What It Feels Like To Fail On A Daytime Quiz Show

How one writer fared under the studio lights

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The lights go down; the eyes look on.

I stand monolithically with a nervous grin etched onto my face, as the questions begin.

"Which line of latitude is located at approximately 23.5 degrees south of the equator?"

My mind chugs to a stop.

The audience are out there somewhere, watching me, judging me. Thoughts of looking stupid in front of two million people plonked in front of their TV sets hijack my mind, so instead of answering, I stare blankly into the darkness, allowing fate to run its course.

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Some of my amiable opponents get their questions wrong too, and somehow – by default – I'm through.

I live to fight another round.

***

The show is Two Tribes – a BBC2 quiz show presented by TV host Richard Osman, the markedly tall fact-checker off Pointless.

The premise is simple. Before filming, contestants are asked to answer 200 yes and no questions about themselves. We are then split into two groups during the show – the 'yes' tribe and the 'no' tribe – based on those answers. Initially working as a team to build points, one person is eliminated from each losing tribe until a winner remains.

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I had applied for the show one miserable October afternoon as an entertaining reprieve from the hopeless task of writing job applications. If I can't earn money, I thought, why not try to win some instead? 

In my head, I'd won already: I'm competitive, I'm good at pub quizzes, I'm not terrible at Trivial Pursuit. I may be currently jobless, but hey, this time next year, who knows? I could be making a living as a quiz supremo on Eggheads...

Precisely half an hour after clicking 'send', my phone rang. They wanted me to come in for an audition.

***

It's a few weeks later and I find myself, early one sunny Tuesday morning, sat in the make-up room of a TV studio with an assemblage of individuals I would have otherwise never met.

Most of them sit quietly sucking on sweets, while others excitedly taunt their friends with cryptic Facebook statuses regarding their whereabouts. One has even brought along 'revision' in the form of an OK magazine.

There's supremely chatty university lecturer, Alan; James, an eccentric Scotsman who looks far too youthful to be a police detective; Margaret, probably the most elegant former pub landlady I'll ever meet; and how could I forget 82-year-old retired pensions manager, Len?

I swiftly learn of Len's previous quiz show escapades, and realise I'm up against a formidable veteran. I'm told that his outfit of choice – a bottle green jumper embroidered with the pattern of dogs playing a round of golf – has made appearances on other quiz shows, most recently The Chase. In fact – they amusedly tell me – the jumper has its very own Twitter hashtag.

 
Len's jumper stealing the show on the left

I feel I'm part of a real-life version of Cluedo. Only instead of a luxurious mansion, I'm stashed away in a soulless holding room within the depths of Elstree studios.

As the sweet-sucking and status-updating continues, I sit – rolling with the occasional burst of chatter – thanking my lucky stars the Snooker Masters is on the TV.

***

The sun has gone down by the time I find myself stood – with faux confidence – in front of the studio's oversized cameras.

At the producers' disposal, I'm split into the tribes determined by the 200 questions I answered months ago. I'm mortified to be reminded that one of those questions was 'do you consider yourself intelligent?' At the time, from the comfort of my bedroom, I'd answered yes.

Now, in front of the watching world, the towering Osman (he's 6' 7") is asking me to elaborate on that boast.

"Common sense, no – intelligence, yes," I say, desperate to appear cool. What follows proves I am at worst a liar, at best a fool.

It turns out, answering questions in front of an audience that includes my friends and family – the majority of whom are relentless piss-takers – makes me forget every piece of knowledge I've amassed over 24 years on this earth.

Except the fact that Lionel Richie sang 'Say You Say Me'. I remember that.

Then, with round two comes my low point.

Teamed with Alan and Len, I know I'm in trouble when the latter answers a question on Britney Spears with relative ease (yep, 82-year-old Len). I'm then given a sitter.

"What breed are the Queen's dogs?"

"Chihuahuas," I answer confidently.

I'm sure even the canines on Len's famous jumper found that one funny. 

My reaction to getting through by default...

I come crashing out during the quarter final round against Len and Margaret, the latter of whom went on to reign supreme.

Still, I take some comfort in the fact that while a fellow contestant was asked to spell 'pharmacy', I had been questioned on the far more difficult 'vexillology' (two points if you know what that is without Googling).

***

On the train home, we all bundle into a six-seat section hurtling towards central London. Observations are made and reflections shared on the day's strange events. Our fellow passengers look on as if we're the oddest friendship group they'd ever seen. It should be tense; it should be awkward – and yet it's not.

As we say our scattered goodbyes, I realise I will never see these individuals again… and that, in actual fact, I'd enjoyed their company.

I return home armed with a great story for the boozer – even if my pals are forever destined to collapse into fits of laughter every time I mention Chihuahuas.

But at least when I guzzle my pint red-faced, I can seek strange solace in the fact I'll probably live on forever, through endless quiz show re-runs on Challenge.

***
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