Quiz Shows – Tom on The Weakest Link


A year after applying, yours truly became a contestant on The Weakest Link on June 22nd 2004. The show was broadcast on December 8th of the same year.

Highlights video…

My questions…

  • In history, what Z is the name of an African people who were led in the 19th Century by a chief called Shaka?
  • What word follows ‘Cross’ and ‘Long’ to give the names of two weapons that fire bolts and arrows respectively?
  • In British publishing, the journal known by its abbreviation T.E.S. is aimed at members of which professions? Education or accountancy?
  • In a UK pub, a person ordering half a lager is requesting a half of which measure?

My experience…

After getting through all the auditions (see below), the BBC paid for my transport to London and put me up in the plush Sheraton Heathrow hotel in sunny Slough. Here, by randomly asking ‘contestant-looking’ strangers, I hunted down Keith (who went on to win) and Susan. The others joined us the following morning for our lift to Pinewood Studios where Jonny Depp was filming his latest movie. Keith, Erika, Susan, Richard, Trevor, Andy, Eileen and Debbie came from all across the country and were all real characters. We were guided through the rules, had a practice round, had our outfits approved (no stripes, logos, dark colours etc…) and each took it in turns to have our makeup and microphones sorted.

The studio and Robinson were smaller than I’d imagined. The woman herself made a discreet entrance, remained ‘in character’ and quickly said each of our names – this was the only time she spoke to me. Although makeup approved my t-shirt, the producers wouldn’t let me wear it. Having heard about what it said, coupled with me heckling her from across the studio, it appeared she was obviously intimidated a fellow ginger.

The studio was very dark, behind Anne’s podium was a big screen showing the money ladder with a huge red clock next to it to help us through the rounds. The heights of our podiums were adjusted and back lights positioned. To give the editing team enough ‘coverage’ (or ‘filler’ footage), we all had to be recorded for four minutes looking silently at a studio runner standing on Anne’s podium, which was a bit bizarre. The Weakest Link music was actually playing during rounds and the whole operation was incredibly smooth, with only a couple of retakes.

We went directly into the first round, which for a good few minutes I thought was still a practice round. Our strategy was decided in the Green Room – we would bank every £800. I could barely hear Anne’s questions, and they seemed to come from behind me. This is an admittedly poor explanation for stumbling on the ‘larger question’ – my excuse being that I thought I was being asked what drink ‘half a pint’ refers to!

Between rounds, Robinson disappeared for five minutes to prepare her insults and look at statistics – meanwhile, us contestants wrote down who we wanted off. We had to go over and over what we had written for the overhead camera to capture each of us deciding. When Anne returned, it became clear that her one-liners and abuse weren’t as quick and snappy as they looked on the tellybox. Post-editing, her put-downs would probably appear a lot more witty and spontaneous.

Disappointed by not having an opportunity to ‘have a go at Anne’, I laid into fellow-contestant Debbie and Eileen (who was Scottish) during the talking head segment.

Weakest Link facts…

  • The first show was broadcast in 2000, inspired by the hilarity of Jeremy Paxman’s insulting quips on University Challenge whenever a student said something a bit dim.
  • The BBC receives thousands of applicants. If every contestant who applied for the show was given an appearance, it would take almost 8,000 programmes to fit everyone in (and 107 years).
  • Anne Robinson is known as ‘Annie’ to the crew and she stumbled upon her famous catchphrase by accident during an early rehearsal.
  • The BBC were so sure it would be a success, the show was not piloted.

Audition process…

Check out the BBC Website – send in the four page application with a recent photo and hopefully you’ll get a phone interview and then an audition.

Mine was in Leeds and lasted a couple of hours. There were individual pieces to camera, practice rounds and a filmed interview. I reckon the fact I went out of my way to insult my fellow auditionees impressed the researchers (didn’t actually mean to be insulting, but they were all so bloody miserable). A fortnight later I got a phonecall offering me a date a month later. Before my appearance, Vicky – the researcher – built a ‘biography’ of me, asking me questions on the phone for no less than 30 solid minutes…

The detail and depth of the probing was astounding, but I think it’s all designed make you relax and mention something you perhaps didn’t mean to say. In my case, it was the fact that I aquired 5 tropical diseases on my travels – and this ended up being the first thing on Anne’s cue card!

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