Pointless luck

I’ve been neglecting this somewhat over the past few weeks, but I don’t really think anybody is reading it anyway. And this is sort of related to death. It is a resurrection. This is the full length version of an article I wrote for my student newspaper about my recent appearance on the TV show Pointless, which has been chopped and in some instances rewritten with a frankly quite vomit-inducing excess of exclamation marks in total contrast to my true style. Enjoy.


I’d always wanted to be on a game show. Trivial knowledge, bad jokes, tacky prizes and, just maybe, big money – all these things fostered my love of that television staple. From the simple joys of Catchphrase and Blockbusters to the madcap brilliance of The Crystal Maze, I love them all.

But appearing on a game show required two things of which I am short supply: effort and courage. Nevertheless, at rare intervals I have enough of the two to actually do something. The BBC series Pointless provided an outlet for that rarity.

The show, quickly becoming one of the most popular with around 5 million viewers daily at 5:15 on BBC One, is like reverse Family Fortunes, requiring contestants to provide the most obscure answer to a question, in the hope that as few of the 100 people surveyed said it as possible. Alexander Armstrong and his information providing sidekick Richard Osman present the show in an entertaining, joke-filled style. The show is a two-person game, with four pairs competing over three rounds for the coveted Pointless trophy and a crack at winning the show’s jackpot. If you fail to make the final, you return the following day for a second attempt.

I acquired my second person in my friend and fellow Pointless fan Praveen. We joked that it was plausible we would get on – we did meet the age requirements – and so scrawled out the application form and sent it off, expecting to never hear from it again.

However, a few weeks later we each got a call to say we had been selected for an audition. “They’ll probably realize our unsuitability for TV there”, said Praveen, although I was just amazed that they could read my handwriting.

We arrived at the hotel in Birmingham and met the other auditionees. After introductions, a quiz and a mock game of Pointless (where I got the pointless Jack Nicholson film About Schmidt) we were called back in for a camera interview. We gabbled on about how we met, our preferred subjects and our ‘interesting’ stories, repeating ourselves multiple times and using no word more often than ‘er’. Finally, it was over, and we left enriched by the experience, but sure that that would be that.

Either we somehow made a good impression or they failed to find enough student nerds for the series, because we were selected. We would record on January 10th and went down the night before.

I sat on the tube, nervously packing the underground map into my mind on the off chance that Rayners Lane and Cockfosters would be low scorers. At the hotel we enhanced our confidence by wasting ten minutes trying to turn the room’s light on (you had to put the card in above the switch). And after revising with an episode of Play Your Cards Right, we tried to get some sleep on an unseasonably warm January night.

After a jarringly early 7 AM awakening, I tucked in to a fried breakfast, while Praveen (who “doesn’t do breakfast”) sat pensively, starring into a glass of juice. We got our stuff, and ventured on to the mean streets of London, making it to BBC Television Centre for 9 AM. As I entered the site where many of my favourite TV moments of all time were produced, I couldn’t believe our luck that we were there.

Luck was the word of the day.

We checked in, arrived at the green room and listened as the rules were read out, before going off to makeup, wardrobe and rehearsal. They were recording two regular episodes that day. The first would feature two returning pairs. Another student pair was selected as one of the new contestants for the episode. This was potentially disastrous, because unless they won and thus didn’t need to return for the second episode, we would have made the journey for nothing and would have to come back on Thursday.

Luckily, they won, so we could enjoy our BBC lunch and a showing of Doctors with relief. The luck continued as we drew podium four, traditionally the best podium. We went off to the studio.

We stood behind our podium and chatted with Alexander and Richard, barely able to suppress our nerdy awe. I can’t stress how baffled we were to be there.

After painfully dragging ourselves through the introductions, the game began. Round One: British Olympians with two gold medals. We sailed through with Rebecca Adlington and Steve Redgrave – neither of whom are sailors. It was the only time we actually led throughout the entire show.

Round Two: Dates of historical events. Horrific. I shamefacedly muttered ‘1066’ for the Norman Conquest, fully expecting our exit. Luckily, it said Norman Conquest, not the Battle of Hastings, so it was actually not a bad score. Praveen likewise had to go with the obvious answer of ‘1939’ for the Second World War’s outbreak, but others’ incorrect answers managed to see us through.

The Head-to-Head: Luck shone through again. Question one was some pictures of opera houses, which we obviously didn’t know. Question two was EastEnders trivia which I aced with ‘Dot’ as the only character to have a single-hander episode. We entered the decider. Government department acronyms. I knew them all. Unfortunately, the other pair went first and they went with what I knew would be the lowest answer: DEFRA. If they got it right, our dream would end. Luckily, the ‘F’ stands for food, not fisheries as they guessed, and the Department of Work and Pensions did something useful for a change, and won us the show.

In the break before the cameras rolled again, we agreed that we didn’t care what happened because the trophy was all that mattered. In fact I was so dumbfounded that we had got to the final in the first place, I passed through it in a kind of existential haze of bewilderment.

The choice of category was rather like when you open an exam paper and wonder if you’re in the right room. Dismissing ‘Populations’ and ‘British Boxers’ amongst others, ‘Acting Couples’ became the only feasible choice. Much to my disappointment, it wasn’t about sham marriages. No, instead it was Warren Beatty and Annette Bening films. Well, really it was Warren Beatty or Annette Benning, as I had to stupidly clarify.

The clock started. I turned to Praveen, safe in the knowledge that it was all up to me because he didn’t know who either of them were. I couldn’t remember who Annette Benning was, leaving me with the sole answer of Bonnie and Clyde, easily Warren Beatty’s most famous film. In a flash of inspiration I remembered seeing the name Beatty on the credits of Toy Story 3 and Deliverance. We had the only three answers we were ever going to get, so we stopped the clock and opted against prolonging the inevitable.

As I gave the answers to Alexander I realized before it was too late that the Beatty in Toy Story 3 and probably Deliverance was the entirely unrelated Ned. But it was too late. Despite being the most taciturn person I know, I spouted two inevitable 100s before I could stop myself. Amazingly, Bonnie and Clyde dropped to the tantalizing low of 7, but the Endemol bank transfer of our dreams was not to be.

We didn’t care. We somehow got to be on TV, on one of our favourite shows, we got to meet Alexander and Richard, and, oh yeah, we won the coveted Pointless trophy.

It was an experience I would recommend to anyone, great fun, with some lovely people. And it will also take pride of place on my otherwise gap-intensive CV.