British television is a constant topic of debate in my house. As I live alone, however, this means that most of these debates revolve around me standing in front of a mirror discussing that day’s episode of Jeremy Kyle. When people talk about the sensationalism found in modern television in showing the decay of society, it is quite often poor ol’ Jeremy at whom the finger of blame is pointed. There is much to say about Jeremy and the class (in many definitions of the word) of guest that he often brings out on to his stage. Much, too, can be said about the state of a government that allows a subsection of society to live in such a condition, and about the audience, who seem to use Jeremy as its own proxy for berating the poor and the toothless for their lack of money and molars.
But it is my view that there is an even worse group of people who feature very prominently on television, spanning all hours of the day, who highlight the real failings of Britain. Those people are gameshow contestants.
For one, tabloid talkshows are far less prevalent than you might realise. For all of the criticism Jeremy Kyle receives, his show is only on for one hour a day; and his show’s personal popularity has had an adverse impact on the genre at large, to such an extent that outside of his own slot there is nobody else like him on a British network. Trisha, the poor soul, had to flee like a rat from a sinking ship when Jeremy arrived on the scene, fleeing to America where sometimes, if she’s lucky, she gets to stand in for Maury while he’s out doing the gardening.
Gameshows, on the other hand are everywhere: Pointless, Tipping Point, The Chase, Tenable, Catchphrase, Family Fortunes, £100k Drop, the one hosted by the charisma vacuum that is Rick Edwards, the one hosted by the Scottish comedian—no, not Ronni Ancona, the other one. There’s also another one on the BBC which apes the Pointless formula in that it has a woman sitting at a desk reading facts off a laptop. You can even add in the tedious Alex Horne’s even more tedious The Button. On and on the list goes, covering morning, noon and night, and most of which sharing the same premise: take a group of people (sometimes individuals, sometimes teams) and whittle them down round by round until one reaches the final and a chance at a big cash prize.
Now, it is this ‘chance at a big cash prize’ where the real problem lies. The idea of competing for a Big Cash Prize is an enticing one. It brings in a lot of applications, and the more applicants, the more shows that can be made. The more shows that can be made, the more money to be made from advertising. But with each additional show they make, then the more Big Cash Prizes they have to offer. The more prizes they have to offer, then the less money they are making from the advertising. So, how do the producers of the show solve this prize problem? Simple—they only let simpletons appear on the show. The more simpletons on the show, the less chance of the Really Big Cash Prize being won. It’s a win for the finalist; he or she gets a bit of added cash in their pocket. It’s a win for the producers; they get advertising money which outweighs the small expense they just handed out. It’s a win for the audience; it gets to laugh to at the man who thinks Paris is the capital of Italy. The only losers are those who do not get to the finalist—and me, the poor sap who comes to the realisation of just how much of a failure the education system in this country really is.
Of course, some shows, particularly those where a cash prize is not guaranteed, do manage to avoid this issue somewhat. Whenever it does have a stupid person on, it seems more for the sake of comedy rather than to protect an investment. The Chase, for instance, can afford to have a more erudite competitor as the show can be pretty confident that no matter how smart the contestant is, the Chaser is still more likely to win. In a similar vein Pointless, whose final round becomes something akin to Mastermind, is often likely to have its jackpot roll over for multiple episodes regardless of the team’s intellect, only giving up their Big Cash Prize when they stumble across the one man on the planet who has memorised Luxembourg’s 1952 Olympics squad.
The worst offender, though, has to be Tipping Point. This is a show where there is a guaranteed sum of money to be won by the contestant (unless the contestant is on an entirely different plane of stupidity and chooses to gamble their winnings for another shot at the Jackpot). As such, it’s a show where the bottom of the barrel is too highbrow—it’s the swill moulding away on the underside of the barrel that gets their attention. During one show a contestant was asked: “The word ‘Neptunian’ refers to which Roman God?” to which the contestant responded, “Poseidon?”. In another example one was asked the question, “Which Anglo-Irish boxer defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 to become the unified heavyweight champion?”. If you don’t follow boxing or sport in general, this might be a harder question to answer. The contestant, however, did—or at least he had sufficient knowledge of it to say the following: “I know Tyson Fury has represented England and Ireland. I know he beat Klitschko a few years ago and I know he became the champion… but I’m not sure so I’m going to pass.”
It is at this point where I have to question if ringers are used in these gameshows. Perhaps a train got cancelled or somebody fell ill at the last minute and there was no reserve contestant so they stuck an intern on the show to make up the numbers. I have to hope it is because I would much rather be defrauded by the show than have to entertain the reality there are people who think Hungary is in South America, that two plus two equals five, or that the reigning monarch is Elizabeth the Third.
Of course, the fact that I watch enough of these shows to have these thought processes says much about me and the free time I have on my hands. I could try to apply to one of these shows, but the fact that I can write my own name in cursive means my application will be thrown in the shredder just as quickly as it hits the producer’s desk.