My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 4

When you left us last week, David had auditioned for Sale of the Century, he’d done well, and he was now back home, waiting by the phone…


DP: So, I’m thinking “I don’t really need to study that hard for this show”. I was always into general knowledge and learning capitals of countries and longest rivers and kings and queens and presidents and U.S. capital, state capitals, and so on. So, I figured it’s probably not going to be too hard to study for Sale. But once I’d done the audition, I then religiously watched the show every night. I was living by myself in a King’s Cross flat. I had a sheet of paper and a pad that I would divide into four columns, with the three contestants on screen and me at home. I’ve got a right and wrong column in each of those columns. So, I would then compete against them to see who could hit our buzzers first. (Mine was just hitting the floor). If I buzzed in first, then I got to answer the question.

SH: David… this is music to my ears, because that’s exactly what I did for Temptation! I had the same idea (without knowing this about you)… and you’re right – what a wonderful training tool! The only difference I had was that I recorded the shows, and used my remote as the buzzer. So, I’d hit PAUSE, and if the show paused before I heard anyone else’s buzzer, I knew that I was faster; that was my entree to answer the question.

DP: Wow. I could show you my scoresheet; I’ve still got it. 

SH: Oh yeah! Please!

DP: I don’t know if you can see that…

SH: Wow, look at that!

DP: It’s three pages of that.

SH: So, how many games?

DP: 70. 70 games, so about 14 weeks. That’s how long it took me before I got on the show. In all these games I played at home I never lost.

SH: That’s good.

DP: I rigorously tried not to favour myself. But I thought “I’m not as pressured as them because I’m at home, I’m not in the studio, I’m not actually playing for it”. So, I discounted that fact somewhat that I was winning every time. But the reality was that I actually got bigger scores when I was on the show itself… because there were only three contestants, not four. So, there were fewer points to go around, so I actually did better on the real show. Doing that at home and not ever losing, gave me enormous confidence. So, all I really had to worry about was “when were they going to call”? And as it turned out, I only had to wait a bit over three months

When the contestant co-ordinator, Michelle Seers, rang, I asked “Is the jackpot still there?” And she said, “Yes.” Back in those days, the format was slightly different. If you won, you didn’t just automatically go through to the next prize level; you had to win a certain amount of money to advance to the next level.

SH: Oh right. So, some people might have won, but not progress to the next level, and they’d have to come back and win again the next night in order to get there?

DP: Exactly. And the guy I beat on my first night was on his eighth night and he was still only going for all the prizes. He wasn’t going for the jackpot yet.

SH: Right.

DP: I beat him and felt pretty bad about it… a little bit. He seemed like a nice guy and I felt a bit sorry for him. But certainly that’s what I set out to do. On my second night, I came so close to losing. I remember (host) Tony (Barber) saying, “Beware the Second Night Syndrome.” He often said that. It’s so real. I think it’s like a performance where you do a dress rehearsal or an Opening Night and you’re fabulous, and the next night you try to repeat it and you’re doing it from memory and not feeling, or something. You’re out of the zone.

SH: Right; you breathe a sigh of relief because you got through the first one and you take your foot off the accelerator a little bit. It’s a very real danger, but it doesn’t necessarily help to have the host saying that to you all the time.

DP: Well, it was good as a warning, I suppose. I’d seen him say it before, and I’d seen lots of people win really well on their first night and then crash.


I can definitely vouch for that – Second Night Syndrome is a widely accepted phenomenon in the world of theatre. Drop by again next week, when we’ll learn how David handled his third, fourth and subsequent nights on the show…

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 3

… which, (to continue with that ultimately uplifting yet increasingly laboured metaphor), sees the Green Shoots of David’s early career success yield the Bitter Fruit of Showbiz Disappointment. Fruit which then proceeds to split open and rot away, revealing the very Seeds that would later blossom into Sweet Game Show Success.

(Just go on without me, I’ll be fine….)


DP: Then a few months later (producer) David (Elfick) unilaterally decided that we weren’t experienced enough to direct it and he got someone else to direct it who everybody thought was just the wrong choice, a guy who shall remain nameless, but you can look it up on IMDB, a guy without a sense of humour, which is really useful when you’re making a comedy. The thing was that David, the producer, was full of enthusiasm and then he’d be attacked by nerves and indecision. So he got us to make some test scenes from the film to see whether we could direct it. We booked space at Paddington Town Hall, which has a little community television studio. We shot a couple of scenes there but there were huge sound issues at the studio, so we couldn’t do any recording all morning. We could only work in the afternoon. So, everything was rushed and it was just a really unpleasant situation. We had no sets; we just had two timber door frames to suggest walls, and at the end of it David decided that it looked like television.

SH: Sounds like everything was stacked against you there.

DP: So, he ended up getting a guy who just happened to be a good friend of one of his underlings. Paul and I had worked on this script for two years or so. This director came in weeks before production started, and he was clearly not sympathetic with the script at all. He struck us as a very paranoid individual and we were not allowed on the set.

SH: You were banned?

DP: We were allowed to visit the set one day when they were doing some shooting in a studio, but we were specifically told not to speak to the director. We were then allowed to visit the set on the last day of filming when the house in the picture collapses. So, it was like a really big production number. There were a lot of people not involved with the film there watching it, because it was a big event, and it happened in a real location. But again, we weren’t allowed to speak to the director. When we did see a final cut in a theatre somewhere, the director walked up to me and he said, “You hate it, don’t you?” I was just speechless. I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I think that was the last time I spoke to him. But it was out of that experience that I just thought, “Wow we’ve put in so much time on this and it’s been such an unsatisfying experience.” I just thought, “Gee, there’s got to be a better way to make money.” So really, going on Sale of the Century came directly out of that experience.

SH: So that was when the seed was planted. How did you approach it, after making that decision and locking it in?

DP: Well, I’d unsuccessfully been doing a bit of stand up comedy around this time, then I got involved with Theatresports. Now it happened that over the years, various people I’d watched Sale of the Century with had suggested I should go on the show, but I dismissed any such thoughts, as I was going to be a successful screenwriter and was intending to make my fortune that way instead. One of those who’d made the suggestion was my Polish stepmother, a mail-order bride as it turns out; “David, you should go on this show! You do very well. Maybe you can win me some saucepans! I need new saucepans.” And I’m there thinking, “Oh what would you know?” It wasn’t a good relationship. So, I took anything she said with a grain of salt, including that. But now, with the failure of Emoh Ruo, it dawned on me that… they’ve given away a lot of money on this show! It really was a case of just thinking, “my options are narrowing and I am now 31…”

And so, I just thought, “I’ll do this!” I rang them up to do an audition, and did an audition and did very well at the audition. We were told – as I’m sure you were – “You’ve passed the audition, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get on the show. If you haven’t heard from us in two years, please feel free to do another audition.” That was as much as they told us. The next day I bought a Macquarie Atlas (which I still have) and a onevolume encyclopedia. I thought “I’ve really got to brush up on all this stuff that I’ve forgotten”. I was also really big on quiz shows. I loved Pick-A-Box, I loved Coles $6000 Question. I just loved any quiz show on TV. 

David watching the final episode of ‘Pick-a-Box’… way back in 1971! (Photo: supplied)


And so the stage is set! Join us again next week, when David begins training in earnest for his time on ‘Australia’s Richest Quiz, Saaaaaaaaale of the Century!’

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 2

… in which the green shoots of David’s early screenwriting career take root and begin to blossom…

* This metaphor has been brought to you by ‘Gardening Australia’, returning soon to Fridays on ABC TV.


DP: So, leading up to that first question (and this is why we might take more than an hour!)…

Sweet and Sour was a further development; that was early 80s. By that stage, Paul and I had written a short film that got made that was quite successful; it actually made money. We made money from a short film!

SH: That’s fantastic.

DP: And after that, I can’t think who the connection was, but we were called in to work on this new ABC rock-and-roll soapie. It started off a lot more adventurous and radical than what it became. It got so watered down because of concerns about drugs and language and the type of music… It worked and the audience loved it, so they did the right thing. But for those of us who were in the mix, it all seemed to be getting diluted.

SH: My memory of it is that it was on at six o’clock at night. So, no one on it did drugs or smoked or drank… Rock-and-roll, dude! Shortly after that, in 1985, you and Paul wrote a movie! And it got made! And then it got released! That’s a very rare and impressive thing. How did that come about?

DP: In ‘81 or ‘82 and the New South Wales Film Corporation announced a screenwriting competition for budding screenwriters. But one of the conditions was that you had to have the signature of a credited feature producer on your entry form. As it happened, an Australian film that we really admired at that point was Newsfront, so we sought out its producer, David Elfick. Do you know of him?

SH: I know that name.

DP: He was a guy who grew up in the 60s – he was a keen surfer, he’d started a couple of surf magazines. I think he’d made Morning of the Earth which was a very successful feature-length surf documentary. So, Newsfront was his first fiction feature, and we thought it was a terrific film. So David read our screenplay and said, “Look it’s obviously written by neophytes”, (actually, that word’s too big for him). “Newcomers; it’s written by first-timers, but you got potential so I’ll look at anything else you write. You can bring it to me. I’ll be happy to read it.” We then wrote this screenplay a few years later called Emoh Ruo, which is “Our Home” spelled backwards. I think it’s always a terrible thing when you tell someone the title of your film and you explain that it’s a couple of words backwards.

SH: I noticed that the tagline for the movie is “Try saying it backwards”. The poster tells you what it means.

DP: Yeah. I’m looking at the poster here and it also says, “The funniest Aussie movie ever.”

SH: Wow, that’s pretty good! That’s high praise (according to the movie’s own poster). That doesn’t come along every day.

DP: I know! And posters are pretty discerning…

SH: They really are. The poster advertising the product always is very discerning. Whose idea was the title?

DP: I can’t remember. I went off it – I was concerned it sounded vaguely Polynesian. I didn’t think it conveyed anything to a potential moviegoer. But it came from the idea that in the 1940s and 50s it was an Aussie custom for a lot of homes to have plaques by the front door with a fancy name, as an ironic comment on the fact that this was just a suburban home. Like “Dunroamin’” or “Gloria Soames”… and “Emoh Ruo” was a popular one. Often, they were printed on glass in nice frames; essentially they meant “Proud homeowner”. I actually wanted to call the movie Homesick, because it was about a couple who were desperate to be homeowners. But the decision from the producer was that you couldn’t have a movie title with the word “sick” in it.

SH: I noticed it was re-titled for some foreign markets as House Broken.

The poster from one o’ them there foreign markets. I think Joy Smithers and Martin Sacks may have reasonable grounds to sue that caricaturist….

DP: I don’t know if it worked in those small African countries.

SH: Their posters were great, though!

DP: Certainly… but ultimately the movie was a very big flop. It may well have been “the funniest Aussie movie ever” but no one cared. I believe the poster went along and enjoyed it immensely.

SH: Yes, the poster must have booked out a whole cinema! Was it fun to make? Was the production of its happy memories for you or was it too stressful?

DP: No, it was a completely depressing experience.

SH: Oh really? How so?

DP: Well, earlier, the short film I told you about (Making Weekend of Summer Last) was picked up by (Australian cinema chain) Greater Union and they ran it before a couple of very successful features. And we got regular cheques from Greater Union, because we were on a cut of the box office!

SH: Fantastic!

DP: Yeah, it wasn’t much, but it was like “who makes money from a short film?” So, that was terrific. And when Emoh Ruo came around, the idea was that Paul and I would not only write the film, but we’d also direct it, because we’d had experience directing a successful short film. There was a bit of nervousness from all concerned about that. So there was a board meeting in the Greater Union head office, where Paul and I had to sell ourselves as directors. And it’s one of those kinds of cliched horrible scenes where you’re sitting at a very long table with serious-looking men in dark suits who aren’t going to put up with any bullshit. At the end of the meeting they just said, “Look you’ve convinced us. We’re going to put money in the picture and we’re happy for you to direct.” And we just thought “This is terrific!”

SH: Yes!


Things are on the up-and-up! David’s kicking goals left, right and centre! Everything’s coming up roses! Nothing can possibly go wrong!

Or can it?

To find out, tune in next Tuesday afternoon, right here at…

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 1

Thanks tiny-fonted Wikipedia, I’ll take it from here.

I think it’s fair to say that David Poltorak is a legend of Australian TV game shows. After his 1986 World-Record-setting win on Sale of the Century….


he returned for several ‘Champion of Champions’ tournaments, before becoming a question writer and adjudicator for that same show.

Since then, he’s worked behind the scenes on many Australian TV quiz shows, and last year, he became a contestant once again, and won BIG on Beat the Chasers…. 34 years after his original Sale of the Century triumph!

Besides all that, he’s a screenwriter and standup comedian, and he’d already had his first movie produced before any of his quiz show success.

This was a delightful and really wide-ranging discussion, and I thought I’d kick it off by delving into David’s origin story…


SH: David Poltorak! Thank you very much indeed for joining me today for

 DP: It’s my pleasure Stephen, thanks very much.

SH: Prior to your game show career I know you were a TV and film writer. Your first TV credit on is from 1984 for writing two episodes of Sweet & Sour: an ABC drama about a young pop band (which I watched religiously as a teenager). How did that come about, and how was that whole experience?

DP: Yes, it might be my first IMDB credit and fair enough. I wrote those two episodes with a long-term co-writer Paul Leadon (who, in recent years, has been the Head of Comedy at Channel 10). We’d been at uni together, studying architecture. We both dropped out and got heavily involved with our annual architecture review, and that led to work writing sketches for what was then 2JJ. One of the early directors of that station mentored us; a guy called Marius Webb, who was very helpful to us.

We wrote sketches and then we got on – I think in ’77 – The Garry McDonald Show. Garry McDonald had been playing his famous character Norman Gunston for years, and he was sick of that character and he wanted to do a sketch show that was a completely Gunston-free zone. It was a pretty terrible show because it made you realize in retrospect what a great anchor the Gunston character was for him. And so, without that character, he was just another actor in comedy sketches.

SH: How long did that last? I don’t remember that show at all.

DP: Well, I think it only had one series. The head writer was Morris Gleitzman, who went on to become a successful children’s author. It was produced by John Eastway who was an ABC comedy producer at that time. It was a great experience for us because having grown up as a Monty Python obsessive, I just had this enormous weight of Monty Python sitting on my head and just feeling overwhelmed by what I saw as their quality and what they’d achieved. They were such a big influence on me.

SH: Was it helpful having a writing partner, being part of a team? Surely you could bolster each other up in those moments of self-doubt?

DP: We could. We wrote more stuff together later. Initially, although we were hired as a group, we were all writing individually, not actually collaborating. So it still felt like a very lonely, isolated experience and it’s not one that I look back with any great joy, apart from what it meant in career terms. After that, we did another comedy series called Jokes which was the same thing; just half an hour of unrelated sketches. That was also on the ABC, produced by John Eastway. And that was a short-lived thing. In later years, Australia produced much more successful shows: D-Gen, Full Frontal… but at this early stage, everybody was just scrambling. We didn’t know where we were going.

SH: I’m guessing you’re in your early twenties at this stage? Not long out of university.

DP: I’m in my early 20s. I’m a pretty heavy dope smoker, I’m a cab driver. I’d been on the dole for about a year after I dropped out at uni. Back in those days, you could front up to your local Commonwealth Employment Service office and say, “Look I’m sick of being a bus conductor. Can I go on the dole, please?” “Yes, sign here. Here’s your first cheque.”

SH: Different times.

DP: Very different times! Anyway, Paul and I then became a duo and worked on kids’ shows on the ABC and did other sketch shows…. none of which are remembered by anyone except the people who made them, because they made such little impact. Back then, the top-rating current affairs show was on Channel Seven, hosted by Mike Willesee. He’d been dominating the ratings, but in 1981, Channel 9 premiered Sale of the Century up against him. And Sale of the Century was a monster – so huge, so successful!

And as a result, Mike Willesee had this brainwave that he’d introduce comedy to his current affairs show. So he hired a bunch of people to write and perform sketches. Doug Mulray, Austen Tayshus, (who at that stage was just called Sandy Gutman) and Paul and me. So, there’d be a production meeting in the morning with Mike and we’d all sit on the floor while he sat behind his huge oak-panelled desk. We would discuss the big stories of the day and he’d get one or two of the writers to write a sketch and then somebody else would perform in it for that night. Paul and I didn’t perform; we just wrote. I think it lasted about three months. Mike was getting killed in the ratings by Sale of the Century, so he tried comedy, but it didn’t work. But it was great training; we’d have to write at least one sketch a day in the morning. We only had a couple of hours to do it, but it was terrific. It was great having the subject to write about because you then knew what the sketch was. And they’d try and film as much as they could during the day.

SH: But they would broadcast it that night?

DP: Yeah, it was very ‘on the hoof’.

SH: That’s really exciting.

DP: It was exciting, yeah. It was a pity it didn’t work. And although Sale of the Century was beating it, to me Sale was just this other thing out there… if I happened to be watching TV, I liked to sit there and answer the questions, but the idea never entered my head that I’d ever go on it as a contestant.


“Well, of course not – what possible reason could there be for David to want to do that?” I pretend to hear you ask.
As it turned out, there were actually 376,200 reasons.
And we’ll get one step closer to all of them when we pick up David’s story next week.
See you then!

My latest quiz show appearance (#spoileralertletsjustsaywinningisnteverything…)


A quick one today, to let you know about a quick radio quiz that my Mad As Hell castmate Tosh Greenslade and I did on ABC Radio National last Friday…

Every Friday, Patricia Karvelas’s’ drivetime show has a light-hearted quiz about the news of the week, usually featuring two comedians. This week, it was our turn to face off against each other, on subjects ranging from a Flintstones-themed house to fuel for European flying cars.

It was really good fun. If you’re interested, and you have a free 20 minutes, here it is…

I’ll see you next week, with exciting news of an epic new interview that I’m just putting the finishing touches on now…

Until then, then!

A nightly burst of quick quizzy goodness…


Just a quick one today, to let you know about a fun new quiz competition that’s the brainchild of Australian quiz show question writer Miles Glaspole. In his spare time, Miles has created a brand new quick-fire general knowledge quiz format for TikTok!

It’s called The TikTok 10, and it’s a rapid round of 10 general knowledge questions that you have to answer before Miles says the answer. The thing is, he says the answer right after the question, so you really do have to be pretty darn fast…

There’s a new episode every weekday at 7 PM AEST.

Speaking as a gentleman of a certain age, I must confess that I’m not totally, entirely, 100% super-familiar with the intricacies of TikTok… but from what I’ve seen, this looks ace!

And I think it’d certainly be excellent training for anyone contemplating going on a fast-paced fire quiz show.

Nice one, Miles!

And THAT’s where Canada’s game shows got to…

Hello! I’ve just got a quick post for you this week, with an update from our Canadian friend Ryan Vickers, who’s kindly written numerous guest posts for the blog about his various game show-related adventures over the years…

Ryan tells me that Season Two of the documentary series he’s involved with (The Search for Canada’s Game Shows) recently premiered in Canada, on the Canadian TV channel Game TV!

“Well, that’s all fine and dandy,” I hear you say.

“Oh yes sir, that’s all very well and good,” you go on, “but what if I want to watch this show, and I don’t happen to BE in Canada? Hm? What do I do then, Einstein?”

Um, my name’s actually Stephe-

“Eh? Did ya ever think about that? What if I’m not there? What if I’m HERE, instead? Only 38 million people live in Canada, you know – just 0.48% of the world’s population – and I’m tellin’ ya right now, pal – I’M NOT ONE OF ‘EM!!”

Well, okay. But if you’d just –


Um, you can watch it online, via this link that Ryan provided:

“Oh,” I hear you say.



Yeah, no worries.

Aha! So THAT’s what it is…


So it looks like the mystery raised in my last post has now been solved: the ABC has announced an upcoming news quiz show called Win The Week, hosted by Alex Lee and Craig Reucassel. 

That’s them there.

It’s being billed as “a test of news knowledge and loyalty, where everyday Aussies must know the news and betray their teammates to win.”

Apparently, each episode will see three teams of two players go head-to-head over four rounds. Each team has an everyday Aussie as Team Captain and a celebrity who’ll both need to work together to win. But team loyalties will be tested at the end of each round with the “Stay or Betray” dilemma – one Team Captain must decide whether to stay with their celeb teammate or to betray them and swap to a different celeb from another team… in order to Win the Week!

If you’d like to know more details, the show’s full media release is right HERE.

I think this all sounds really promising – a new, light-hearted, inclusive, fun show, an original Australian concept, and really good talent on both sides of the camera. Here’s hoping it’s a hit!

If it sounds like the sort of show you’d like to compete on, you can still apply to be a contestant by sending an email to

I wish you – and indeed them – every success!

A new news quiz show – who knew?


Just a quick – and rather mysterious – update this week from our DetailsAreActuallyRatherThinOnTheGround department… According to, the ABC is searching for contestants for a forthcoming news-based quiz show:

ABC is looking for contestants for the unnamed new quiz show all about news & current affairs. To apply, email your name, state and mobile number to

… So, it would appear it’s a nationwide search.

They don’t report in any more detail than that, and after a quick online search, I’m afraid I haven’t been able to uncover any more details or supporting information either… But there it is. If a news-based quiz sounds like your cup of tea, why not apply?

… And if you do, would you mind letting me know (either in the comments section below or via anything you DO find out about it? 

Good luck!


Coming soon, from The Land Of The Maple Leaf…

Hello, and Happy Tuesday to you! I have some cool news to share with you this week, by way of a welcome visit from our favourite Canadian guest blogger.

Serial game show contestant and aficionado Ryan Vickers has been a great friend of for ages now, having written loads of great guest posts for the site since August 2017. You can find a choice selection of Ryan’s game show-related adventures right HERE.

It was Ryan who first alerted me to the fascinating series The Search For Canada’s Game Shows, (which you can watch at

Ryan appeared in the first series of this show, and since then, he’s developed a real rapport with its producers. Could that possibly, conceivably, somehow have a little something to do with Ryan’s return today?


Let’s see, shall we? Take it away, Ryan…


O Canada! O Game Shows! Season Two!
(Yes, I’m paraphrasing Stephen’s great title from last year!)*

Hi there friends! It’s guest blogger Ryan Vickers speaking to you from slightly-getting-warmer Canada.

I wanted to share with you that The Search for Canada’s Game Shows is back on GameTV here in Canada later this month! We are rolling out a three-night premiere with all-new episodes on March 29th, 30th and 31st (and an early shout out… Happy Birthday Mom!)

Our first season focused on the origins of Canadian game shows up until the turn of the 21st century. Our second season looks at more recent Canadian game show activity and the focus on more competitive shows that have taken over the prime-time airwaves here in The Great White North. We’ll explore shows created in Canada and how they’ve evolved; the proliferation of shows that have food as their centrepiece; the progression of prizes; the role of comedy and comedians in game shows and the future of game shows here.

I look forward to sharing some neat facts about Season Two after it airs; but for now, I also need to let you know that you can catch the show at the end of March (concurrently with the television broadcast) if you don’t live in Canada – all episodes will be available for viewing at In fact, you can pop over there right now and see interview segments from this season’s episodes, as well as sneak previews of each episode in Season Two!

I hope you enjoy!



Thanks very much for the heads-up, Ryan – I’m really looking forward to the new season, and to hearing more about it from your good self. 

But hey, Ryan shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting in the guest post department. If you – yes, YOU! the person reading this right now – ever feel inclined to write a guest post for the site, I’m always open to suggestions. It can be autobiographical, it can be behind-the-scenes info, it can be analysis or opinion…. as long as it’s game show-related, I’ll consider it. So, if you think you may have something to offer, something that I can help share with a wider audience, just email me at You never know where it may lead!

I’ll see you next time, and yes… Happy Birthday, Mrs Vickers (Ryan’s mum). 

* Aw, shucks, Ryan… – SH