Hello and welcome to the antepenultimate instalment of my epic interview with David Poltorak. When we left off last week, it was mid-2020, and one of the producers of Beat The Chasers was trying to tempt David into signing up for the show…
DP: I wasn’t sure; I don’t think I said yes straight away. But it wouldn’t have taken me long to say yes. And so, she then sent me links (that everybody would have been given access to) of the UK version of the show. And I just thought, “F*** – this is hard!” But there was one YouTube of one winner on the UK show, who won everything. But she actually got a couple wrong. And I thought, “Well, I knew the ones she got wrong”. I didn’t know all the ones she got right, but on balance, I would have done the same as her. So that instilled me with a certain confidence that it was possible… So I said yes. My fingers were crossed that I would do well, because if I didn’t, it was going to be a really bad look.
SH: Yeah, your reputation!
DP: For what that’s worth. But I convinced myself that if I lost, it wouldn’t necessarily be catastrophic, because it was such a hard format. I thought because of my background, I’m going to have to go up against all four Chasers. I don’t have an option really of going below that. But interestingly, when I got to the studio that day of recording, one of the producers said to all of us, “Look, I know most of you are smart, you’ve been on other shows, you’ve done well, you’re here to win money. But everybody has thought like that, and nobody has won the big money. You might want to temper your ambitions and at least go home with something. We’ve had some people who walked away with low-level prizes, but nobody has taken the most, because the really good ones amongst you have gone for the most … and they’ve all bombed out.”
And so all that day, I had producers and PA’s asking me “What do you think you’ll do? What do you think you’ll do?” And after that little producer talk, I remember thinking “Maybe I shouldn’t be so ambitious. Maybe I should just go for a lower amount because I’d like to leave with something…” And I was on the last record day, and I was one of the last to be done. I guess they’d held me strategically in reserve so they could play with me, in terms of how much they offered me.
DP: So, when the time came for me to go onto the set, they’re probably thinking, “We don’t have a big winner yet. We want one big winner. This is our only chance; we’d better offer him a lot of money. Because he said he’s only gonna go for three Chasers. And we want him to go for four.” And when they flashed up $150,000 on the screen, I couldn’t believe it. The guy before me, his top offer was just $70,000. And I thought, based on the English show, where they offer up to 100,000 (admittedly, pounds), that they wouldn’t offer anything more than $100,000 on the Australian show. And so, when I saw $150,000… I thought “Ah, they want me to win!”
SH: Yeah, yeah. Good!
DP: I mean, they weren’t handing it to me, but they were saying, “We want you to get this.”
SH: Yeah, just quietly…
DP: So, suddenly any cautious thinking went out the window, and I thought, “I have no option. I have to go for four.”
SH: That’s gutsy! How did you train for going on Beat the Chasers?
DP: I’ve got a couple of versions of Trivial Pursuit, so I just read as many boxes of Trivial Pursuit questions as I could, I’d get my wife to ask me 20 questions over dinner. And I learned a lot of popular culture, because I thought that, as I get older, it’s increasingly my weakest area. Ironically, there was a girl on the show just before me, this cute young lawyer, Mara, and she got a question where I knew the answer was Bruno Mars. And she didn’t know it. That was annoying, because I would have liked that question, obviously.
SH: Yes, of course.
DP: I think there might have been one other question I knew the answer to because of my study. But really, I think the study was to give me the confidence and the self-assurance that I’d done as much as I could do in preparation.
SH: Yeah, which is big – confidence is an enormous part of the equation.
DP: Yeah, it really is. And look, the only reason I won was because on the night I pulled it out of somewhere that Nicole Kidman played Chase Meridian in Batman Forever… a movie I never saw!
SH: You’re very good!
DP: But I must have seen it on IMDb; I must have seen a list of the credits. And it just popped into my head. You know, it was just a miracle.
SH: And just like that, you were $150,000 richer! How was the aftermath of that win, compared to the aftermath of your original Sale of the Century win?
DP: Well, I had an expectation that it wouldn’t be as big, because it was only on for one or two nights, but Channel 7 promoted it as a major prime-time event.
SH: It’s very emotive stuff.
DP: And the morning after I’d done the show, I walked out of my place and past a couple, and the guy turned around and said, “Hey, that’s the guy who was on Beat the Chasers!” I thought, “Holy f***! The first person I’ve seen!” But it turned out that he was the only member of the public who’s said that they saw me on the show.
DP: I’ve had no recognition from anyone else, apart from people I know.
SH: Yeah. A very different world from 1986.
DP: It is a different world because so many people I know who saw this show, saw it either on catch up or on YouTube. They didn’t watch it when it went to air.
SH: No, not like in 1986, when a million people regularly gathered around to watch TV at seven o’clock each weeknight!
DP: Yeah. The whole context in which people watch shows has lost that intensity. There are advantages in that you don’t have to be at home at the time it’s broadcast; there’s always some way for you to see it.
SH: I’m not sure audiences enjoy watching clever people display their cleverness anymore.
DP: That’s an interesting point. In terms of the way the culture is moving, that idea of admiring people for displaying their talent at knowledge almost seems old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy now. It’s something that’s gradually declined ever since the days of Pick-A-Box. Pick-A-Box clearly celebrated dry, dull people who just happen to know a lot, and if you got someone like Barry Jones, who had a bit of a personality to go along with it, well, that just made it better.
SH: You’re right. There was a time – and I think its heyday was during Sale of the Century – when people would go “Wow, what a brainiac! I admire brainiacs!” And in that movie Quiz Show, which is set back in the ’50s, they admire intellectuals too. It was a different time.
DP: It’s just not mainstream anymore. There is Mastermind, there was The Einstein Factor as well; but their audiences are not the mainstream audience. And let’s face it, free-to-air broadcast TV is hardly even a mainstream audience these days.
SH: Yeah, I think those days are gone. As you say, commercial free-to-air TV is struggling, so they have to appeal to as many people as possible. I guess it’s the equivalent of clickbait, really.
DP: And now they’re always just short-run shows. The latest (Australian) version of The Weakest Link is just 14 episodes, and they’ve programmed it at nine o’clock. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence from the network.
Next week, in our penultimate instalment, David and I discuss
More TOP contestant tips,
The rigours of becoming a professional TV spokesmodel and of course
The roles of Southern Comfort and valium in pre-performance preparation…
See you next Tuesday!