If you are fortunate enough to appear on a TV game show, whether it’s for several weeks on Going for Gold or two minutes on Take Your Pick, you win or you lose. Either way, you’ve had a lovely day. Sometimes however, it isn’t quite as clear cut as that.
As this blog has examined on various occasions, the problem with humans is that they will insist on being human – in other words, making mistakes. Apart from the time Metal Mickey briefly hosted Runaround, game show hosts, executives and production staff are human. Therefore, contestants who should have lost will slip through the net and win, while contestants who should have gotten a second chance get bundled off with their BFH.
Marcus Berkmann wrote in his excellent book Brain Men (1999), with regard to a spectacularly duff pub quiz question one week, that contestants were expected to get “the right wrong answer, as opposed to the wrong right one.” With this in mind, here are a few examples of rule changes and errors, from the subtle to the unsubtle, that went out to millions on national television as opposed to one man and his dog down the local.
Fifteen to One
This blog usually takes most of its sources from Fifteen to One, and this post is no different. In 1989, a subtle rule change allowed no fewer than three future champions who had theoretically ‘lost’ to come back and win the series. The specific rule change was that if a losing contestant had attained a score which would have made that year’s Grand Final, even if they were standing at the end or had been knocked out, they were allowed another go.
The classic example was three time champion Anthony Martin. Already a finalist in series 2, he was knocked out in series 4 on a score of 203 taking one question too many. Between series, the new rule was introduced, and Martin went on to win series 5, 8, and 11.
Glen Binnie, the champion of series 12 in 1993, was in deep trouble in a heat back in series 8. Clawing back five consecutive questions with one life left, he scored 141. It wasn’t enough to defeat Mike Watson, who with 141 and two lives left went through to the Grand Final, but given the par score for that series’ showpiece was 132, Binnie was invited back and the rest is history. Watson, who finished third in series 8, fell at the first round in his next appearance.
The other champion who benefitted from some rather judicious officiating was series 18 winner Arnold O’Hara. His first appearance, towards the back end of series 15, saw him up against Lesley Webster, who scored 262 in the previous series to notch the finals board trophy, and was a multiple winner in her own right. Despite only getting one question wrong in the entire show, O’Hara finished second with 133 (2) after Webster’s five consecutive questions saw her finish on 141 (1). Even though neither score was enough for that year’s Grand Final, O’Hara was allowed back.
It’s fascinating to see two great players compete in the same show – arguably signalling the end of one era and the beginning of another. One other example of this was serial Grand Finalist Simon Holmes, who in series 16 had the misfortune of being up against Leslie Booth, the two time defending champion. Holmes defied the odds to win that show, and would notch up 11 appearances himself. Daphne Fowler’s run at the end of the regular Fifteen to One series came about because her previous appearance, in series 4 in 1989, saw her come up against multiple winner and series 7 champion Thomas Dyer.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
At the end of it all, with Fifteen to One, Mastermind and the like, the prestige is important but at heart, they are just games – and the appeal is to play the game for its own sake. Why would anyone else go on Fifteen to One with the odds of winning so much more remote than getting both first round questions wrong and looking a pillock on national television, for instance? But with Millionaire, it’s all about the money. Does it magnify errors?
The classic example, when Millionaire could still make front page news, was when Tony Kennedy won £125,000 by answering that the minimum strokes with which a tennis player could win a set was 24. This answer was adjudged as correct, however the actual correct answer is 12 – a player could theoretically win games one, three and five (or two, four and six naturally) with 12 strokes by serving aces, and then not face a stroke in the other games with 12 double faults from their opponent. Two wrongs normally don’t make a right, but in this instance Kennedy was allowed to keep his money, clarified here by Chris Tarrant.
The other incident which made serious headlines – partly because it involved celebrities rather than Joe Bloggs – was when Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen and his wife Jackie got the £1,000,000 question wrong. The question, “Translated from the Latin, what is the official motto of the United States?”, was answered with ‘In God We Trust’. The horror as the ‘correct’ answer, ‘One Out of Many’, flashed up, was a picture. However, it was later argued that the question was too ambiguous – ‘In God We Trust’ is certainly known as a US motto, and the Latin the question referred to, ‘E Pluribus Unum’, was never codified by law. The explanation from Tarrant this time (at 36:41 in the below video) was a little less convincing – and it does make you wonder whether the same thing would have occurred had it been on the civvies version – while the Llewellyn Bowens took all of about three seconds before deciding to walk with the money the second time around.
Are there any other famous cases of quiz shows getting questions particularly wrong or changing the rules? Let us know in the comments.