In spite of an influx of newer quizzes on the block, like Eggheads, the Weakest Link and Pointless, two classic game shows continue to reign supreme. University Challenge, which set its first starter for ten in 1962, still routinely pulls in audiences of nearly three million on BBC2, a figure that soars during the final. Mastermind, which first aired in 1972, achieves viewing figures of around 1 3/4 million, again adding viewers at the competition’s climax.
The abiding appeal is part psychology, part challenge. In Mastermind, as you try hard to up your score with the general knowledge quiz questions, there’s a bit of schadenfreude. How will that nice teacher with an encyclopaedic knowlege of medieval history behave under pressure? Poor Michael Burton, a gas technician from London, achieved the second lowest ever score, seven points, in 2009 with his knowledge – or ignorance – of angels. He later claimed this was a prank. Interestingly, the programme was originally devised by Bill Wright, who based the format on his World War II experience of being interrogated by the Gestapo.
With University Challenge, it’s about seeing whether the upstart and redbrick universities can trounce Oxbridge. Manchester, current charmpions for the third time since 2006, proved they can.
There’s also the fun of discovering how often Jeremy Paxman sneers per round. But ultimately it’s the thrill of pitting your wits against experts. And the show’s combination of tough quiz questions mixed with a few trivia questions still challenges most sitting room teams. Well, would you have known which agricultural process is based on the symbiotic association of rhizobium bacteria with the roots of legumes?
Contestants occasionally earn a cult following, like Gail Trimble, captain of Corpus Christi, Oxford, in 2009. When the so called “human Google” and her team reached the final, six million tuned in.
Each series, the University Challenge producers buy 4070 quiz questions, with a sprinkling of trivia questions thrown in. Of that figure, 3250 top questions make it onto the screen. When they buy quiz questions, they’re looking for something challenging yet entertaining. Of course, when they buy trivia questions, there’s the matter of dumbing down to consider. Both programmes have been accused of this and both quizmasters have defended their quizzes, with Paxman saying recently: “‘We haven’t compromised. It’s quite hard and it will stay quite hard in an age when you can win shedloads of money… by knowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s first name (even though that one did seem to stump President Obama).”.
Today both quizzes are part of our culture and the 2003 novel Starter for Ten by David Nicholls became a movie starring James McAvoy. That in itself could make a nice trivia question.
The Question Co supplied trivia questions for the Mastermind Official Mobile App. Get in touch if you want to buy quiz questions.