My ‘Mastermind Australia’ journey – Part 3

From left to right: William Laing, me, (Host) Marc Fennell, Kieran Magee and Yael Blinco.

Hello! If you’ve been following along for the last couple of weeks as I outline my preparations for THIS particular episode of Mastermind Australia –  https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/watch/2314487875992 – you’ll know that we’re now up to the part where my study of the show is really kicking in…

12/01/24

So I’ve now scanned through all the Mastermind Australia episodes that are available to watch on SBS on Demand, and highlighted the ones which include sitcoms or UK TV comedy shows as specialist subjects (where that information is available):

SEASON 1

Episode 6 (Monty Python’s Flying Circus)

SEASON 2

Episode 33 (Gavin & Stacy)

Episode 37 (The Young Ones)!

Episode 39 (Absolutely Fabulous)

Episode 41 (Happy Days)

Episode 42 (Scrubs)

Episode 44 (Sex and the City)

Episode 56 (Will & Grace)

Episode 58 (The Goon Show and Friends)

Episode 62 (M*A*S*H)

Episode 63 (The Office UK)

SEASON 3

Episode 3 (Kath & Kim)

Episode 8 (Rowan Atkinson)

Episode 9 (Fawlty Towers)!

Episode 14 (Frasier)

Episode 19 (Flight of the Conchords)

Episode 24 (Archer)

Episode 26 (Will & Grace)

Episode 29 (The Big Bang Theory)

Episode 43 (The Micallef Programme)

Episode 47 (Schitt’s Creek)

Episode 48 (Scrubs)

Episode 49 (The Goodies and The Simpsons)

Episode 51 (The Thick of it)

Episode 53 (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)

Episode 57 (The Mighty Boosh)

Episode 67 (How I Met Your Mother)

Episode 73 (Seinfeld)

Episode 74 (Spaced)

Episode 76 (Married With Children)

Episode 78 (Curb Your Enthusiasm)

SEASON 4

Episode 53 (Seinfeld)

SEASON 5

Episode 58 (Ricky Gervais)

I will watch (/listen to) all of these eps, to get a good feel for how the questions writers approach this genre: the question writing conventions they use. What are the typical SHAPES of questions about UK TV comedy shows that they program on Mastermind Australia?

Also, I’ve started watching the Celebrity version of Mastermind Australia. Some things I’ve learnt (re-learnt) from watching these episodes:

  • Do your homework! (Der). Don’t just assume that because you like something, you’re an expert on it. MAKE yourself an expert on it. (Again, Der.)

  • Don’t suck up to the host. It’s cringeworthy.

  • If you don’t know the answer, say “Pass” – or far more preferably, have a guess – quickly and move on to the next. There is NO VALUE – for the contestant OR the audience – in the contestant humming and hah-ing and laughing and being embarrassed and talking us through why they don’t know the answer, and how they almost know the answer and why they almost know the answer but don’t, and so on and so on… Many lesser comedians arrogantly assume that their floundering and ad-libbing is automatically hilarious… but in this particular context, that’s the exact opposite of entertaining.

  • Have some dignity. If I happen to get a few wrong in a row, don’t guffaw and cheer and guffaw again when I eventually get one right. Yes, getting a series of questions wrong is embarrassing, (especially when it was preventable, and you just haven’t bothered to do any homework). But I should have mitigated that risk by doing every scrap of homework I could think of, long before getting to that chair. If I do get a series of questions wrong, it WILL be embarrassing… but just professionally move on, remembering my old mantra: “I know the next one, I know the next one…” Do NOT loudly and over-enthusiastically congratulate myself for getting a score of roughly three.

  • Don’t be too much of a smartarse. It’s good to have a few lines prepared, so that when Marc asks me a predictable question, I’ve got some rehearsed spontaneity up my sleeve… but don’t cross the line where it looks like I’ve prepared a bunch of lines, and I’m desperate to get them all out before I leave.

  • Mastermind is big on amping up the tension and the nerves and the “terror” and “agony” of the big chair. Remember that it’s not really all that scary.

Earlier today, I started to daydream about winning. On Mastermind Australia Champions Week, to achieve that, all I have to do is win two episodes! (Not seven, like I did on Temptation). I allowed myself to fantasise about being able to change the tagline on HowToWinGameShows.com. I’d love to be able to write

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR WINNING GAME SHOWS, FROM SOMEONE WHO’S BEEN THERE AND DONE THAT… THREE TIMES!

But then I think ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa – settle down, big fella. Easy there tiger, don’t get ahead of yourself. You’ve got a long way to go yet.’

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… A long way which will continue right here next Tuesday at HowToWinGameShows.com!  

This awkward blog post sign off was bought to you by Tortured Segues Pty Ltd. (“Proudly overreaching linguists to the gentry since 1987.”)

My ‘Mastermind Australia’ journey – Part 2

Hello again, and welcome to the second part of my account of how I came to be on THIS particular episode of Mastermind Australia:

https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/watch/2314487875992

Sitting in the ‘Mastermind Australia’ Big Black Chair. From the look on my face, I’m guessing this was a “BEFORE” shot…

In last week’s instalment, I’d agreed to go on the show, had a couple of initial conversations with one of the producers and suggested some special subjects. Now read on…

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Thursday 07/12/23 

Had a phone call with the Question Producer! Good to chat to him. We went through my potential special subjects and landed on Bottom (probably just the TV shows – there are 18 episodes of them, which makes this a broad enough category. We probably don’t have to also include the five stage shows, which were released on home video, or the film version Guest House Paradiso.)

Other than that, the main points of the call:

  1. The format: Four champions WILL face off each night (Monday night -Thursday night), and the four nightly winners WILL compete in the final (Friday night’s show). In the Monday – Thursday shows, each player does one round of general knowledge and one round of their special subject. In the final (that is, Friday’s episode), each player does one round of general knowledge and one “Slow Burn” question (which is essentially a “Who Am I?” question, with more points awarded for the earlier you answer correctly). There’s no special subject round in Friday night’s show. SO I only need to prepare one special subject (Previously, I thought I might have needed to prepare two).
  2. For my special subject round, they’ll write a maximum of 20 questions… most people only get through about 14 before their time runs out.
  3. They’ve recruited 12 of the 16 required champs so far. They include: Troy Egglestone (Mastermind S01), William Laing (Mastermind S03), Miles Glaspole (Mastermind S05), Kate Buckingham, Sandra Oxley, Stirling Coates (Mastermind S04) and Andrew Skarbec (Million Dollar Minute).

So between now and Feb, I need to watch loads of Mastermind Australia episodes on SBS OnDemand. I should concentrate on the Marc Fennell-hosted ones (S03 onwards), so I can study him as well.

After a bit of searching, I’ve discovered that all of the Bottom episodes can be watched online, if you know where to look…

29/12/23

While watching an episode of Mastermind today (actually, listening to an episode today: I just pop it on, on my phone while I’m walking the dog – don’t need to actually see it, for my study purposes), I stumbled across a contestant whose specialist subject was the UK comedy show Inside No. 9. I noted that the format of one of the questions was “What’s the title of the episode in which XXX happens?” That format of question would work also well for my subject (Bottom). Which got me thinking ‘what type of questions do the MM question writers write about UK TV comedy shows, specifically?’

SO… in addition to writing a bunch of my own questions about each episode of Bottom (and each of the five stage shows – it turns out they’ll be included too – bugger! That gives me a LOT more material that I have to study, unfortunately)…

… I decided to go back through the previous seasons of Mastermind, find out which ones had UK TV Comedy shows as specialist subjects, and prioritise watching them, while taking notes about the formats of questions, and any patterns that pop up in the question-writing styles on this particular subject / genre. Lots of Mastermind Australia special subject information from previous seasons is freely available online, and I’ve now noted down enough relevant episodes to keep me going for a while.

30/12/23

I’ve discovered the podcast Talking Bottom, which will prove an invaluable resource! Really keen, informed, well-researched discussion of the show… and a 10 question quiz at the end of each episode! What a godsend. I’m now listening to the 18 episodes that discuss Bottom‘s 18 episodes in detail, and the 5 episodes that discuss Bottom‘s live shows in detail. I’ll add some of their easier quiz questions into my database of home-made questions, I think.

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So, now with those 18 episodes and 5 stage shows locked in, my special subject study can start in earnest. Must admit, I hadn’t bargained on the live shows being included – that’s a SIGNIFICANT increase in my workload – but at least they’re not including the film version (1999’s Guest House Paradiso)…

See you next Tuesday! 

My ‘Mastermind Australia’ journey – Part 1

Hello! As you may know by now, last week I competed in SBS’s Mastermind Australia, as part of their Champions Week competition. Here’s the link to my episode on SBS OnDemand: https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/watch/2314487875992

Back when I agreed to appear on the show, I thought an account of the whole process might be interesting to visitors to HowToWinGameShows.com. With that in mind, I kept a diary of the entire experience, and I’m very pleased to present Part One of it to you this week! Now read on… 

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On  Thursday 30th November last year, I received this message on LinkedIn, from one of the show’s producers:

Hi Stephen, I hope you’re well. I’m a Producer for the SBS quiz show ‘Mastermind Australia’. We’re thinking of doing a one-off Champions Week in our next series and I would love to connect with you here to get you on board. I look forward to hearing from you.

I told her I was intrigued, and we arranged a Zoom meeting….

          *                    *                    *                    *                    *                            *             After the Zoom meeting the following Monday…

So I’ve now learned that this week of Mastermind Australia will indeed be game show champions versus game show champions. Looking them up, the five  Mastermind Australia champions so far are Troy Egglestone, Jacqui Markham (now deceased), William Laing, Sterling Coates and Miles Glaspole.

They’ll be shooting this week’s worth of shows on Thursday February 1st next year in Sydney, at the SBS studios in Artarmon. It’s their first filming day for the year, and they record the first four episodes (Monday – Thursday shows) and the fifth, (the Friday show, which is that week’s Grand Final) in one day.

I’m gonna do it!

I like the show, I think it’d be a good thing to ‘come out of retirement for’, and the idea of having a special subject appeals to me; I like the idea of choosing one that’d be fun to study. I told her I’d like my special subject to be Filthy Rich and Catflap. Some other options, in case this is too narrow (as it’s only 6 episodes) might be… Spandau Ballet? Bottom? The Young Ones? Stath Lets Flats? Withnail & I? Father Ted? Big Train?

Once my special subject is locked in, I’ll write a big batch of questions on it. This is a numbers game – if I write enough interesting questions, that’ll guarantee I will write at least some of the ones that their question writers will eventually write for me.

So, if it’s truly going to be “a week of champions”, that’ll require 16 champions to play; four in each episode from Monday to Thursday, then on Friday, the four winners of those episodes will face off in the final.

          *                    *                    *                    *                    *                            *

After our next Zoom Meeting, three days later…

It was a 15-minute chat with the producer again, where she asked me more about potential special subjects (of which I’ll only have to prepare one rather than two, due to the unique nature of this ‘Champions Week’ tournament). I told her about my other choices, and she jotted them down. She then hit ‘record’ and we did a little interview along with a general knowledge quiz.

PRO TIP: In their format, don’t say “pass” – just guess if you don’t know the answer, because according to the rules, if the top scores at the end of the game are tied, the person with the most “passes” loses.

She asked again if there’s anyone in particular who I’d like to go up against, and why? I get the feeling they’re really trying to stoke some antipathies – to set up some “grudge matches”… I mentioned that I went up against William Laing on Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster, back in 2006. That could very well be something they frame that way. The general knowledge quiz consisted of 10 surprisingly easy questions, all of which I got right. 

She said thanks, she’d ping my subjects through to a producer, and one of them would be in touch. So… good! Apparently, we’ll lock down my special subject by the end of the week, and then I’ll have between then and February 1st to study for it. I found those test questions very easy… were they TOO easy? I’m telling myself not to get complacent about that. Is this sense of security I have a false one?

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Why am I asking myself these questions? Are they, in fact, rhetorical? For the answers (or maybe not) check back in here next Tuesday for Part Two of my Mastermind Australia journey… Until then, then!