Weaver's Week 2010-12-12

The Crystal Maze

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Drop Zone


Drop Zone

BBC1 (BBC2 in Scotland), Sundays 21 November – 19 December

Back in early 2009, Steve Jones led a tour of the world. His chosen methods of transport were the helicopter and the walking boot. His tour began on Skye, and then went to Austria, Greece, Turkey, Thailand, and finished up in Vietnam, and he invited 24 of his friends along for the ride. Unfortunately, a mix-up over numbers meant that insufficient seats had been booked on the choppers leaving these places, and a group of three had to be left behind at each location. It's unfortunate, but that's what happens when administrative overheads are cut.

Well, that's our story. The BBC's version of events is that eight teams of three people are dropped on Skye, and must avoid being the last team to complete the course in order to progress to the next event. Devil take the hindmost is a simple concept, suitable for any Saturday evening family show.

Each course splits into five distinct phases. It begins with the teams being given something to do, such as find a whisky bottle buried in a metal container on a beach. Or use a whip to remove a doll from a barrel. This is a transparent mechanism to create a slightly staggered start, and to introduce the teams to that week's audience.

Drop Zone The Cabbies check their map for directions. We have pics! It happened!!

Phase two is the trek from the start to the overnight stop, usually with a choice of routes and waypoints. One of the routes will be direct but tiring (through a forest, or particularly mountainous), while the other will be indirect but somewhat more easy to progress – it'll be flatter, clearer, and generally less hassle. There are some rules on this section: teams aren't allowed to hitch lifts in passenger vehicles, but taking a ride in a tractor trailer would be absolutely fine. And they're not allowed to walk on tarmac roads except in built-up areas – it's grass tracks and sand trails only.

Each team is equipped with a GPS tracking device so that, when all of the teams have left the start point, Steve can jump into his helicopter and pursue them. Sometimes he'll land and ambush them and attempt to shoot the backpack containing the money. No! Sometimes he'll land and ambush them and ask questions breathtaking in their banality. "How do you think you're doing?" "Will you get to the finish?" "Did you watch me on 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic)?"

While engaged on their ten-mile hike, the teams are swotting up on the Drop Zone Book of Facts. This contains various facts about the place they're visiting. When they finally arrive at their destination, the teams will be tested on the contents of this booklet. The best performers will be able to spend the night in the local hotel; those who do less well will spend the night in stables, or a milking parlour, or some other comedy location.

Drop Zone The teams are making their way to the next checkpoint.

Day two of each show begins with another comedy turn. The first team to arrive at the overnight checkpoint – however well they did or didn't do in the Book of Facts challenge – has a small advantage. They can pick which teams are to kayak or coracle across the lake, or how many cows they've got to herd to market, that sort of thing. Once the amusing challenge has been passed, the teams are told the location of the helicopter that will whisk them away from this location and on to the next. It's a straight race to the chopper, because it will take off before the last team can reach it.

And that's the show. While the format looked good on paper, the show didn't really work on screen. The first problem is that there's an awful lot of walking. Yomping through open fields, through forests, up the side of an alp in a monsoon. This is likely to make for tedious and repetitive television. Sure, the producers tried to spice it up – there's a graphic showing each team's location, and inserts about the area, and the host's interviews, but the fact remains, this is primarily a programme about competitive walking. Sending half the competitors to spend the night in a cowshed is amusing on first reference, but gets a bit stale when it's used in every single episode. Though it travels the world, the show makes little effort to avoid the tourist board clichés – in the Austrian episode, there just had to be reference to The Sound of Music.

Drop Zone Flying off into the sunset. Budget cuts meant the sun was too expensive.

The list of gripes goes on. What happens on day one has very little relevance to the ultimate outcome, the handicap imposed by the leading team rarely amounts to more than half an hour in a 6-hour day. The event is structured so that this unimportant part takes up about two-thirds of the broadcast, leaving the final chase to the chopper to be condensed into little more than ten minutes. It's a great way to suck the drama out of the situation.

We mentioned earlier that Drop Zone was recorded an awfully long time ago – 2009 calendars got into shot on more than one occasion, and two of the contestants have subsequently appeared in ITV2's show The Only Way is Essex. Why has it languished on a BBC shelf until now, and is going out in the hidden spot of Sunday afternoon? Probably because it's entirely meh, and isn't going to be recommissioned.

Walk on.

Drop Zone This team's going no further. And they're out of the competition.

Curl up the small soul in the window seat
Behind the Encyclopaedia Britannica

University Challenge

Second round, match 6: Downing Cambridge v Magdalen Oxford

It's the second Oxbridge battle for Downing, they beat St Edmund Hall 160-95 on 23 August, in one of the least inspiring matches of the first round. Magdalen Oxford powered past Durham by 340-120 on 13 September. Thumper promises us another half-hour of root canal work. Lovely.

We begin with Ruler of the Week, it's a group of Fredericks. Magdalen pick up where they left off, scoring a maximum on the first set of bonuses. And on the next set. In fact, it's the tenth question of the night before Magdalen miss one, and they've only missed four questions by the first visual round. It's on epigraphs used by T S Eliot, and we're reminded that if it wasn't for the Ryder Cup overrunning, we'd have been reviewing this programme last week, and heading to the cellar to reclaim our jaw. Magdalen are clearly in need of a good hat, scoring a mere one of the possible three. It's not death by water, and the scores have a certain binary ring to them: 100-10.

Just when we're wondering if we really can write "Game over" after five minutes, Downing stage something of a comeback in the second stanza. The Mensheviks lead to a series of questions on the Monros, and everyone on the Downing team has secured a starter. The audio round asks after Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Who? Exactly. Magdalen's lead has been pegged back to 100-65, the teams are also beaten by the wives of Kings George, and the other audio questions are on hip-hop pioneers of the 1980s.

We wouldn't have thought it remotely possible after that remarkable start, but Downing have recovered, assisted by a couple of missignals from the opposition, and given themselves a chance of the lead. Only a chance: when asked for an Oxford college, they can only think of Magdalen. And when offered a starter to which the answer is "Byron", it's sensible not to answer "Byron".

Magdalen recover the lead and are asked about escapements in clocks. As one does. Self-portraits of artists are the subject of the second visual round, and perhaps Magdalen have got their groove back, leading as they do by 135-85. A further stroke of luck as, after a list of European equivalents, Downing zig with "company" when the answer is "plc". Downing do have the nous to decode a list of letters representing prime numbers, and we can hear Victoria clearing her throat with a sequence like that one.

The show's not over yet, though, and Downing get another starter, and a question about a composer. They know his Handel. Two and a half minutes, 35 points the gap, and Downing get another starter. When they don't know, they're passing briskly. But Magdalen's resident United Station knows which states his capital was carved out of, and with a couple of bonuses, that's Game Over. A slightly lucky starter falls to Magdalen, allowing them to run up the score slightly. 190-125 is the final result.

University Challenge Downing's representatives were Will Winzor, Gareth Haslam, Stephan Liberadzki, Owen Carter.

Less Little Gidding and more The Hollow Men there: the highly-fancied Magdalen's campaign almost ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. Still, 19/32 bonuses is a respectable score, three missignals didn't hurt them too much, and Will Cudmore had five starters. For Downing, three each for Stephan Liberadzki and Owen Carter, two missignals and a 9/27 bonus conversion rate. The overall score was 48/86.

Next match: Merton Oxford v Queens' Cambridge

Only Connect

Semi-final 1: Epicureans v Wrights

Two houses, both alike in ability to beat paired foes, in fair Cardiff, where we meet our teams. From ancient grudge break to some new questions, and sep'rated only by an expert in King Lear.

It's the first semi-final, pitting the Epicurians against the Wrights. The Epicureans won the toss and decided to field, so Wrights get question one. Dubrovnik, Kaliningrad, Alaska, Cabinda. Were all of these places once part of Russia? Even the one in Angola? No, they're exclaves of their country, bits separated from the mainland by other land and perhaps appearing in atlases in a little box. That's a bonus to the Epicureans. Their own question is on books banned by the Catholic church, not that anyone's going to get that. Zeus, Tutankhamun, Cronus, Cain and Seth is the second set for the Wrights. Younger brothers? Killed by their brothers? Nope, married their sisters.

Last week, the Wick of Twisted Flax of Doom yielded eight points. Not this week: the round is clearly asking questions in various languages, and the team debate whether or not to see the last clue. They do, and it's a very simple show: heads or tails? They won the toss earlier, they won a point here. Audio or visual? It's visual for the Wrights, who have pictures of men – a man standing, Da Vinci's man, a mother and child, Adam and God. "They're all pop groups?" Almost: they're works by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that's a pizza-tastic bonus to the Epicureans. They have the music round, and it turns out to be various "Themes". That'll be their fifth point of the night.

Only Connect (2) Lovers of fine food, the Epicureans.

Round two, what's fourth? Missing vowels, obviously. The Wrights are completely lost with some Italian-sounding words, but it's not the surnames of popes. No, it's deaths in "Tosca", ending with the titular character. Epicureans have some numbers: 89, 55, it's Fibonacci numbers going backwards, so 21 is the three-pointer. 1950: Soap, 1952: Tea, 1953: Cream, eggs, sweets and sugar. What's next? The Wrights buzz in about one thought too early, as soon as they've got the connection that it's the end of rationing, allowing a simple bonus to the Epicureans.

We're as lost as the Epicureans for their next sequence, but it turns out to be counting cherry stones: a tinker, a tailor, a soldier, a sailor. Is the next sequence the most popular languages in India? It is, Hindi gives them a couple of points, and Urdu is a different inflection of the same language. Kitten 2401, Cat 343, Sack 49, and the team are thinking about numbers on a text phone. Until they spot that it's all reducing by a factor of 7, and it's seven brides, heading to St Ives.

Epicureans lead by 11-2 going into the walls. What have they got? Cuts of diamonds, Aaron bashing out the options at a remarkable speed. Characters from Odette, and why have they got (Olympia) in brackets, and Gin Drinkers with unusual capitalisation. Are there a set of lines in there? Sporting grounds? Kensington, that explains the (Olympia). Finally, Aaron's magic fingers get out the diamonds. Would Wolfgang and Siegfried really be in the same group? Football clubs? The lives run out just before time expires. Yes, those two characters really do appear, but the team doesn't know about "Swan Lake". Finally, defensive lines in World War II – the Gin Drinkers line in Hong Kong. Four points!

Only Connect (2) Will it be all Wright on the night?

The Wrights begin with a clear set of Cinque Ports, but there are six or seven of them in there. Sidekicks of detectives? Ah, things that can be prefixed with "Raw", that's a group. Courses, that's another one they've got. They could always go back to the Cinque Ports, they know it's the detectives (unless they're doctors), and on their last life, with three seconds left, they get it. The tragedy is the third group are not Billies, they're detective's sidekicks. Seven points!

That's closed the scores up a bit, the Epicureans now lead by 15-9. But Epicureans have done well in this final round in the past. First up, buildings destroyed in the Blitz, and that's a 3-1 win for them. Pairs of homophones is a nasty one, and that allows the Wrights to play catch up 3-1. Astronomers is a 1-(-1) win for the Wrights, but Songs that refer to Marilyn Monroe is a 2-1 win for the Epicureans. Things found on OS maps begins and ends without a question, and the Epicureans have won it, 20-15.

Two teams who know their host has never written a book on King Lear, whatever that other wiki said: Alesmen v Radio Addicts

This Week And Next

Our best thoughts are with Samuel Koch, who suffered a terrible injury on Wetten, Dass last weekend. Herr Koch was attempting to leap over moving cars, but misjudged a leap and landed in an awkward position.

Good news and bad news from the Eurovision Song Contest. The good is that Italy may – possibly, perhaps – be returning. It's thirteen years since the masters of Italian song last graced the stage, and their return is generally seen as a good thing. Ireland has announced the line-up for their qualifying contest, and the competitors include Jedward. They can't sing, they can't dance, and they look a joke. This has annoyed the BBC, who really don't want the expense of hosting Eurovision and the Olympics and the Queen's jubilee in the same financial year, and will now have to find some even more no-hopers to lose the contest. What's Billy Corgan doing these days, and is it legal yet?

BARB ratings for the week to 28 November, and is The X Factor losing it? Probably not; though this week's results show is half-a-million down on last week, that's still 14.4m viewers. A fifth of the country watching this show. Strictly isn't doing too badly, 12.45m saw the performances, and 10.5m tuned in to I'm a Celeb on Sunday. The Apprentice had 8.05m viewers, and Family Fortunes did somewhat better on Sunday (5.05m) than its previous Saturday slot (twelve viewers). University Challenge was BBC2's most-seen programme, 3.4m people saw the quick-fire quizzing action. 3.15m for The Apprentice You're Fired and Strictly on Two. Channel 4's top show was Come Dine With Me (2.95m), and Four In a Bed came to daytime and pulled in 2.15m. Pointless breezed past the 2m viewer mark.

Digitalia had I'm a Celeb on ITV2 top the charts, 1.315m viewers put it ahead of The X Factor Performances (1.085m on ITV-HD), Come Dine With Me (915,000 on More4), and Xtra Factor Result (910,000 on ITV2). Only Connect scooped 585,000 viewers, putting it comfortably ahead of Meet the Parents (390,000 on E4), TMi Friday (330,000 on CBBC), and Only Men Aloud – a whopping 115,000 viewers makes it one of S4C's biggest entertainment shows of the year.

The X Factor finishes tonight (ITV), Countdown's over on Friday (C4), as is TMi Friday (CBBC). The Apprentice finishes in Ireland (TV3, Monday), and heads towards a conclusion in the UK (BBC1, Wednesday). Mission 2110 also reaches its end (CBBC, Sun, Thu, Sat). The Million Pound Drop Live is back (C4, from Wed), Celebrity Eggheads (BBC2), Quiz is Anfield (Liverpool FC TV, weekdays), Have I Got News for You moves to Friday (BBC1), and there's a 6 Music Quiz (Fri, er, 6 Music).

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