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 I became “Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster” – Part I

Hello. How are you? That’s the ticket.

Okay, yes, alright – look; I know that the tagline for www.howtowingameshows.com is “PRACTICAL TIPS FOR WINNING GAME SHOWS, FROM SOMEONE WHO’S BEEN THERE AND DONE THAT… TWICE!” And I also know that so far, I’ve only really talked in depth about the first of my two game show wins, on Temptation, in 2005.

I GET IT; alright, alright, calm down, everyone… Sheesh!

So today, I present the first of a four-part series on how I became – on the Big People’s Television at least, if not necessarily in real life – “Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster”.

But first, a bit of background for you… Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster was a one-off special that aired in Australia, on the Ten Network, on February 19th, 2006.

Sandra Sully 2

Newsreader Sandra Sully, the host of ‘Australia’s Brainiest Kid’, and all the ‘Australia’s Brainiest’ specials.

It came off the back of Australia’s Brainiest Kid, which was an adaptation of Britain’s Brainiest Kid. The success of that series saw Network Ten keen to keep the ratings coming, and so a series of Australia’s Brainiest specials was commissioned almost instantaneously.

The first three specials were Australia’s Brainiest Comedian (whose winner, Mikey Robins chatted to me for the blog), Australia’s Brainiest TV Star, (whose winner, Julia Zemiro, also kindly gave me an interview), and the one I participated in… Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster. And putting to one side the fact that “Quizmaster” usually refers to the host or compère (i.e. the question-asker, rather than the question-answerer), it really was great fun.

The year was 2005 – after my Temptation win (obviously), but before my appearance on the Temptation Quizmasters special (more of which, in a later post), when I was approached to go on Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster. At that time, I was still riding high, and full of confidence from my Temptation win. I thought “Sure, why not?! I’ve earned it! I’m one of the elite now, Baby – it feels good! Plus… a bit of more of the spotlight? A self-aggrandising TV appearance? You bet – why wouldn’t I?!”

It was only when I got into the studio on Record Day, and saw the competition, including the one and only Cary Young – The Man Who I had grown up watching win Sale Of The Century again and again and again; The Man Who’d won more Sale Of The Century ‘Champion of Champions’ tournaments than I could count; The Man Who’d been writing quizzes for newspapers for years; The Man Who I saw as nothing less than INVINCIBLE…

… that I started to feel a whole lot less sure of myself.

My eight opponents (the Australia’s Brainiest format started with nine contestants, who were eventually whittled down to three) were formidable quizzers indeed. They comprised:

– Temptation champion Brigid O’Connor,

– The two Who Wants To Be A Millionaire millionaires – Martin Flood and Rob “The Coach” Fulton, and the first man to win the $500,000 on WWTBAM, Trevor Sauer.

– And Sale Of The Century champions William Laing, Maria McCabe, Virginia Noel (who would also go on to win Series 3 of The Einstein Factor the next year), and the man himself… Cary Young.

As I fronted up to the first round, I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. How long would I manage to last? Would I be one of the first players eliminated? A cold, creeping thought that in my arrogance, I hadn’t considered before, was only just starting to hit me now…

This could be embarrassing. Very publicly embarrassing.

Very embarrassing indeed.

The first round was multiple choice, and I did not nail it. At all.

Four clear winners advanced to Round 2, and we three also-rans, who didn’t do quite so well (William Laing, Virginia Noel & I) had to play for the two remaining places in Round 2, with a fast round of “Matching Pairs”. In this example, we had to match four capital cities with their corresponding countries, as quickly as possible.

Capital cities

Fighting off instant panic as they all appeared before me, I went with the ones I knew first; Sofia belongs to Bulgaria, Budapest belongs to Hungary, Warsaw belongs to Poland and therefore Bucharest had to be the capital of Romania. I would not have been sure about Bucharest… but starting with the Familiar and working down to the Unfamiliar paid off (luckily there were only 4 pairs). Somehow I’d kept my head, and matched the pairs ever so slightly faster than Virginia. I was through to Round 2.

And then there were six…

Round 1 had seen the elimination of Brigid, Maria and Virginia, leaving just we six male contestants. To determine who would play first in Round 2, we played a codebreaker game. Using a phone style keypad, the task was to decode the name of a famous painter. The clue was “33427”;

ABQ Codebreaker

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‘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!

 

Exclusive interview with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ winner Martin Flood – Part 2

Marty Flood MillionaireAs my interview with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire millionaire Martin Flood continues today, the discussion turns to the multiple choice format of Millionaire and the relative values of the answer options…

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MF: I noticed over the years that when the questions get quite valuable, the answer tends to be the lesser well known one. (And yet) everyone goes for the one that they know. In fact so many contestants say “well I’ve never heard of this person, I’ve never heard of that person – I’ve only ever heard of one person so I’ll lock that one in”. That’s probably going to be the one that’s not the answer, because that’s the one you’ve heard of. This is worth a quarter of a million dollars or something!

It’s like the classic question for $125 000, “When James Cook mapped the east coast of Australia, what was his rank?” Let’s say that answer was worth $500. What would you say is the answer (without them even giving you four options)?

SH: Captain.

MF: Now the question was worth $125 000! One of the options is ‘Captain’, one of the options is ‘Commodore’, one is ‘Commander’ and one is ‘Lieutenant’. Are you still going to go for ‘Captain’, at $125 000?

SH: I’m not. I think I know the answer to this.

MF: Okay, that’s my point. When I looked at the other ones, it’s obviously not ‘Captain’. You don’t get paid $125 000, being an Aussie, for knowing “Captain James Cook”! The guy goes “It’s Captain! Everyone knows it’s ‘Captain James Cook’! I can’t believe it! It’s so easy – 125 grand! It’s Captain James Cook!”

SH: Really? But he’s proven himself. He is even telling you why he is wrong when he says “everyone knows it’s ‘Captain James Cook’!” Because if everyone does know, then it’s not worth $125 000, it’s worth $500.

MF: Exactly. But unfortunately most contestants do the same thing. It’s unbelievable.

SH: It’s human nature, I suppose.

MF: Yeah, I remember this beautiful young girl, she got a $64 000 question; “In Romeo and Juliet; ‘wherefore art thou Romeo?’… What does “wherefore” mean?” And one of the answers is “Where”, for $64 000. Does it kind of seem obvious that the answer would be “Where”? Too obvious?

SH: But then you start second guessing.

MF: I know what you are saying, it could be a double bluff but I have never seen a double bluff on the show, ever. For $64 000, translating old English “wherefore” into “where” is unbelievably obvious. It was wrong. But she locked it in anyway, sadly. Because it means “why”. The “whys and wherefores” – that’s another expression, do you know this?

SH: Yeah, “never mind the whys and wherefores”. “Why” and “wherefore” means the same thing.

MF: Yes. She’s basically saying “why are you a Montague and I’m a Capulet?”

SH: “Why does it have to be this way?”

MF: That was just another example of an obvious answer at a higher value; $64 000 is pretty high.

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Next week, we discuss the audition and screening process for Millionaire in more detail, and Martin outlines his experiences in that part of the process. So if you’re thinking of going on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, you can’t afford to miss that!

Until then.