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?
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…
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….
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?
In this, the penultimate instalment of my chat with ‘Chaser’ Matt Parkinson, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask him straight out….
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
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….
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.
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…
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…
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?
My interview with Matt Parkinson continues this week, as we cover his time on The Einstein Factor and how he later came to be part of The Chase: Australia. Both of which may never have happened, had he not won “the lot” on Sale of the Century in 1992…
SH: One indirect result of the Win, too, is you becoming a member of The Brains Trust on The Einstein Factor.
SH: In the interests of full disclosure, so was I. Can you tell us a bit about that whole experience?
MP: I felt a bit weird about that, because it is the ABC. You were talking before about had I done any training or what was my preparation or whatever; I still am a bit of a factual television documentary type of person. David Attenborough’s Life On Earth and David Bellamy and all that sort of stuff fascinate me. I always thought of the ABC as “oh, you have to really know what you are talking about to be on the ABC”. And to be told “we want you on The Brains Trust for an ABC program”, I was like “I don’t think I’m up to that”, because the sort of knowledge that I had used on Sale of the Century is very superficial. There is a lot of things that I know two or three things about, but I don’t really know why that happened or I couldn’t really tell you when that happened or whether that thing happened first or the other thing happened after. So… bitsy knowledge.
I felt being in the company of people like the esteemed Barry Jones or Dr Gael Jennings I was going to be shown up as a bit like “Oh, that guy doesn’t really know anything”. But on the other hand, it was a gig and it’s not my habit to say no to gigs. In fact, my motto is always say yes to a gig. That was weird. I felt like I was not going to be able to do this. It felt like I’d been asked to take part in a dancing contest or a music contest. I was like “oh no I am going to be found out… because I just can’t !”
SH: I remember having a similar feeling too, because when you’re next to intellectual giants like Barry Jones and being on a panel with him and he is answering this and giving all the background information and you start to feel a bit self-conscious… but then they had a question about Beyoncé! And he didn’t know much about Beyoncé. So the pop culture and the more contemporary, perhaps more general knowledge things are where you can come into your own.
MP: Absolutely. Also after my first show I realised just being a smartarse has as much value on this show as having Dr Jones’ profound level of knowledge; just by having a smartarse line that you can throw away. That’s not fair to someone like Barry, but this is television! So it counts as the same as years of accumulated knowledge.
SH: (LAUGHING) Yes, that’s right. God Bless television! Perhaps the latest indirect result of your Big Win is that you’ve recently been cast in The Chase, the Australian version. Can you talk us through how you came to secure the role of one of the Chasers in The Chase?
My exclusive interview with Matt Parkinson (the Chaser known as ‘Goliath’ in The Chase: Australia ) continues this week.
Of course, Matt wasn’t always a Chaser; for many years beforehand, he was a successful and beloved comedian, actor, writer and radio presenter. And the first really public airing of his quiz credentials was when he played – and won – Sale of the Century, back in 1992. Matt and I discussed his triumph there in detail in last week’s post. Now, the story continues…
SH: I remember watching your shows at the time, and I have looked for them on YouTube but they are not around anywhere that I was able to find… how was your run? Did you win comfortably each night? Were there any close moments?
MP: I think I had one. I know that I was winning comfortably early, because back in the format that I had there was the board at the end of the game, like a sandwich board with prizes on it and you picked a number off the board and whatever you had you could take home that night. So on my second night, I picked the car. So I could have gone home second night with like $7000 from the Cash Card, and a Volkswagen, funnily enough. Which was different from the showcase car, which was a Nissan at the time. But my practical concern was “if I do that I am going to go home now, I would be sitting in my room and I would be bored again. Whereas if I stay I might…” So I know that the first two shows must have been pretty cruisy because I was in that frame of mind of “Yeah, I could go further! This is easy!” But I do remember late on the first day having a bit of a narrow squeak and going “ooh, that’s pretty close”. So I’m gonna say probably my third show was a bit closer and then my fourth show must have been another convincing win because I didn’t equivocate about whether or not I was going to come back or not.
SH: Beforehand did you have an over-reaching strategy of “if things get to a certain point I will bail out” or “I’m just going to go for broke”?
MP: No, my strategy the whole time was that I would just keep going until someone beats me. I know the sort of person I am. Otherwise years later I would be watching Sale, going “I could have beaten you, I should have just stayed on”. I just didn’t want to have that, so I thought I’ll go until someone beats me and then I will know that I went as far as I could possibly go.
SH: In what ways did the win change your life immediately?
MP: Immediately? People had a different opinion of me. Up till then, people just assumed because I was a comedian I wouldn’t know very much, and my opinion about things wouldn’t matter. So it was easier to get gigs for a start, after it had been on air. And even people who knew me, (even though you are not supposed to tell people about the win), once they knew that I had won – and that was a fairly select group – they all started treating me like…. People start asking you questions that you possibly couldn’t know the answer to. Trivia questions, fact questions –
SH: “You know everything – what’s this?!”
MP: Yeah, exactly. Things you really want to go “how the hell would you think I know the answer to this? Oh yeah, that’s right – because you think I know everything”. So it changed my life in that respect. Also people knew I had money. So things like… I don’t think I would have been asked to be on the (Melbourne International) Comedy Festival board, except for the fact that all of a sudden you are smart and you have money.
SH: Why does having money make a difference?
One month ago, The Chase: Australia debuted on Australian television on the Seven Network. For those who don’t know, this successful quiz show format from itvStudios pits a team of quiz contestants against one of four expert quizzers, known as “Chaser”s. Each Chaser has a clearly defined character, and a nickname to match: there’s ‘The Governess’, ‘The Supernerd’, ‘The Shark’… and ‘Goliath.’ And it’s Goliath (the alter-ego of 6’6” Matt Parkinson) who I’m speaking with exclusively for www.howtowingameshows.com today. Matt’s a familiar face to Australian audiences; he’s a comedian, MC, actor and writer with 30 years of professional experience in theatre, stand-up, television, feature film and radio. He’s remembered as a regular member of ‘The Brains Trust’, on ABC-TV’s The Einstein Factor, as a breakfast radio host (The Cage, Triple M FM), and as half of the incredibly successful comedy duo Empty Pockets. BUT, in addition to all this, Matt’s also a Quiz Show Grand Champion, having taken home ‘The Lot’ on Sale of the Century in 1992. So, there was quite a lot I wanted to chat to him about. And chat we did, in this far-ranging interview that begins…. right….. now!
SH: Matthew J Parkinson, thank you for speaking with me today –
MP: a pleasure.
SH: – for Howtowingameshows.com
MP: It’s an honour! I feel I’m being inducted into some sort of elite club.
SH: Well, you have earned your place there, by virtue of winning Sale of the Century in 1992. And how much did you win?
MP: Not as much as you. I won $114,000 in cash and then their valuation of the prizes took everything to – I’ve got the number in my head – $239,000. Because I remember thinking “it’s almost a quarter of a million”. So I guess it’s about the same again in the value of the prizes, but I do remember distinctly $114,000 cash, because that is a number that stays with you.
SH: Yes. Seven nights?
MP: Seven nights is what you had to do back then. They would do five every Wednesday, and I did three on the first day, and four on the next week. So you have that seven-day thing in between them.
SH: How did you keep sane during that seven day gap, when you were in limbo?*
MP: I kept sane by just doing what I had always done to provide that general knowledge. So taking time to read the newspaper every day and watching the news and watching more documentary television than non-documentary television I suppose, reading, paging through my Book of Lists, which is my lucky charm that I was given in my teens. Do you know that famous book?
SH: I think I do. They were best sellers. There’s a number of them. We had them in our school library and they were fascinating.
MP: Compiled by the family of the author Irving Wallace and even though a lot of the information is not factual, some of it comes in very handy because, as the name implies, a lot of it is just lists; “The 15 Worst Experiments That Ever Failed” or “Ten Spectacular Deaths”. The little paragraph that followed each entry in the list would give you a bit of information in context and give you a rough idea so that you can make educated guesses about related things.
SH: Were you always interested in trivia and quizzing? Did you go through any training before going on Sale of the Century? Did you audition more than once?