Princess Productions/Ten Ton for Channel 4, 7 January to 24 February 2007 (7 episodes in 1 series)
Worldwide treasure hunting game. The prize is £50,000 (in gold, apparently) and the seven episodes travel to historic sites in Italy, France, India, Egypt, Guatemala, Peru and the UK.
The first episode was rather confusing, with the format coming out in the wash rather than being front-loaded but it turns out to be a boys-versus-girls race of 10 intelligent people trying to find seven mysterious symbols in six worldwide locations which lead them to the treasure back in Blighty. In each episode, two warm-up challenges are used to determine if one team receives a time advantage in the crucial third task in the race for that week's symbol.
Each game consists of a team task, such as map reading, observation, clue-solving and similar treasure hunt-style activities. The first two games reveal useful information or locations which are used by both teams at the start of the third task. The team that retrieves the symbol first is immune from any elimination.
In the end game, the losing team has to pass around the Poisoned Chalice between its members. The chalice is passed five times, and whoever is given it on the fifth occasion is eliminated. You can't hand back the chalice from whence it came, so this has some nice subtleties to it - for example, you can plan ahead a little bit if you know who likes you, and you can guarantee an ally's place in the next round if they receive the chalice on turn 3 or 4. Overall, this mechanism is either genius or grating depending on your outlook. It's very innovative and the right mix of fair but luck-based. However, dramatic is isn't and it doesn't quite come across as tense as it could be.
Sadly, there are several things about the format that grate rather more heavily. Theakston is not the dramatic persona that this format requires, and his bits of factual business with the history boffins are very clunky. Shouldn't the history come out as part of the game, not as something we walk away from? The pre-break teasers are extremely badly edited, frequently making it obvious who's going to win the next part of the challenge.
And there's more - you can't join in with many of the challenges, and often you're not even allowed to wonder "What would I do...?" because they tell you the answer before the team have even begun to solve it themselves. Several of the puzzles appear to have been lifted wholesale from NBC's Treasure Hunters (and we know the production team have seen that show - we do our homework here at UKGameshow Towers) and this series suffers in comparison in some respects. That said, our version seems a tad pacier and the history is much better incorporated. For those of us familiar with similar US formats, several point out that The Amazing Race is so much better than this.
So it's quite slick but a bit dull too; quite smart but a bit brain dead also; quite original but a bit of a clone as well. This is why it wasn't an out-and-out smash hit. However, Channel 4 made sure of the job by messing around with the schedule, pulling it forward one hour earlier than published to squeeze in more Big Brother, then moving it from Sundays to Saturdays. It seems the show wasn't getting anything far north of 1m viewers, and a spending freeze meant that a second series was not on the cards in any case. Therefore, despite an impressive high-tempo last episode, it's not coming back.
Mathematician Saskia de Groot picked up the £50,000 prize by default when City headhunter Mairianne Reardon plumped for the wrong one of two graves (marked ER and IR), not realising that the whole of the UK hunt had been themed around James VI of Scotland - Iacobus Rex. ...EXCEPT, she didn't. It transpires that the last three players agreed to divvy up the money three ways before the final, each one carrying around two cheques made out for £16,666.67 in the names of the other two finalists. Each player also agreed to give some cash to their helper. So the final show was entirely pointless.
Jamie Theakston. Says the man himself:
- The idea came from a book that I'd always loved when I was a kid, called Masquerade, by a chap called Kit Williams. He was a jeweller and an illustrator, among other things, and he buried a golden hare that he'd made. He buried it somewhere in the UK, and the book was a series of illustrated codes that essentially led to the whereabouts of the golden hare. So that was essentially how I came up with the idea for the show.