Real TV by Trevor Plumbly


Your starter for 10

Reality TV never did it for me, but as the years have advanced and the eyesight retreated I’ve developed a strange attraction for quiz shows. At 5 o’clock sharp I prepare myself for the daily fix. Beer at hand, brain in buzz mode, staring earnestly at a grey TV screen occupied by equally grey and fuzzy contestants.

The shows themselves are blatantly formulaic, if you can answer all the questions you win pots of money, but if you get one wrong, you’re out on your ear. A bit like ‘snakes and ladders’ really – accept there aren’t any second chances. The first few questions are patsy stuff, depending on the style of the presenter, the correct answer, (which could be given by the average 10 year old) is either greeted by unbridled enthusiasm or sagacious acknowledgement, canned applause marks the end of each tense moment.

Taking part

Unlike sports fans, I don’t cheer or jeer, but I do get just as involved and these shows do bring out the uncharitable in me. I draw the line at shouting ‘what a thicko!’, but I do find myself thinking that way as some poor fish slinks away in a cloud of embarrassment and electronically generated clapping.

Contestant are a varied bunch, chosen I feel because they are either ‘televisual’ or ‘characters’ with a semi-interesting anecdote to tell. Few academics seem to take part, maybe it’s because they’ve got a better chance of winning the loot or too serious to be ‘televisual’. The world of the quiz show is indeed a cruel one where intellect is outlawed in favour of quirky.

In the hot seat

It can’t, of course just happen like we see it. There’s got to be some editing to get rid of the fluff, and more disturbing, are the questions tailored to fit the personality of the contestant? We’ve all got our likes and dislikes when it comes to people and I reckon television producers are no different in that regard. So, suppose we take three hypothetical contestants, 1. A blokey sporting type. 2. A wimpy, young smartass and 3. A likeable grandmother. All three cruise past the patsy stuff and we’re into the serious money. It’s obviously time to cut the dead wood out so No. 2. gets ‘How many rounds did Muhammed Ali have to fight in his last bout against George Foreman?’ Smartass scurries off, and even the applause sounds genuine. Next up No. 1. gets ‘Who composed ‘The Carnival Of The Animals?’ He exits stage left minus the swagger. The producer is a woman and hates over-blokey types. Last up for the big one is grandma, she gets asked ‘ What would you do with the $500,000 if you won? If she says ‘I’ll share it with my grandchildren’, it’s likely to invite something like, ‘What was the Christian name of Prince Charles’s first wife? If, on the other hand she says ‘I’ll go to Las Vegas and rent myself an Elvis look-alike toy boy’, the response could be, ‘Who was the bass guitarist on Snoop Dog’s first album?’

If you’ve got the answer, don’t ring me at five o’clock, I’ll be watching TV.


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