This 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?
RC: You kind of just go into learning mode, you know? Like you think everything happening around you could be a question. If British Airways buys 25% of Qantas, you store that away. You just become hyper-aware, you become like an antenna for everything that’s going on around you. [Then when I found out they wanted me] on Sale of the Century, I remember my whole gut, my whole entrails, just sank through my pelvic floor. I thought “Feck! the time has come”. Did you have that feeling?
SH: (LAUGHING) I was excited, really. I just thought “Oh good, it’s all falling into place, let’s go!”
RC: I didn’t think that at all!
SH: You thought now you’ve gotta go through with it…
RC: I wanted to, because, like you, I knew I was good. I knew I would have a good chance of winning something. If not the whole lot, I would have a good chance of doing well but maybe that makes you more nervous because you think you only get one shot at it. If you get beaten in one game, you are gone. It’s national television and you don’t want to end up looking like a cretin on national television. If I was to go back there today, I would still be paranoid of being asked a question that everyone else would know except me. Then you’d come off and they’d say “What? You didn’t know that Monica Seles was the tennis player who got stabbed on the court in 1993?” That would be terrible, that’s my greatest fear, I think.
SH: Because you have a brain freeze at the time.
RC: Yeah. It’s funny isn’t it? It’s like in golf, when they say if one guy gets a birdie in one round and the other guy gets a bogey. It’s a ‘two shot turnaround’. It’s like that on the quiz shows. If you buzz in and say the wrong answer, you lose 5 points; it can just turn very, very quickly. But that’s what makes it exciting, too.
SH: You would have provided good television for them back in 1993. How many nights did you go? Was it 7?
RC: It was 8. I had to go on 8 nights to win everything.
SH: That was over two record days, perhaps?
RC: No, it was three for me, because the first week I was down there, they played two games with the old carry-over champion, and in the second of those games he was beaten by a really good new player and then they pointed to me like I was on next. So I went on and in just a maelstrom of adrenalin, I happened to beat that guy and it was a total blur. Then I played the next two games and fortunately the competition in the next two games was not too rough. I got through those games easily. So I played 3 games in my first week down in Melbourne. Flew back to Sydney, had to wait another week, to fly down again. They only have the audition scores to go on, but because of my defeating those other people very easily, I think they twigged that I was a very good player. So when I came down for my second week I suddenly found myself playing a better class of person. My fourth game was a difficult one; I really had to battle for it. The second week down there, I won 4 games. Normally they recorded 5 in a day. Is that what they did with Temptation?
RC: Normally they recorded 5 in a day but on my second week and they only recorded 4. There was some technical problem. They only did 4. So I had to go back home and come back for one frigging game.
RC: That’s was the most difficult week of my life, really.
SH: So that was one week in between your penultimate game and your ultimate game. What did you do during that week?
Russell’s tips for fighting the Demons of Doubt in those interim days will kick off next week’s instalment. But until then, why not have a look at Russell’s website www.russellcheek.com.au, to find out what he’s been up to lately?
Until next week!