EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Champion Russell Cheek – Part III

MG_1856This 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?

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EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Champion Russell Cheek – Part II

1993-Russe-wins-Sale-of-Century-300x238This week, as my interview with Sale of the Century champion Russell Cheek continues, we get down to the nitty-gritty of how he made his way to “Australia’s Richest Quiz” in 1993, as documented by this picture to the right.

N.B.: The gentleman on the left of the photo is Glenn Ridge, who hosted the show at the time, along with Jo Bailey, who’s to the right of frame.

When we left off last week, Russell was explaining how the success of his comedy group the Castanet Club, which was founded in Newcastle (some 160 km North of Sydney) led to a move down south…


RC: We came to live in Sydney in 1986 and we developed a really great live following, we went overseas, the Edinburgh Festival and all of that stuff. Then in 1992, without telling anyone, Warren Coleman (who was in our band) went on Sale of the Century. He came home with two motorcars. We just went “Oh feck”. He turned up for rehearsals one day in a Nissan 4-wheel drive. Then he invited us over to watch his shows on telly. Warren only played three games, then at the end of the third show he actually picked the two cards, the cards that corresponded to winning the two Nissans at the end of the show. And then in those 30 seconds in the ad break, when Glenn Ridge was standing there, Warren actually touched the cars that were on the showroom floor. He touched the cars and he said to himself, “Ooh. These are actually real. I’m touching these cars”. He said “I think I am going to take them home. I think I am not going to continue on, to try and get the jackpot. I am going to quit the show and take the cars”. So that’s what he did. He did three shows, picked the cars and went home. Then, when he turned up for [our] rehearsals driving this big Nissan Patrol, I thought “maybe the time has come”; maybe I have to screw my courage to the sticking place and sign up.

So I wrote away, and it took them a year to reply to me. I thought they had forgotten. Took them a year to reply, and then I went in for the audition. And because I did quite well in the audition – they asked very hard questions in the audition but I went well, I got like 41 out of 50 – I said “I think I am going to be on this show soon” so I started to mentally preparing, just getting myself into gear for it .

SH: How did you do that?

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Exclusive interview with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ winner Martin Flood… the pay-off!

And so, after winning his way through 14 questions on the Australian version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’, Martin Flood finally makes it through to the Million Dollar Question. And as you’ll see, even at this high pressure moment, all the homework and tactical preparation that Martin has done is still front and centre in his mind…

MF: I concluded what the answer was, I said something like “to me the answer is Mao Zedong”. His response, I knew – I would have bet a million bucks on this – was going to be “are you prepared to go for that for a million bucks?” or “are you prepared to lock it in?”. And that’s exactly what he said! “Are you prepared…”

SH: Wow.

MF: I didn’t hear anything else. I knew he was going to say that, because that’s exactly what he said to Rob Fulton (when he won the million) a month before. I liked seeing Rob getting that, because I thought ‘now I know exactly how he’s going to say it’.

Then I locked it in, he went to an ad break, came back. I just sat there thinking… For a moment there I nearly had a teary eye thought come to my mind, but then I said ‘forget that, I’m not going to cry here – I knew this was going to happen all along’. This has happened in my dreams for years. He waited till they calmed down and stopped clapping and he handed me the cheque. I just looked at it and sort of thought “so what?”. It just looked like a big oversized silly cheque. Because when I looked at it, I thought “that was so easy”.

Marty Flood Millionaire

SH: “Easy”?

MF: The previous five years wasn’t easy. Especially when you never know you’re actually going to get on the show. Leading up to it, I thought “God, if I never get to go on that show, all this effort I put in….” That was the most stressful thing, but I put it out of my mind. I can’t do anything about it. All I can do is things I can do about. In the actual Hot Seat itself, it was just wonderful.

It felt easy, it felt so natural to do it. I could have sat there forever. Not many people would understand that, but I was talking shortly after to Loretta Harrop who’s a triathlete who got the silver in the Olympics. She said she finds training incredibly hard, but actually running the triathlon is really enjoyable; she loves it. That’s the same as me. The five years was really tough at times but actually sitting in the Hot Seat… it was just the most enjoyable thing.

SH: When you won, how did you feel?

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Exclusive interview with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ winner Martin Flood – Part 8

This week, in my chat with Who Wants To be A Millionaire Millionaire Martin Flood, he talks me through his approach to the two biggest questions of all; the half million dollar question, and the question that ultimately won him…………………..



 SH: Getting up to the big questions; given that (the show’s host, Eddie McGuire) had already planted this seed of controversy*, when you were going for the $500 000 and the $1 million, how did you keep your cool when the stakes were so high?

MF: The controversy just seemed to be a weird part to the question so that didn’t come into it at all. I just dismissed it. Every so often a doubt would come to my head – not very often, because I’d visualized it a thousand times – but when a doubt came into my head I would literally – with my right hand – pretend to push it away, as if it was somehow in the air. You can’t stress out about doubts, you’ve just gotta accept them. I was just so confident and at the end of the day, all 15 questions I was familiar with – so I was fortunate. I never got a question where I had no clue at all. The “controversial” comments meant nothing. Playing for the $500,000, I didn’t think about the size of the money… except as a clue to the difficulty level of potential questions. That’s the only thing where the money came into it. I was so confident, not over-confident; over-confidence is a terrible thing.

SH: Yes, because you get sloppy.

MF: Yes, you’re going to start doing silly things. But I was so in my element, getting back there was fantastic. I thought to myself “I’ve only got two questions and I’ve got the two big lifelines”. I’ve got through 13 questions and I only used the audience, so I thought “I’ve got this nailed, there’s no doubt that I’m going to get this”. Everything sort of panned out. I visualized that I’d have a big gap between the two episodes, I visualised that I only had one or two questions left, I visualised that I would have at least two big lifelines. I was sitting there and everything was coming out exactly how I imagined it. One funny thing I did; there were very rarely questions on borders of countries but I thought “I really need to learn borders”. So I bought a globe, and every time I’d go past it, I would have a look at different things. Strangely, I remember looking at the Caspian Sea and thinking “I’ve never heard a question on the Caspian Sea in all the years of going to trivia, all the pre-recorded shows that I’ve watched. That’s going to come up one day”. And with that thought, every time I walked past the globe, I checked the Caspian Sea over and over again. Anyway, what question comes up? Continue reading

Exclusive interview with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ winner Martin Flood – Part 7… “CONTROVERSY” (Really?)

As my interview with Martin continues, we discuss the alleged controversy that reared its ugly head after his first appearance on the show, and how he dealt with it. 


SH: On the first night you got all the way up to $250,000. So you were returning for the second episode with just two questions remaining; $500,000 and one million dollars. And at the start of that episode, Eddie referred to some “controversy”. Can you tell us about that?

MF: I met Eddie backstage about 5 minutes beforehand. He was encouraging me to win. I thought that was great, that’s giving me some confidence. He obviously wants me to win. He says “let’s go out there, mate, and win a million bucks!” And as I walked in, the voiceover was saying something like “our most controversial contestant so far”. And when Eddie started chatting to me, he said “last week’s episode… Controversial!” and I’m looking at him like “What? What the hell is he talking about?” It didn’t make any sense. But I’d then think “it doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with what I’m about to see as a $500,000 question, so it really doesn’t matter”. And the audience is kind of quiet. I try to gauge their reaction and what they’re thinking, but I’m imagining they’re all sitting there thinking “what is he talking about?”

Then he mentioned more of it at the end, once I’d won, when I was a bit more relaxed. He said “we were wondering if you had an electrode on your big toe!” It sounded funny the way he said that. I laughed about it, not knowing that for the previous five weeks, they’d had criminal psychologists looking through tapes and trying to see if there was any pattern to the coughs, to catch me cheating*. It never dawned on me that they had actually investigated me. The previous episode they had actually searched me. I was told that it was procedure, that they would give you a scan with the metal detector so I thought “well, I’ve just won a quarter of a million, obviously they’re gonna search me more just to make sure”. They searched me before I went on and I was chatting to the guy who was patting me down – this was before the half million dollar question – “if I was wired up, I would be pretty bloody nervous now, wouldn’t I?” and he said “yeah, we’re looking for that too”. It never occurred to me that they could possibly think that I was cheating.

Next week, Martin takes us through the two biggies – the $500,000 question and the Million Dollar Question. All the tactics, the banter, the emotions… and the questions themselves.

SPOILER ALERT: He gets them both right.

But for the full story of how he got them both right, be sure to check back here next week!

* Four years earlier, there had been a scandal on the UK version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’, where million dollar winner Charles Ingram was discovered to have had accomplices in the audience, alerting him to the correct answers by coughing when the host mentioned them. A fuller account can be found here


Exclusive interview with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ winner Martin Flood – Part 6

Marty Flood Millionaire

When we left off last week, we were discussing the 3 Who Wants To Be A Millionaire lifelines: ‘Ask The Audience’, ‘Phone-A-Friend’ and ’50/50’…


SH: Did you think there’d be any specific point in the show where you’d be more likely to one of the lifelines?

MF: Having watched countless episodes, I noticed sometimes I got stuck at the 32K question. So unfortunately I often imagined that’s where I would get stuck when I was in the hot seat. Lo and behold… I got to 32 grand, and the question was…

I looked at the options and thought “I know this from somewhere … ” I just knew it was the Philippines somehow. However I couldn’t picture anything in my mind and all of a sudden I had this thought tickertape across my mind – ‘you don’t know the answer!’ and I suddenly doubted myself. So even though I had mentioned I thought the answer was the Philippines I went to the audience life line. I knew I would have influenced them, so in a way this was a mistake. With 62% going with the Philippines, it gave me some confidence so I locked that in. I realised about 6 months later how I thought I knew it. I was pottering around the house while in the background I had set the DVD recorder to record episodes of Temptation from VHS to DVD. These episodes were about a year old. Then I suddenly heard “Mount Pinatubo, which massively erupted in 1991, is in which Asian – “? Buzz! “The Philippines”! I realised they had repeated the question almost word for word from Temptation to Millionaire. So Mount Pinatubo and the Philippines were there
somewhere in my memory.

SH: When you were doing the show, did you have any mantras, or self-talk …

MF: Yes. The mantra I had was “15 correct answers in the hot seat”. I would say that over and over again in my head. It seemed to be concise and exactly what I wanted.

SH: That reminded of how finite and achievable your goal was?

MF: Yes and it kept making me visualize me in the hot seat and getting the whole damn lot correct. I never imagined getting any wrong, and I never imagined myself taking a cheque for anything less than a million dollars. In fact, of all the strategies – I had lots of strategies worked out – I never had a strategy for when I took the cheque. There was no “under these circumstances, I will take a quarter of a million dollar cheque, or $32 000” it was “I’m taking the million dollar cheque”.

SH: I think that was mine too – All or nothing.

MF: It wasn’t “All or nothing”… it was “All”!

Inspiring thoughts there! Next time, Martin discusses the unexpected controversy that blew up around his success on the show, along with its aftermath… Until then!

Interview with game show host Michael Pope!

Michael PopeI’m very pleased to post an edited transcript of Part 1 of my interview with Michael Pope today.

I spoke to Michael a few weeks ago, about the many facets of his career, from game show host to game show producer… and beyond. I’ll posting edited highlights of all 4 parts of the interview in the coming weeks, and the entire thing will be available in my forthcoming eBook How To Win Game Shows. But for now, here are the highlights of Part 1 of the interview with Michael Pope – game show host extraordinaire!


SH: Welcome Michael Pope, I’m really pleased that you’ve agreed to talk to me today. Thank you very much for your time.

MP: Absolute pleasure. Which envelope would you like to open…?

SH: Envelope number 3, please!

MP: Alright then.

SH: You hosted Blockbusters from 1990 – 1993, and Total Recall from 1994 – 95, is that right?

MP: There were a couple of others in and around that, but they were certainly the longer ones.

SH: What where the other ones?

MP: As part of Wombat, in 1988 and 9, there was a show that was on Fridays only, called Guess Again which was to the same market as Blockbusters and Total Recall. Which was a very physical game. Rounds of things, two teams. If you YouTube “Guess Again Michael Pope” you might find something.

SH: And these were primarily kids’ game shows?

MP: Yes, that’s true.

SH: So as the host, what did you do to put contestants at ease?

MP: I do remember spending some time – and I mean 10 minutes, 15 minutes – with them before the recording of each show befriending them and letting them know “it’s kinda just us”. Trying to get them to forget that there are cameras and a whole viewing audience, and purely “Look I’ll be standing there, and you’re here, and your friends are over there about to cheer you on”

SH: Just sort of bringing it back down to earth…?

MP: Yeah, and “we’ve got some great prizes, whether you win or lose doesn’t really matter”. And also, in terms of briefing the contestants, they fill out a form that says “what are your favourite things?” and “what’s the silliest thing you’ve ever done?” and so on. And so I’d now get the form and say to Johnny “Oh, this is interesting, Johnny – tell me more about your soccer club”. And he’d say “I’m captain”. “And how’s last season gone?” “Good.” “Oookay…” and so I’d know to not go the soccer route, because there’s no stories there.

SH: Yeah.

MP: … Whereas “Tell me about the time you went to the snow” “Oh, it was great! We went with the whole family and my cousins came from Queensland as well and we went to Mt Bulla and I actually broke my leg”. Now you know that there’s a story. So it was a bit of drilling down to find out where the kid has the interest. And then I would say “that’s great! Now I might ask you that on TV. Now remember we haven’t had this conversation before, so when I say ‘how was the snow?’, don’t say ‘Oh, I told you’.”

SH: No, that wouldn’t be good!

MP: No it wouldn’t be good. But it happened a few times!

SH: Any memories of the best or most impressive contestants? Does anyone stick in your mind, in terms of what they brought to the show?

MP: Blockbusters was the show that had a path that you had to make across the board. And we gave the kids the clues to the answer by giving them the first letter of the answer. I  remember one little boy – and the answer began with the letter A – and the question was “What is that time in life between childhood and adulthood?” and little Johnny buzzed in, looked straight at the camera and said “Adultery?” Absolutely true.

SH: That’s great!

MP: But to answer your question, any stand-out contestants… I think the ones that were more mature for their age and got on well with adults were articulate, and they did remember the bit of briefing beforehand and so they were the good ones. The bad ones were the ones who got through the audition process, and were monosyllabic and showed no effort to embrace the game.

SH: When their nerves got the better of them, did you have any techniques –

MP: If you see something happening with nerves, the quicker you can get them out of the focus the better. So we would record for the segment which was 6, 7 minutes long, and then there’d be a one minute commercial break. If Johnny had not gone very well – either answering a question wrongly so he feels bad about himself – or was clumsy in an interview or whatever, then Gary Clare the warm up guy would very quickly get the focus to something else. So while Gary took the focus of the hundred or so audience members there, I might go over to Johnny and say “Oh mate, doesn’t matter about the last question”, “Oh yeah, it was a tough one, wasn’t it?”… that sort of thing, so the heat’s off him, rather than leave him out on a ledge thinking that he’s a dummy.


That’s it for Part 1, and although Michael was working primarily in kids’ game shows at this point in his career, I feel there are a couple of good reminders there for any type of game show. Next week, Part 2 of the interview, in which we discuss Bert’s Family Feud, on which Michael served as Executive Producer, from 2006 to 2007. Thanks again to Michael for speaking to me.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tips for Game Show Success

Well, game shows may not necessarily, specifically have been on his mind, but bear with me…

I’ve just come home from seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger speak at a function here in Melbourne. The theme of his talk was his 6 Rules For Success. He was an incredibly engaging, inspiring, funny and super-charismatic (dare I say “Presidential”?) speaker. He illustrated his rules with fascinating anecdotes and examples from his incredible professional – and life – journey… and I thought you might find them helpful on your path to game show success.

So I now present – distilled, boiled down, and as best as I can remember them – Arnold’s 6 Rules For Success… COME AAAHHN!

Rule # 1: Trust yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Rule # 2: Break the rules. Not the law, but break the rules. You have to think outside the box.

Rule # 3: Don’t be afraid to fail. If you try, and get knocked down, you’re only a TRUE failure if you don’t get up again.

Rule # 4: Don’t listen to the naysayers. How many times have you heard that “you can’t do this” and “you can’t do that”… “it’s never been done before”?

Mr Schwarzenegger illustrated this with an anecdote about the agents and the managers when he arrived in Hollywood, ambitious to be a leading man – his muscle-bound body was a liability, his Austrian accent was a liability, and they told him so. Repeatedly. He persevered. And when he got his breakthrough role (as the leading man) in Conan the Barbarian, his body was an asset. Then, when he rose to the next level of movie stardom as The Terminator, critics his praised his Austrian accent for making him “sound more like a robot”. His accent was an asset. He had persevered, and the naysayers had been proven wrong. To further illustrate the point, he also quoted that very powerful sentiment from Nelson Mandela…

It always seems impossible… UNTIL IT’S DONE.

Rule # 5: Work your butt off. You never want to fail because you didn’t work hard enough. When you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone out there at the same time is working hard. Someone is getting smarter and someone is winning. There are 24 hours in a day. You sleep 6 hours and have 18 hours left. Some of you say “but I sleep 8 or 9 hours”. Well then… sleep faster!

Rule # 6: Give something back. Whatever path you take, you must always find time to give something back; to your community, your state or to your country.

If you think about it, all of these thoughts apply to your game show winning goal. There will be naysayers. You may suffer temporary setbacks (“failure”, according to some) on your journey. But that “failure” is simply more knowledge and experience that you can utilise on your next attempt.

At the end of his presentation, there were also some questions from the audience tonight, but I’ll tell you the 10 very powerful words that Mr Schwarzenegger quoted as he left, that really resonated with me (and will hopefully resonate with you too)….




Talking to you about talking to myself.

Just a quick post this week about self-talk. Pep talks work. We all know they work – a great, positive, rousing speech can inspire a team to win a game, a candidate to win political office or an army to win a war. It can also help you to win a game show, and the great thing is, you don’t necessarily even need someone else to there.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had two weeks in between my two records of Temptation – I was two thirds of the way to Winning The Lot. With three games still to win, I had 14 days to dwell on that fact. So I wrote myself a pep talk. This was a document that I referred to countless times over that fortnight. It inspired me, it helped me stay positive and helped kick out any doubts that began to creep in.

For some reason, I had Friar Lawrence’s pep talk to Romeo in my head. This is the scene in Romeo and Juliet where the good friar convinces Romeo that his situation is nowhere near as bad as he thought…

What, rouse thee, man! thy Juliet is alive,

For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead;

There art thou happy: Tybalt would kill thee,

But thou slew’st Tybalt; there are thou happy too:

The law that threaten’d death becomes thy friend

And turns it to exile; there art thou happy:

A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;

Happiness courts thee in her best array;

But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,

Thou pout’st upon thy fortune and thy love:

Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.

(Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 3.)

The first time I heard this speech, the recurring phrase “There art thou happy” stuck in my head. It didn’t stick all that well though, because I remembered it as “There art thou blessed”.

“There are thou blessed” was the phrase I kept focussing on when I wrote my own pep talk, as you’ll see below. This is the actual document that I wrote for myself at the time:

Self talk between Week 1 and Week 2 of Temptation

Self-talk is really important. Make your own list of reasons why you’ll succeed, print it out, have it on you and refer to it often. It really helps. 


Tempation winner

2 weeks. 14 days. 336 hours. 20,160 minutes. 1,209,600 secon- well, you get the idea.

2 weeks of jogging, of trying to stay calm, of trying to think like a game show producer, trying to think like a question writer. 2 weeks of watching Temptation every week night and continuing to play along at home. Even if I didn’t win my play-at-home version of the game on those nights, I knew I could rule out the questions that were contained in them. They wouldn’t be recycling the general “buzzer” questions – and importantly the ‘Who Am I?’ questions – just 2 weeks later, when I’d be back behind the buzzer.

I theorised – if I were a producer of Temptation, who would I put up as a serious contender against me? Probably a man. They’re generally more competitive and eager to prove themselves than women. Probably a younger man. Quicker reflexes, more aggressive, more cocksure.

A couple of times – but truly, only a couple – a tiny doubt crept into my mind. I kicked it out again immediately. My self-talk* told me ‘NO! There’s no room in this brain for doubt! Right now, it’s otherwise occupied!’

It’s general knowledge, and so difficult to study for, but I did buy a globe of the world. I also looked through Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ list, for the ‘Who Am I’ questions, which are valuable in Temptation. They have to be hard to answer but not completely obscure. From the question writer’s perspective, it’s a question that they need to be able to tease out. I remember printing out a periodic table, and my friend Gavin doing a general crib sheet for me about Sports. (Not traditionally one of my strengths).

I listened to positive, upbeat empowering music as I jogged. I do particularly remember this one (Closer by Slinkee Minx) being on high rotation on my iPod as I jogged up and down Bondi Beach.

I wrote a positive self-talk document for myself* that I’d refer to many times before the next record.

Eventually, finally… the day of the record (9th August, 2005) rolls around. I knew that I’d have to win the first 3 games of the record day – “Monday”, “Tuesday” and “Wednesday” – in order to achieve my goal.

I win the first show (Monday night). I have now won a Volvo valued at $62,950.

I win the second show (Tuesday night). I have now won all the prizes in the showcase, valued at $145,326.

If I play – and win! – one night more, I’ll add $500,000 to that total (along with whatever prizes I’ve won along the way in the Gift Shop, and from the Fame Game). And with that thought in mind, it’s time for the lunch break.

I do remember going to the Channel 9 canteen for lunch and having a very average steak with black bean sauce and rice. It was not good food. I also had a couple of coffees, in the belief that maybe a bit of caffeine would help what was about to come….

And I remember pacing up and down out the back of Channel 9 while I waited to digest all that, and for the 3rd game to begin. I didn’t mix with other contestants, I just wanted to be alone, and collect my thoughts. I’d done the calculations, and knew exactly how many questions were asked in the average game of Temptation. I can’t quickly recall that figure to mind now, but I do remember thinking at the time; “Well, in 40 questions from now (or whatever the number was) it’ll all be over – the race will have been run and won.”

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