I read a BBC News article this week titled “What it’s like to be a Weakest Link contestant” and it got me thinking.
I could have written that article! I should have written that article…9 years ago when I was a contestant on The Weakest Link.
That’s right. I had my 15 minutes of fame back in 2008 when at the tender age of 21, I came face to face with The Queen of Mean herself, Anne Robinson. And I lived to tell the tale.
So what is it really like to be a contestant on a prime-time TV Quiz show? It’s relatively easy actually. I was asked to drive down to London Heathrow and was put up in a hotel near Terminal 2 the night before the recording. It was actually a very nice 4* place, so clearly TV Licence Fee payers money is well spent. The following morning all the contestants who had stayed over are picked up from the lobby and bussed to Pinewood studios. This was probably the highlight of my day. When I arrived at Pinewood they were filming one of the Daniel Craig James Bond films, so my eyes were peeled for a glimpse of Mr. Bond, alas this was not to be.
The ‘behind the scenes’ area of a film studio is fairly bland. Aside from the headshot photographs of TV and Film stars adorning the many miles of corridors that make up the studios there really isn’t much more to say about the place. It is, after all, a place of work. You’re giving briefings by various members of the production team, someone from makeup comes and swooshes a brush over your face, someone asks you to weave a microphone cord up under your top and a battery pack is stuffed into your back pocket. A contestant from the team hasn’t understood the instructions about what you can and cannot wear on set and someone from wardrobe is barking rules at them. They’re made to wear something else [which is why in the episode Ann asks a lady why she’s come dressed as a Saxon!].
You’re made to do a very awkward filming sequence in the Green Room (which everyone knows is not green) with your fellow contestants where you’re asked to look happy as if you’ve known the person you’re talking to all your life. The reality is you met about 30 minutes ago. And then you’re taken onto the set. There is still no sign of Anne Robinson. Lights glare down on you, and you realise being on a TV set is hot. This must be why the majority of people who appear regularly on TV are slim – they must sweat out about 2kg of weight every day purely from the heat of the lights.
I remember being more frightened of walking onto set than I was of answering questions. The set floor is like polished glass. It looks like ice. Just looking at it gives you vivid premonitions of falling rather un-gracefully arse over tit. Set floor successfully negotiated and I’m allocated my podium.
Here’s the funny bit. They employ a guy whose sole job is to ensure that the contestants are holding their boards the correct way around so that when they reveal who they have voted for the names appear the right way around. Don’t underestimate the stupidity of the Great British public. There are people out there who fail to grasp this simple concept of holding and rotating a board. The reveal sequence is shot in one take with a camera on a big swooping arm. It goes from one person to the next and if one person gets it wrong, you have to go again. We must have spent a good 20 minutes practicing turning boards and speaking into the camera only when the little red light is flashing. People still got this wrong. Honestly, there should have been a prize fund for correctly getting this part of the process done!
Anne Robinson finally makes an appearance on stage. There’s no “Hi everyone, how are you all doing today?”. She speaks to no one. Literally, as soon as she takes her place at the podium the lights change and she’s firing a question at the first contestant. I remember being caught slightly off-guard by this.
I made it through the first round without getting any questions wrong and without banking too prematurely.
I made it through the next few rounds successfully; amazing myself with the speed at which I correctly answer a mental arithmetic question.
It comes to my turn where Anne wants to ask me some questions about what I do. At the time of going on the show, I was working in a Fraud & Intelligence department at Her Majesty’s Passport Office. I had to notify my employer and the Head of Department agreed I could go on provided I did not talk about my work. I made it clear to the production team all the way through the application process that I can talk about anything, except my work. I even said on the day of filming “please make a note that I can’t be asked about my work”. I thought I had made it clear to them that I wasn’t permitted to talk about work. So what’s the first thing Anne asks me? “What is it you do for work?”. I literally should have thrown a paddy there and then. Got them to stop filming and told them to ask me something else. Instead, I agonisingly answered the questions put to me.
Now, what you don’t see in the YouTube video is probably the most cringe-inducing minute of my life; because some lovely person in the editing suite kindly decided to remove it from the final cut. It was the part where Anne Robinson asked me this…
Lucy, would you ever issue a passport to a terrorist?
WTF?! WT actual F Anne!? Why would you even think this is a good question to ask. I’m caught massively off-guard. I am ill-prepared for such a question. I’m under the lights, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. And my response? Is this…
Well Anne, if I didn’t know that they WERE an actual terrorist, then yeah, I probably would?
I can see the headlines now “PASSPORT FREE-FOR-ALL!”. As soon as the words have escaped my lips I’m instantly regretting it. I knew I should have asked for Media training from work before going on. My mind is on repeat with a chorus of “Oh my god what have I done?”, “Oh my god I’m going to lose my job”. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my job. As it wasn’t broadcast to the entire nation.
I’m finally been crowned The Strongest Link and I’m just one round away from making it through to the final. I can almost smell the prize money. And then…well, I fall to pieces, don’t I? I answer every question in my round incorrectly and just like that I fall from grace. I am The Weakest Link. Goodbye.
The walk-off set was by far the most frightening 10-yard walk I’ve ever walked. All I kept thinking was “don’t fall over, don’t fall over”. I didn’t fall over. I’m taken to a broom-cupboard where another member of the production team asks a small handful post-gameshow questions summarising how I thought I’d done; whether I’d enjoyed my time; who I’d like to see win. I still hadn’t recovered from my previous bout of verbal diarrhea and again, I say something which as soon as it had come out of my mouth I said to the guy interviewing me “actually, can you cut that out and not use that last one?”. It was so cringe. I’m cringing just thinking about it now. So what do they do? Of course they use the most embarrassing answer out of the three which were asked. I was mortified when it aired.
And thus concludes my experience of being a contestant on The Weakest Link. BBC Producers will make you look like a tit. The BBC employs “Board Monitors”. And Anne Robinson doesn’t mingle with us normal folk.
If you don’t want to watch the full 30-minute episode; here are the questions I was asked. See how you would have done in my place!
- In popular music, the iconic singer born Francis Albert Sinatra was better known by what shortened first name?
- In England & Wales, the criminal justice system is based on the legal premise that a suspect is what until proven guilty?
- In cricket, which word meaning the opposite of dirty precedes bowl to give a phrase used to describe a totally beaten batsman?
- In music, the note which has half the value of a crotchet is called what? A quaver or a tremble?
- In Maths, what’s twenty-seven minus twelve?
- The extra accommodation fee, often charged to holidaymakers who travel alone is usually called what?
- In children’s TV, the catch-phrase that was stuttered by Porky Pig at the end of Warner Brothers cartoons was “That’s all…” what?
- In the British class system, a man who from birth has wealth and social position is said to have been born with a silver spoon in which orifice?
- Which word meaning timber precedes pigeon, lark, and pecker to make the names of three British birds?
- In business, the voluntary or compulsory closing of a company and the payment to any creditors is called what? Sending up or winding up?
Round Six [Strongest Link]
- In reptiles, what ‘V’ is a general name for a venomous snake with long folding fangs?
- In gardening, in March 2005 which black variety of springtime flower went on sale for the first time in the UK? Daffodil or Hyacinth?
- In North American waterways, the Welland canal which bypasses the Niagra Falls links Lake Eerie with which other Great Lake?
- In an insect life-cycle, what P is the term for the largely immobile…[time runs out]