Sunday, 4 December 2011

Being a contestant

Earlier I spoke, although perhaps not too informatively, about the process of becoming a contestant.  Now that my episodes have aired, I will say a little more about being a contestant.  Firstly, though, I want to note one other person who I did not mention in that post's messages of appreciation: the well-known comedian Russell Gilbert, who turns out to be Rochelle's partner.  He replaced Brose as the audience entertainer on the second day of filming; I did not mention this at the time to avoid giving away the result of an unaired (or at least, unblogged) episode.

The prep-work on contestants is fairly light: Clothes, microphone, and make-up.  You are supposed to bring enough changes of clothes for six episodes; they test these for appropriateness on TV, so if there's anything you feel dubious about then bringing further spares can't hurt.  As it turns out, I had one shirt rejected due to being too shiny, but had catered for this with potential replacements.  I was allowed some leeway over which shirt was worn when; their main concerns are to provide visual contrast between the contestants, and between successive appearances of the same contestant.

The microphone process was easy, although the belt clip was broken on the one that I wore so it went into the back pocket instead.  I'm sure they would have worked something out if I were pocketless, but fortunately this was not required.

The make-up application was unfamiliar to me, and I confess I was not particularly fond of it.  Once it was on it went mostly unnoticed, although it did slightly discourage any lip-licking.  Since I was eliminated before lunch I was able to get it removed and did not have to worry about eating with the make-up on.  (Which would have been fine in any case, I'm sure.)

The day starts early; contestants are supposed to be there before eight and the schedule allows for continuing on to 6:30 in the evening.  There's five episodes to be filmed each day with an hour and a half allowed for each.  If things go smoothly then that should be plenty of time, but they don't always go smoothly...

As it turns out, both days I attended apparently set successive records for early finishing; my perspective may not be the most typical!  I'd like to think that I had something to do with it, but that would be a hard claim to sustain.  At least I didn't obviously make things go badly!

There's an early walk through the contestant process, complete with mock playing of a game; some of the crew were standing in for the hosts, in amusing fashion (particularly the one who was occupying David's position and described whatever answers were given as "the best that I could find, too").  Some guidelines for behaviour were laid down, and how to avoid some of the problems that have arisen in the past.  By now they've got a good feel for what can go wrong, and how to avoid it, I think.

Prior to an episode starting there'll be a brief chance to chat with David and Lily and Richard; Richard in particular will check on what he'll talk with you about in the introduction, which gives you a little time to prepare what you are going to say.  Having watched the episodes now, I see that I tended to respond to his remark with an infodump of everything there was to say, so there was no back-and-forth; I'm not sure if this was desirable or not.  It feels better than requiring too much information to be drawn out of you; some sense of engagement or passion is definitely wanted.

When not working on a round, you need to be looking somewhere.  My approach was to look at whoever was speaking (usually Richard), but I wish I'd looked at the audience a bit more -- I was rarely facing in the direction of the camera.  This seemed more noticeable as the challenger; I think the camera that faces David gives a better angle on the champion when they are talking to Richard.

For playing the game itself... the most important two things are this: It has to be on the paper to count, and use the monitor!  Each position has a small monitor built into it that displays the board, and this will resolve any ambiguities and remind you of the task.  In my first appearance, I misheard a letter, which led me to declare an invalid answer.  If I had just taken a moment to check the monitor as the letter was revealed, I would have avoided that (and ended up with a winning word).

The monitor situation reveals the difference between solution styles.  Some contestants like to solve by simply staring at the problem until they have a suitable answer, then writing it down.  They should never have this problem of the misheard letter, although they may fall victim to some other common errors: The doubled letter, or (rarely) word mutation between the time they think of it and the time they write it down.  I think Brett's PERISH (should have been PARISH) in round 2 of episode 329 was one of these.

In fact, this is how I like to proceed with the numbers rounds; I juggle them around in my head, and write down what I can find.  On the letters rounds, however, I like to write them all down on paper, grouped into consonants and vowels.  This is the method that just happens to suit me; it means time spent writing down letters (which is time not spent thinking about them), which is one reason it is not for everyone.  I know of others who like to write it down in a three-by-three grid, no doubt habituated to this through solving the 'Target' puzzle in the newspaper.

For the conundrum, I'd like to write down the letters but it's not safe to spend the time doing so instead of thinking about the word.  Sometimes you'll see contestants on a tough conundrum doing so halfway through the time; I think this is about right, but it's always tricky to know when you should do that since it still costs some seconds.

The other part is extremely important: Only what is written down counts.  Admittedly, this will only be caught if the other contestant happens to do things the same way (numbers) or declares the same word (letters), but this happens quite a lot.  I'm pretty sure that this happened to Shaun Ellis in round 3 of episode 301, in fact, and they re-shot it to let him catch the issue himself.  (I should add that I don't believe this was foul play; it was a simple slip of the mind that caused him to think one thing, write another, and not check what was actually written.  All this assuming that I am actually correct about what happened, which I may not be.)

Anyway... this is the huge difference between playing the game at home, and playing it for real.  At home you can spot a word or how to make a target at the 29th second and count it.  But on the show it will take longer than the remaining time to write it down, so it's too late by then.  You have to have your fallback plan in mind (particularly for the numbers) and either write it down, or be prepared to write it down if nothing better comes up.  Otherwise you'll lose a lot of points that you should get.

This really needs to be practiced.  If you plan to go on the show, practice playing the game and getting answers written down within time.  Practice it a lot.  Your first time on the show is not the first time to be doing this!

One other (and much-appreciated) difference when going on the show is that the countdown timer is much, much quieter.  It's still there, so that you can judge when you need to have finished by, but it doesn't blot out thought like the broadcast version does.

Above all else, going on the show should be fun.  Whatever happens, you'll walk away with a dictionary; enjoy playing the game, be gracious in victory or defeat, and take in every moment of the experience.  It's a wonderful atmosphere; do your part to help it stay that way.


Anonymous said...

What were the guidelines for behaviour, and what problems have there been in the past?

Geoff Bailey said...

Hmm. It's hard to recall what I had in mind at the time, but I wasn't intending to imply "bad behaviour". The guidelines were about things like not saying 'please' too much (sounds repetitive), how to present solutions to the numbers rounds for clarity... basically, how to interact with the show and presenters to keep things flowing smoothly and make everything as easy as possible; no-one wants to be doing endless re-takes.

This was coupled with advice about checking letters against the board, using the monitor, and such (apparently I did not pay enough attention to this), and writing answers down! In other words, avoiding some of the pitfalls that have commonly caused contestants to declare invalid answers.

When I spoke of problems, it's that kind of thing I meant; everyone wants a contestant to do as well as that contestant can do. Well, except possibly their opponent. *grins*

Mark said...

I noticed that in the last episode, Eleanor said "please" after almost every letter. I thought that was nice.