EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part II

The Fabulous Adam Richard

Hello! Today, as my interview with The Fabulous Adam Richard continues, I wanted to drill down a bit into the working methods that have seen him churn out tens of thousands of quiz show questions over the years…

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

AR: Social media. I have downloaded a browser plug-in that I set to yell at me if I try to open Facebook or Twitter or any of those things. You know those alerts come up, telling you so-and-so has liked your comment or some such, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour down an unhelpful rabbit-hole of absolutely irrelevant crap. Every time I click on one of those, this browser plug in swears at me. Literally. Vile, angry language. It’s quite the motivator!

(Here is a link if you can handle your computer yelling profanities) 

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

AR: Oh, so many! On Hard Quiz, it’s the ones that stump the experts. Especially if the expert is particularly smarmy and full of themselves. The first ever episode of The Chase Australia featured a question of mine that stumped even The Chaser herself!

I have tried to write a ‘Fanny Chmelar’ style question for The Chase Australia, but because of the timeslot, they’ve all been rejected, which is probably for the best. Did you know that an archaic term for an open-cut mine is ‘Glory Hole?’ I wrote it as a multiple choice “In which industry do people go to work in a glory hole?” Mining, Fishing, Theatre. It’s revolting, I know, but it is an actual true fact. You can’t argue with the truth… Well, you can if you are putting out a G-rated show.

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

AR: Keep it G-rated…

Follow the rules of the show! The Chase Australia has a very detailed style guide, and some very restrictive rules about length of questions and answers, which I adore. I love the language puzzle writing those entails, trying to rearrange a question to be coherent and fun in as few words as possible.

The first round of Hard Quiz, where people are able to steal points, I really enjoyed writing dog-leg questions, that seemed like they were going off in one direction, but in fact were headed somewhere else entirely, trying to trick people into buzzing in early. Like one about Eurovision, where it seemed like it was going to be an obvious one about which song ABBA won with, but instead was about which venue they won at! It was the ‘British seaside resort’ of Brighton, if you’re wondering, which then of course gives (the show’s host) Tom Gleeson leeway to make a joke about ‘British seaside resort’ being an oxymoron.

The fact that Hard Quiz is a comedy show as well as a game show means that all the writers have to do double time writing questions and gags. Tom writes both questions and gags himself. He’s incredibly hands on. I worked in the office at Hard Quiz, whereas I have done all my work on The Chase Australia remotely.

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

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EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part I

The Fabulous Adam Richard

And here we are, with my first interview for 2017, and I’m delighted to say it’s with The Fabulous Adam Richard! For those who don’t know, Adam Richard is one of Australia’s favourite comedians, whose successful 20 year career encompasses stand-up comedy here and internationally, radio presenting, sitcom writing, TV acting, reality TV appearances, podcasting and much more besides. You can find all the details at his website.

But in addition to all of this, yet another feather in Adam’s cap is writing questions for game shows. To date, Adam has written questions for All Star Squares, (where he and I worked together) The Chase: Australia (which I’ve also written questions for) and Hard Quiz (which I haven’t – I must be slipping).

Anyhoo, Adam Richard, thanks very much for chatting to me today for www.HowToWinGameShows.com

SH: Over the years, how many quiz questions do you think you’d have written for TV?

AR: I couldn’t even tell you how many I’ve written this week! It’s over a hundred. This week, I mean. When I started on Season 1 of The Chase Australia, I was working four or five days a week, which roughly works out to about 200 questions. Now I’m just working one or two days a week, but factoring in all the shows I’ve worked on, I’m guessing I’d be into the tens of thousands by now.

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

AR: It’s such a juggling act! The questions on The Chase Australia, especially in the timed rounds, need to be really punchy. There are a lot of comedians writing for the show, I think mainly because the structure of a question and a joke are essentially the same – you work really hard at giving out enough information that the punchline or answer, in the case of a quiz show, is both obvious and surprising at the same time. You almost want people at home to go “Oh! Of course! I should have known they’d say that!” So, even if people are learning something from the answer, it should have its own internal logic. Also, boring is bad. Numbers and dates are boring, names are boring. I try to avoid writing answers that are a number or a name, unless it’s something that is an emotional touchstone (there’s always an exception to every rule!). I wrote a question on Hard Quiz which was “How many double A batteries go into a Nintendo Game Boy?”. That’s the kind of thing that can really fire up the happy and nostalgic part of your brain, remembering fun things from your childhood, trying to picture yourself jamming the batteries in the back of your favourite toy.

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

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EXCLUSIVE interview with serial game show contestant Vicky Jacobs – Part II

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Vicky Jacobs

Last week, in my chat with serial game show contestant Vicky Jacobs, we discussed her appearances on Greed, Temptation and Million Dollar Minute. But Vicky’s game show contestant career certainly doesn’t end there….

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SH: You’ve also appeared on Millionaire Hot Seat, whose format is very different to the original Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. What strategy did you employ – if any – to make sure your time in the actual ‘hot seat’ was as advantageous as possible?

VJ: I had lots of permutations of strategy in my head going in, but when it came to the actual day, none of them made any difference. I answered the most questions right in my episode, but with the way the day panned out, there was pretty much no chance of getting back into the hot seat. In my opinion, there’s a huge amount of luck in that game and it will only be with a certain set of events that strategy will do you much good.

SH: And most recently, you took to the stage on The Chase: Australia. How did you go, and as a former contestant, what tips or tricks would you now give any future contestants?

VJ: I had a great time on The Chase. I’d been watching the British version avidly and was busting for a chance to play myself. I knew the odds were low of going home with money – I just wanted to play! I got through to the final round – there were only two of us left – but we got caught by the Chaser, losing $22, 000. My advice would be to do everything in your power to have four people playing at the end. Chat about it when you’re hanging out backstage (they don’t seem to mind this).  And if you do get to the end, have a “passing” strategy, with a clear leader who is boss of the passing!  I think we may have squished in a couple of more questions if we had have worked something out beforehand.  Also, this is a small thing but I think could be helpful – don’t stress too much about the chit-chat bit with Andrew O’Keefe beforehand – if you say something goofy, it really doesn’t matter, just keep your head in the game.  I reckon we lost one of our players to this on the day I was on. 

SH: Vicky, obviously game shows are a recurring theme in your life, and you’ve applied and been accepted time and time again. What do you think are the keys to being selected as a game show contestant?

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My very first interview with a winner of ‘The Chase’ – Part II

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Last week, I posted Part I of my interview with 35-year-old digital producer, and winner of The Chase: Australia, Andy Zito. We discussed auditioning, preparation and training, and left off just as Andy was about to play the game, against the Chaser known as “The Shark”; Brydon Coverdale. This week, we move on to the nitty gritty of actually playing the game… 
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SH: It seems there’s some strategy involved in The Chase; knowing how much to risk and when. Were there any long discussions or arguments amongst your team over elements of strategy?
AZ; So in our edition the rules were slightly different. On a regular episode of The Chase, each player has a Cash Builder round, and then immediately wagers that cash (or accepts a higher / lower offer for great risk / advantage), hoping to bring back their cash to the team kitty. In our episode, Louise and I both played the Cash Builder rounds, then our combined cash amount was wagered against the Chaser, with us nominating Louise to face off on the board. We decided not to accept the higher offer because we felt our combined offer was so high that the risk wasn’t worth an extra $5k each.
SH: In the heat of battle, during the actual playing of your game, what moments – either good or bad – stick in your mind?
AZ: It seems, watching the show, that every single player in the Cash Builder round is shocked to see how much they’ve built, mainly because they seem to miss so many or say ‘pass’ so often. I felt exactly the same way. I came out with $12k, which seems to me to be about the average, and was pleased, but definitely had no idea I’d done well in that section! I also knew that – given I’d only be doing my Cash Builder round and the Final Chase – I’d have a good chunk of the episode to just take it all in and relax before the Final Chase. By the time we got to the Final Chase, I was ready for a buzz-off and it proved to be where I came good! A great, instant revelation in the Final Chase was that Louise had a tiny little auditory ‘tell’ when she didn’t know something, and given that you have to buzz in to pass, which means waiting long enough to see if your teammate will buzz in, I was able to buzz in to pass VERY quickly, which really helped us get as far along as we did. The best thing about playing with Louise was that our areas of knowledge complemented each other so perfectly, we really were pretty unbeatable across all topics!
SH: How much did you win, and what did you do with your winnings?
AZ: I took home half of our $34,000 prize, and have my $17k still sitting in my bank account! My wife and I have a tiny little bathroom fix up in mind, but really it’s more about buying time for us – a holiday, some time off, something like that.
SH: Now that you’ve “been there and done that”, do you have any advice for those following in your footsteps?

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My very first interview with a winner of ‘The Chase’ – Part I

andyz_chaseIn November 2015, 35-year-old digital producer Andy Zito was a contestant on the hit quiz show   The Chase: Australia. In a result that bucked the usual trend of the show, Andy and his teammate Louise Harper actually managed to beat ‘The Chaser’; in this case, Brydon “The Shark” Coverdale… taking home a cool $34,000 for their efforts. Andy kindly agreed to talk to me about his game show experience, for www.HowToWinGameShows.com.
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SH: Andy, thanks very much for speaking to me today.

AZ: A pleasure!

SH: What inspired you to try out for The Chase: Australia? Had you been interested in quizzing and game shows for a long time?

AZ: I’m a huge fan of trivia and quiz shows in general, and will more or less watch any quiz format available to me, even down to asking my wife to read me the quiz from the paper. I just really, really enjoy seeing if I know stuff, and then seeing if I can remember stuff. I certainly made it my business as a young kid to watch Sale of the Century whenever I could, which was pretty much every night, and was really excited to see a quiz show that relied on buzzer speed, question strategy and general knowledge than pure luck – after a hair-splitting, one question loss in the ‘fast money’ on Million Dollar Minute I was keen to have another serious crack at winning some cash, too!

SH: Can you talk us through the audition / interview process for The Chase: Australia?

AZ: From memory it was all pretty straightforward. I’d seen the ‘quiz show’ ads on air during the UK Chase screenings, and could tell – given it was an ITV studios production and by the style of the commercial – that it would likely be for The Chase: Australia, and so I went to the website to fill out the form. A short time later they were in touch on the phone for a quick chat and a short quiz – I felt confident I’d done OK, but they never tell you how you go in the audition quizzes! After that, we were asked to come in and meet in a group for a bigger audition, some talking to camera prep and a quiz game. At that point it was simply a waiting game to see if we’d get the call up…

SH: How long was it between the audition day and getting THE CALL that you’d been selected to go on the show?

AZ: I can’t quite remember, but it was perhaps a week or so. They said I’d be called up with dates soon after. A little later I was informed that I’d been chosen to take part in a special ‘Cup Day’ episode, which would be a two player version and would run for 30 minutes instead of the usual 60. This struck me as a GREAT idea, as I felt the odds would be more in my favour, but I can’t really say exactly why… We filmed my episode in the middle of September, and it aired November 2.

SH: What did you do by way of preparation for going on the show?

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A surprising challenge from Hamish & Andy…

Hamish and Andy

 

So yesterday afternoon, I was lucky enough to pop up on Hamish & Andy’s afternoon radio show, to talk about game shows, how to win them, and of course my eBook How To Win Game Shows. But if you know Hamish & Andy, you’d know that they don’t tend to do run-of-the-mill, ordinary interviews. They’re always after ways of making things a little more quirky, a little more competitive, a little more fun…

 

EXCLUSIVE interview with star of ‘The Chase: Australia’ – Matt Parkinson! Part VII – The Conclusion

Can you spot which one might have the nickname 'Goliath'?

Matt ‘Goliath’ Parkinson – fourth from the left, second from the right.                                              The tall one.                                                                                                                                                 You get the idea.

 

 

This week, as my interview with Matt ‘Goliath’ Parkinson winds up, we discuss resisting temptation, and the favours that a formidable reputation can do you.

But first, this recollection from his time as a Sale of the Century champion….

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MP: There is one other thing I wanted to say. A really significant moment for me when I was playing Sale of the Century, was when one of my rivals at one stage said something about her mortgage.

SH: To you?

MP: To me. It was obviously meant to make me feel bad for her and let her win. And you shouldn’t do that; you should not at any stage feel sorry for your opponent. Because people want to see an honest competition, they want to see it played hard and fair and so you should not at any stage think about pulling up or going easy. Don’t be bothered by compassion – it’s a contest.

SH: I had a similar moment in mine where I was just trouncing this bloke on the end and he got nothing right and he was embarrassed; his male pride was suffering and we came to a Fame Game and he said “Come on mate, you can at least let us get one of these right!” It was just that his pride that was suffering, and I just smiled, but I thought “Not on your LIFE! What are you, nuts? Are you crazy? Of course not!”

MP: Exactly, exactly. And it’s part of what people want to see when they watch a show like that. They want to go “so he didn’t even let them get one bloody question, the whole game!” If that’s going to happen – if you can do that to people – then go ahead and do that, because that’s one of the things people want to see.

SH: That’s entertaining.

MP: One of the things I discovered about Sale – which I thought was really nice, and I didn’t know this – but people would come up to me and say either I owed them a drink, or they would buy me a drink. Because it was quite common with Sale for people to sit in pubs at that time of night and have a little five dollar or ten dollar bet on who was going to win the night.

SH: Oh, really?

MP: Yeah, so I had people come up to me and they would either say “you cost me five bucks because you won it; you beat the guy I was betting on”, or “I am going to buy you a drink, because you won me ten bucks!”

The other thing is to remember that for the audience, some people just want to see a good contest. They don’t care whether they know the answers or not; they just want to see how many you can get right.

SH: Did you buy much stuff in the Gift Shop on your run?

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EXCLUSIVE interview with star of ‘The Chase: Australia’ – Matt Parkinson! Part VI

The Chase Australia 2

Chaser ‘Goliath’ (AKA Matt Parkinson) from ‘The Chase: Australia’

In this, the penultimate instalment of my chat with ‘Chaser’ Matt Parkinson, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask him straight out….

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SH: Do you have any tips for anyone considering going on The Chaser as a contestant?

MP: I’ll tell you what; I’ve got some tips for anybody who is considering going on any television show. One thing is to bear in mind that they will get you to sign a contract on the day you go in to play. Now you need to read that contract very carefully because – I don’t know if this is the case with the show I’m on now, but I do know for shows I’ve worked on previously – if your show doesn’t go to air, you won’t get your prize money. That’s a pretty standard thing. I know there have been cases in the past where other people took it to court when they didn’t get their money and the show didn’t go to air.

You need to focus not just on getting as many of your questions right as you can, but you need to make sure that there is something about your show that makes them want to put it to air. So in other words, it comes down to three words; Don’t Be Boring.

If you can only answer questions effectively in a kind of deadpan, stone-faced, icy state, your show is probably going to get pushed back in the schedule… and they might not want to put it on at all. You might be waiting for your money a long time. Whereas if you are a bit lively and there’s a bit of personality about you while you are answering the questions, feeling registers on your face and you are prepared to play a little bit with the host, then it is more likely that your show will go to air and it will go to air soon. So that was my main tip. Remember that you are making TV. You are not just answering the next question, you are making TV. Having said that, beyond that, your strategy shouldn’t be any more complex than ‘just get the next the question right’.

I know there’s a lot of other people try and play – particularly with The Chase, there is room for a bit of strategy, people would say – but I think your strategy on any show like that just comes down to: “you got that one wrong, forget about it”. If you got one wrong, and it’s the sort of show where you get to play more than one show… when you go home, later, don’t worry; you’ll remember all the ones you got wrong. You can sit down and go over them and revise that area. So don’t carry it with you as you go on to the next question. Just forget about it, focus on the next question and get that right.

SH: I remember you giving me similar advice – because I asked your advice when I was about to go on Temptation in 2005. And I remember that particular piece of advice that you gave me and that became a real mantra of mine when I went on there, which was always if I got it wrong, in the back of my mind, I said to myself

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EXCLUSIVE interview with star of ‘The Chase: Australia’ – Matt Parkinson! Part V

The Chase Australia - 'Goliath'

Now that’s a serious face.

As I continue my chat with Matt Parkinson (who’s currently appearing as ‘Goliath’ on The Chase: Australia) this week, we sidestep for a moment, to talk about his time behind the camera….

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SH: You mentioned you’d been setting quizzes on another show; this was another by-product of your Quiz Show Champion credentials wasn’t it? Writing and setting questions for Million Dollar Minute; how long did you do that for?

MP: In human years, twenty months. In TV time, 400 shows. I started as a question writer and took over as Question Producer when the original QP had to move on. I should emphasise that I didn’t write all the questions, a team of writers and assistants came up with most of them and I made decisions about content and style. But I still wrote a few, that’s the fun part.

SH: What’s the main guiding principle, or rule of thumb, for programming questions for a quiz show?

MP: For a mainstream network show, the content needs to be accessible. The audience needs to feel that, even if they don’t know the answer, somebody they know – their mate who’s mad about sport, their kids who know about music and pop culture, the guy at work who reads all the papers – somebody like that would know it. Brevity is also critical – the question can’t be so long-winded that players and viewers can’t take it in easily.

SH: Did you have any rules about how you programmed the question mix? Was it, for example, 10% sport, 10% science, 30% arts and entertainment…?

MP: After a while, it became obvious that we could have done a whole show just about movies. Science, history, books, maths, even sport, all pale in comparison to how much knowledge most people have about movies. I think this is from two things. One, when people love a movie, they can go online and find out heaps about it quite easily because of imdb and all the other sites written by movie lovers. Two, movie culture is huge, publicity for big movies dominates – I know lots of things about films I’ve never seen just because of the publicity. The short answer is that we made a big effort to balance classic general knowledge with movie-based questions.

SH: Was there anything you learned as a question programmer, that made you think “I wish I’d known that when I was a contestant”? If so, what was it?

MP: There are many insights I’ve gained from my time on Million Dollar Minute. But now I’m competing against all comers as ‘Goliath’ on The Chase. So I’ll be keeping those insights to myself.

SH: Fair enough. Is your studying and training for The Chase more like work or more like fun?

MP: It’s work now. It’s work now because I’m expected to do it and there is something at  stake because I’m part of the team on the show, and the idea is that we’re supposed to be unbeatable. So I wouldn’t be doing my  job properly if I wasn’t training. Before this, up until now it was fun. With Sale I didn’t really train very much because I was a bit daunted by the idea of “Where do I start? How far back do I go?” If I pick ‘Formula One champions’, how far back do I go? If I try and learn them all by heart, am I going to go right back to the establishment? So back then it was just the way I lived my life; I read the papers and I watched factual TV and watched the news and paid attention to it all and just sort of sponged things in the way people like us – you, I and the people who subscribe to your blog – the way we do. We just sponge things in. So this is different now; it’s work, so it’s odd trying to consciously do something that always had come naturally to you – to try and consciously up the level at which you absorb something you’ve always just naturally absorbed.

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Next week, Matt gives his TOP 4 TIPS for anyone considering going any game show, anywhere. They’re all really great, but there’s one really clever, practical tip that no-one I’ve interviewed for this blog has ever given before. So be sure to check back next Tuesday to find out what it is…

 

EXCLUSIVE interview with star of ‘The Chase: Australia’ – Matt Parkinson! Part IV

As my interview with Matt continues this week, we’re up to the bit where he’s won the coveted role as one of the four Chasers on The Chase: Australia. Due to Matt’s height (6’7″), his character has been christened Goliath, and so when THIS particular contestant faced off against him, it was a network promo maker’s dream come true….

Now read on…

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SH: As a Chaser, I’m thinking you’d need to be at the top of your game, because obviously it’s make-or-break, in terms of the quizzing and general knowledge, your knowledge and also your reflexes and speed and recall. Is there a way to train for that? And do you regularly train for that?

MP: I wasn’t aware that there is a worldwide quiz brethren; an elite coterie. And they train each other. One of the most effective ways that they train is they use various sites where you can compose quizzes and basically send your friend “I’ve sent this quiz for you”. So that’s what a lot of them do, is they set quizzes for each other. That’s very useful, because to confront the whole universe of human knowledge and go “okay, where do I start studying?” And you take one tiny element, like Rugby Union. Now, you can spend a week studying nothing but Rugby Union, and still not cover a question like “where was this player born?”

So the quiz is useful because when you get a question wrong, it points you to where you should be looking. You go “alright, that’s a subject or a style of question that I haven’t thought of so I should think of studying for those sorts of questions”. It’s also just one more thing that you go “if that comes up, I will know it”. 

SH: Who is this coterie?

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