to him and said “she’s a f*****g amateur”. And he looked at me and said “You’re blitzing them, aren’t you?” And I just went “I can’t say anything”.

My favourite quote of Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart in the original House of Cards is “You might very well think that I couldn’t possibly comment”.

SH: (LAUGHS) Very good. The Temptation run; you were on for 8 nights, a grand total of $603,002 in cash and prizes. How did that make a difference in your life?

BM: A huge amount of difference. It allowed me to expand the work that I was doing as a performer. I could do things that I wasn’t able to do before, and the biggest one was travel. I had not ever been able to cross the equator and go to Europe, where I’d always wanted to go. A couple of years after Temptation, I went there quite a number of times and it was the best experience. I absolutely adore travelling. I love going to other places, because of the opportunity to see the differences – and the similarities – in all of the cultures.

I really thank Temptation for allowing me to realise my dreams. It’s an experience that financially helped an awful lot for a few years and it gave me freedom to explore things that I would have never had the opportunity to do and that exploration of who I am is particularly great. There’s a number of things that certainly lead on to being who you are. When you get put on the cover of a magazine declaring you to be one of ‘The 25 LGBT People To Watch In 2015’, you do realise that your life is a little bit different… 
Sometimes you forget, because as I grew up, I was afraid to big-note myself; that great Australian expression; “Stop big-noting yourself”. Now I had heard that and I don’t decry my parents for saying it, because it was part of the culture, and it was a good thing to know. In one way, it’s like ‘just be careful that you don’t over-aggrandize yourself, because you don’t know what that consequence could be.’

The problem was that when you’re a sensitive child, it can impact on a child’s sense of self-worth and then you spend a lot of time thinking ‘I am really not very good, am I?’ And trying to do something which is good I will get criticized or punished for it. People look at me now in a way of saying “Oh my god, you always look so heroic”. To me there is a sense of wanting to be useful. Here is the Gandhi idea of “be the change you wish to see”,
 or Mandela’s ”It’s only impossible until it is done.” 

SH: Blair, I wonder if that is a particularly Australian thing. I was brought up with a bit of that as well; “Yes, yes, acting’s all very fine and good as a hobby, but as a career? You’ve got to have something to fall back on”. All these beliefs we’re indoctrinated with, all about our limits, our limitations. When you step outside that, and dare to ask the question “Well, what if there weren’t limits?”, amazing things can happen. And they do – they happen every day. 

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And that’s where I’d like to leave it today, on that boldly positive note. And it is something I really do believe, by the way. From my own personal experience, there have been so many times in my life where I’ve been surprised at what I’ve been capable of achieving, simply by having the bravery / belief / stupidity to ‘Step Off The Edge’.

I highly recommend it. If the opportunity presents itself, I challenge you to ‘Step Off The Edge’ at least once this coming week. Find something you’re not sure you could manage, but that you’d like to do… and take that Leap of Faith in yourself. What’s the worst that could happen?

Be positive!

Just like I’m positive that there are still stocks of my very first eBook How To Win Game Shows, available right here still at the introductory price of just AU$19.99 !

This has been an unpaid announcement as part of a series of ludicrously tangential eBook plugs at the end of my weekly post.

Written and authorised by S. Hall, Melbourne, Australia.  

 

 

 

 

How I became “Australia’s Brainiest Quiz Master” – Part IV – The CLIMAX!

Australia's Brainiest with trophy - Copy

SPOILER ALERT: I won.

So it’s all come down to thisBut first:

THE STORY SO FAR (which you could also easily catch up on by watching the actual show, over at the How To Win Game Shows Facebook page)…

I’ve managed to get through the final round, where there are just three of us competing; William Laing (Sale of the Century champ and $500,000 winner on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire), Rob “The Coach” Fulton (Australia’s first Who Wants To Be A Millionaire millionaire)… and me.

In this final round, we have each answered five questions, and we are tied on 6 points. We have entered a tie-breaker situation.

William’s turn is next, and he chooses another general knowledge question. Then I notice that only two of his five special subject questions have been chosen so far – has he forgotten where they all are? He gets the general knowledge question correct, and is now on 7 points. Then Rob gets a general knowledge question, and also gets it right. So after that bonus round of tie breaker questions, William and Rob are tied on 7, so a clear winner cannot be declared.

Another bonus tie breaker round begins with my turn, and this time I finally pick my one remaining special subject question, worth 2 points … At last!

And the question is:

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How I became “Australia’s Brainiest Quiz Master” – Part III

ABQ logoTHE STORY SO FAR (which you could also easily catch up on by watching the actual show, over at the How To Win Game Shows Facebook page)…

It was February, 2006. I was appearing as a contestant on a one-off special called Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster. The show brought together 9 quiz show winners – Grand Champions from Sale of the Century, Temptation and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and  was hosted by the glamorous and lovely newsreader Sandra Sully.

Sandra Sully, on the 'Australia's Brainiest' set.

Sandra Sully, on the ‘Australia’s Brainiest’ set.

So far, I had just avoided getting eliminated at the end of Round 1 – when three of the nine contestants fell by the wayside, and had just scraped through at the end of Round 2, where another three contestants said goodbye. In Round 3, I faced off against William Laing and Rob “The Coach” Fulton. In this round, five ‘special subject’ questions for each contestant are hidden somewhere in a board of 36 numbers. My chosen ‘special subject’ was The Original Star Wars trilogy, and my questions (denoted by the red squares) were distributed thus: 

Special Subject board

… And we were only given 10 seconds at the start of the round to memorise their positions. And this is where I came unstuck in this round; trying to remember where on the board my special subject questions were hidden. I’d picked the wrong square on my second try, revealing a general knowledge question, which I then got wrong.

By this time, William was successfully picking squares that had his own questions, and getting them right, as was Rob, and I’m thinking “There’s no way I can win now, but I’ve put in a good showing.”

At this stage, Rob’s on 6 points, William’s on 5 points, and I’m on 4.

On my fourth choice, I do manage to choose one of my own special subject questions… but I get it wrong! The question:

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And, as you can see by my face, I don’t know it. I just don’t know it. All I can think of is the opening line of the title crawl in Episode IV, which is, of course “It is a period of civil war”. And I say as much, and I don’t get the points.*

Then William (deliberately?) steals one of Rob’s questions, and gets it wrong. Then Rob chooses one of his own, and gets it wrong, so scores still see Rob on 6, William on 5 and me on 4.

My turn’s next, and I successfully choose one of my own questions. And I know the answer. And that makes me happy.

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I already knew that Wedge Antilles was played by Denis Lawson, who is Ewan McGregor’s uncle, just because it’s a great piece of Star Wars trivia. But I had also seen it recently, in one of those online quizzes that I used for training, so that just made me doubly sure of it. I answer correctly; 2 points.

So now I’m tied with Rob on 6. Then William (surely accidentally) chooses a general knowledge question from the board, which is only worth 1 point, rather than one of his own special subject questions, which would have been worth 2. However, he answers correctly, and so now all three of us are tied, on 6 points. Then Rob chooses a general knowledge question worth 1 point. And gets it wrong.

So after the end of the fifth question for each of us, we’re all on 6 points.

Which means that it’s now a tiebreaker situation, forcing us to play rounds of additional questions until a clear winner can be declared.

At this crucial point, I miss choosing one of my own questions, and choose the general knowledge question that’s right next to it. And it pains me. The question: ‘What is the world’s third longest river?’ I don’t have a hope, and I guess the Zambezi, and it’s the Yangtse. I’m still on 6 points, but at least I’ve finally worked out / remembered (by incorrectly choosing all the numbers around it) that my final special subject question is actually hiding behind number 20. But I’m sure and certain that my answer to that river question has completely sunk any chances I might have of winning.

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But had Stephen really scuppered any chance he ever may have had of winning this thing? (No.)

Or could he perhaps rally, and edge past his two competitors, to claim the ultimate prize? (Yes.)

To end this unbearable and strangely unconvincing suspense, be sure to check in here next week for the final instalment in this series – How I became “Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster” – Part IV – THE CLIMAX!

And just a quick reminder; the INTRODUCTORY OFFER on ‘How To Win Game Shows: The eBook’ ends THIS COMING SUNDAY! If you buy the book now, you’ll get a special FREE BONUS CHAPTER that won’t be available after then. So get in quick! It’s right here: www.howtowingameshows.com/products 

* For those playing along at home, the answer is “It is a dark time for the Rebellion“.

How I became “Australia’s Brainiest Quiz Master” – Part II

ABQ logoWhen we left the Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster journey last week, I’d just escaped being eliminated at the end of Round 1…

In Round 2 of the Australia’s Brainiest format, each player must choose 2 categories from a board of 12, and then answer 45 seconds of rapid fire questions on those categories. The questions appear on screen as (the host) Sandra Sully asks them, so you can read them before she finishes saying them. The first category I chose was ‘Film’ and I scored 9 points in that 45 seconds. There was one question that I queried; “What was the second James Bond film to be released?”, to which I had answered Dr No (1962), on the grounds that Dr No was the second time the James Bond character had appeared on screen – the first being in a TV play adaptation of Casino Royale in 1954 (which calls the character “Jimmy Bond” and turns him into an American!) But I shouldn’t have second-guessed the question – that version of Casino Royale was not a film, and certainly not an official EON Productions one. Sandra corrected me, and I just looked like a bit of a dill. From Russia With Love (1963) was of course, the second official Bond film. Everybody knows that.

The second category I chose was ‘Music’, and only managed to score 4 points this time. Not good on those classical music questions at all. Around this time, I’m thinking “that’s it. I really won’t survive past the end of this round.” Then Cary Young – who had blitzed the first half of this round, getting 11 questions correct in super fast time – chose the ‘Current Affairs’ category… and scored zero. I was stunned.

I had managed to just squeak through into Round 3, to face off against William (who’d scored a mighty 18 in this round) and Rob (who’d scored 12). My score had been 13. Unlucky for some…

And so Round 3 began, with just three contestants… William, Rob and I had our scores reset to zero, and faced another codebreaker, to determine who would play first. This time, the clue was “a chemical element”, and the combination was 435486.

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I think once I had the first 3 letters H-E-L, I knew what it was. In fact, I was fastest here! Perhaps I was more relaxed, as there was no threat of elimination this time. A note here; the keyboards that each contestant had on their podium in the show were not traditional ‘Qwerty’ keyboards; the keys on them were arranged in alphabetical order. This was to eliminate any unfair speed advantage that a touch typist may have over those of us who use the ‘hunt and peck’ method of typing. A great way of levelling the playing field; they really did think of everything over there at Australia’s Brainiest !

Anyway, despite winning ‘Pole Position’ for Round 3, I was certainly not confident. William’s score was all but flawless in Round 2; he really, really knew his stuff, and he was fast. And as for Rob, with his specialty areas… well, he was just a walking encyclopaedia! But William was faster and more aggressive, and I think in the back of my mind, I just assumed that he’d win this. I’d already told myself that I’d done well to get this far, and I was very pleased to make it to the final three.

The special subject I had chosen for Round 3 was the original Star Wars trilogy. And although I do have a head full of that stuff, I did quite a lot of training for it by doing online Star Wars quizzes. (There’s no shortage of them!) And bearing in mind that the show’s question writers would have needed to write 9 sets of special subject questions for this final round, (one for each initial contestant), I thought “that’s quite a workload for them. I wonder if they might be looking to online Star Wars quizzes, too, for question ideas?”

In this round, we’re faced with a board of 36 squares, and each square has a question behind it. Hidden behind 5 of these 36 squares are each player’s own 5 special subject questions (mine were denoted by the red squares; Rob’s were the blue ones and William’s were gold), but we were only given a 10 second glimpse of their location at the start of the round… 

Special Subject board

If a square you pick doesn’t have one of your own special subject questions (worth 2 points) behind it, it’ll have one of your opponents’ questions (worth 3 points, if you steal it and successfully answer it), or a general knowledge question (worth 1 point).

And this is where I came unstuck in this round; trying to remember where on the board my special subject questions were hidden. I picked the wrong square on my second try, and got a general knowledge question, which I then got wrong.

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Was this a bad omen? Would I continue to blindly scramble around the board trying to remember where my special subject questions were? Would Rob and William do the same? Would it be an easy win or a down-to-the-wire struggle?

For the answer to these and many more questions, check back here next week! (Or you could just watch the videos, over at the How To Win Game Shows Facebook page.)

Cheers,

Stephen.

‘How To Win Game Shows’ the eBook: UPDATE!

Hello everyone, and welcome to the scheduled launch day for How To Win Game Shows  – the eBook! 

Only thing is, it’s not quite ready yet.

Gumby

All the content is done, but I’m afraid I’ve underestimated the time that editing, proofreading and getting an eStore up and running would take. So, I know I did say that it’d be ready to go by today, but if you can bear with me for one more week, I’d really appreciate it. That makes the revised launch date Sunday September 20th. I’d like to thank you so much for your patience and understanding. As a little taste of what it’ll look like, here’s the eBook’s cover:

The eBook's front cover!

The eBook’s front cover!

In the meantime, it’ll be business as usual here at the blog, with my next weekly post due on Tuesday. That will chronicle the first part of my Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster journey – this was the show in early 2006 that pitted Who Wants To Be A Millionaire winners against Sale of the Century and Temptation winners, in a battle to win the $20,000 for charity, and the title of ‘Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster’. I did manage to win it, but it certainly wasn’t all smooth sailing. The story of how I accomplished it begins right here on Tuesday, and hopefully there’ll be some tips and hints in there that will be helpful to you, as you learn from my mistakes.

Until then, thank you so much for your patience, and remember, you can still get a FREE SNEAK PREVIEW BONUS CHAPTER of the eBook by signing up to the How To Win Game Shows mailing list, by using the handy (if slightly squashed) email sign up box to the right! ——————————————————————————————————->

My exclusive interview with TV quiz show question writer Michael Ward – Part II

This week, as my interview with TV quiz show question writer Michael Ward concludes, I ask Michael about common contestant mistakes, his time in front of the camera, and how potential contestants can best put themselves in the shoes of a TV quiz show writer, as well as –

Oh – but I’m spoiling what’s up ahead.

I’ll stop now, and just let you read on, shall I?

Yes. Probably a good idea.

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SH: What do you like about writing quiz questions?

MW: It’s a job that can be squeezed in anywhere – something you can do outside of normal working hours if you’re employed on something else for example. You use a different part of your brain. I enjoy reading non-fiction, so digging around in books or on-line for stuff to form the basis of a question is merely an extension of that interest. Sometimes questions with a multiple choice option for the answer can offer the opportunity for a joke, which is always fun.

SH: From your perspective as a question writer, what common mistakes do you see contestants making when answering quiz questions on TV?

MW: Well, anticipation is a key – so almost subconsciously knowing the typical structure of a question can help in that regard. Of course, you can be too anticipatory. It’s a balance. Obviously you need to listen carefully and stay focussed.

SH: What do you not like about writing quiz questions?

MW: Writing questions can be a grind. When it’s prescriptive – and often it can be when producers are seeking the right balance of topics for their show – you can feel that your brain has been milked dry. For example, on a recent job I felt like I’d written every single ‘architecture’ question I possibly could, and all that remained was the ultra-obscure. I couldn’t face ‘architecture’ again. But you have to soldier on; there’s always another question you can write – you just have to find a fresh angle.

SH: You’ve also been involved on the other side of the quiz show camera, appearing as a contestant on Millionaire Hot Seat (obviously, this was well before you worked on the show). How was that experience? Did your experience as a question writer give you an edge?

MW: No no, I was on Hot Seat as a contestant while I was writing on the show. In fact, I got to answer my own questions, which was fun. They were so easy!
Of course, I’m joking.
On
Hot Seat, you’re essentially challenging yourself, as opposed to Temptation or Million Dollar Minute where you’re in direct competition with other players. So being on Hot Seat – my background in writing questions wasn’t particularly relevant, except that I guess I’d exposed myself to a broad range of knowledge in my research.

SH: As someone who’s ‘been there and done that’, what tips, hints or advice would you have for anyone wanting to be a contestant on Millionaire Hot Seat?

MW: In terms of actually applying for the show: you do the on-line quiz as the first step, then you go to an audition where you do another written quiz of 40 or so questions. If you make the cut (and many don’t) you fill out a questionnaire about yourself and do a brief chat to camera. The key thing is to make yourself sound as interesting as possible – a fun person. Sure, if you win you might plonk the money on the mortgage, but the producers don’t want to hear that. They want something interesting, like you’re going to shout your friends a week in Vegas or buy a zoo or invest in time travel. Make it up. On camera at the audition, it’s no big deal – just be yourself, smile, and relate something amusing that happened to you. No sob stories required. Then, if you happen to make it onto the show, well, it’s pot-luck really, both in terms of where you finish in the ‘order’ of contestants – thereby having a shot at the $ – as well as whether you’re lucky enough to cop questions that are ‘up your alley’.

SH: Is it helpful for a contestant to try and think like a question writer? And if so, how do you teach yourself to think like a question writer?

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My EXCLUSIVE interview with TV quiz show question writer Michael Ward – Part I

You join me today for a real ‘first’ for howtowingameshows.com – this is the very first time I’ve interviewed a TV quiz show question writer for the blog. His name’s Michael Ward, and he’s been writing for Australian television for some twenty years, right across the spectrum of comedy, light entertainment and quiz shows. I’ve known Michael for almost that long, and have worked with him on many different comedy projects for TV and the stage, but in this chat I really wanted to focus on his time as a TV quiz show question writer, to see what useful information he can give aspiring TV quiz show question answerers! Now read on…

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SH: Michael Ward, thanks for chatting to me today for www.howtowingameshows.com. In your illustrious and varied TV writing career, you’ve written questions for Spicks and Specks, RockWiz, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation and Millionaire Hot Seat, Million Dollar Drop, and the upcoming Australian version of The Chase, as well as being the former compiler of the daily quiz for Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper, some time ago. How many quiz questions would you have written for TV?

MW: It’d have to be somewhere in the thousands. Let’s go with 3,679.

SH: Sure. What’s the secret to writing a good quiz question?

MW: I don’t know about ‘secret’ – but I guess the trick is finding the intersection between ‘knowledge’ and ‘trivia’. Something not too cold and hard and dull but, by the same token, something that’s not too trivial. A while back on Million Dollar Minute, some guy was going for the mill and one of the questions he had to answer was regarding the wrapper colour in a box of Cadbury Roses chocolates or something. For a million bucks, that is a ridiculously trivial question.

SH: Are there any topics or subject areas that you return to often, when you’re writing questions?

MW: I think most quiz question writers gravitate towards pop culture questions because we all have a lifetime’s accumulation of music, film and TV floating around in our heads. In my experience this stuff sinks deep into the memory banks, as opposed to say science or architecture (unless that’s your particular bag). Of course, pop culture is the first area where producers of quiz shows put the clamps on, simply because they get so many questions on TV, film and music. I also love travel (so, geography questions), reading (literature questions), history and sport, so I often write in these areas too.

SH: What is something that you never do when you’re writing quiz questions?

MW: I never write questions in the nude. It’s just a rule I have.
I would never transcribe a question word-for-word that I’ve stumbled across, but I’ll happily borrow from that source and re-work the fact into my own question. Also, I never consciously write a ‘trick’ question.

SH: What’s an example of a question you’ve written that you’re really proud of?

MW: I can’t think of one right now, although I seem to remember coming across the fact that Helen Keller is credited with introducing the Akita dog breed to the US – I think I wrote a question around that interesting fact. By the way, I believe it was Elton John who introduced ‘Nikita’ to the US.

SH: Are there any specific rules that you follow when you’re writing quiz questions?

MW: Not rules as such, but you try to be concise, unambiguous and frame the question in such a way that the answer is not able to be guessed immediately (which would render the remainder of the question superfluous). Ideally, you want the contestant to only buzz in right at the end of your question. A simple example: ‘Lima is the capital of which country?’ is not as good as ‘What is the capital of Peru?’ because, in the first case, as soon as you hear ‘Lima’ – the first word of your question – the answer is pretty much guessable immediately.

SH: Have you ever written any questions that turned out to be controversial?

MW: A question with the potential to be controversial will normally not make it through the filtering process – producers steer clear of anything that might, even remotely, cause offence.

SH: Have producers ever rejected questions that you’ve written? If so, why?

MW: Always. Questions are rejected for a myriad of reasons; A similar question may have already been used. The question isn’t clever or interesting enough. The wording is too unwieldy. The answer is plain wrong. It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever have all the questions you write accepted without knockbacks.

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So there’s a little initial taste of what life’s like on the other side of the whole quiz show production process. Next week, as our interview concludes, I ask Michael about common mistakes contestants make, he has some brilliant tips that’ll give you a great understanding of how TV quiz show questions are written, and I get his all-important thoughts on cute little dogs that also happen to be zombies.

And before I sign off for this week, just a reminder that my very first eBook ‘How To Win Game Shows’ is now just mere days away from release! I’m really pleased with how it turned out, and would like to offer you a FREE bonus chapter, by way of a sneak preview. To get this preview bonus chapter, all you have to do is sign up for the howtowingameshows.com mailing list, via the handy form to the right! ———->

I hope you’ll do so, and join us here in the How To Win Game Shows community… but even if not, I hope you’ll join us back here next week, for Part II of my chat with TV quiz show question writer extraordinaire Michael Ward!