Joinees & Victoria

I look slightly happy for some reason

THHN DSQCK RTHNTHY

A seemingly incoherent string of letters. In actuality, a well known phrase with the vowels removed. Bear it in mind as you read this, it’s a string of letters that I’ve had in my mind for about 5 months now, ever since the recording of our Only Connect episode back in March. My team, consisting of fellow Join Me members Rachel Burns and Sean Gleeson, had auditioned and been lucky enough to make the main show.

If you’ve not seen Only Connect (or read my previous post about the auditions), I’ll try to describe it for you. It’s a quiz show, hosted by Victoria Coren, where the contestants try to make connections between seemingly unconnected things. It’s become a bit of a cult hit on BBC 4, and is now into it’s sixth series. A lot of the charm of the show is down to the wry, acerbic, but ultimately warm and self effacing wit of Victoria. She really sets the tone for the show, aimed at those of us with so much obscure knowledge in our heads, it needs an outlet to stop us annoying our colleagues and loved ones. Only Connect is that outlet.

Joinees - OC

Discussing tactics

Rewind to March this year, and you’d find us in a hotel on the outskirts of Cardiff, sat in the bar, trying very hard to not get drunk with our opponents to be (The Draughtsmen, Andy, Steve, and their captain Iwan). It was quite a surreal experience, this bunch of disparate people, some of the finest quizzing minds in Britain, and us. I’ll be honest, we felt out of our depth, or at least I know I did. Our call time the following morning was half 9, and the clocks were going back, meaning we’d lose an hour as well. I’ll be honest, I was not looking forward to seeing how my brain coped at what it thought was far too early for breakfast, let alone the stresses of the most mentally demanding quiz show on our screens. I did my best to have an early night, made my excuses, and staggered strode majestically back to my room.

I did not sleep well. I barely slept at all. Nerves had taken hold, and with my room being directly in the flight path of some wedding guests, I didn’t really manage to rest my weary, yet over active brain. After what seems like days of waiting, my completely redundant alarm goes off, and I drag myself up and out of bed, and off to breakfast.

Some taxis have been arranged to pick us up and take us to the studio. We’re all packed, ready to go home. One team will return to the hotel for another night, and to film the following round. The other team will go straight home, not passing Go, not collecting £100, but heading to Cardiff Central, possibly via a number of drinking establishments. We pull up at the studio, a large, blocky grey building, a joyless exterior giving no clue as to the glamorous proceedings soon to be contained within. We are greeted at the door by the lovely production team, led by Jenny and Rachel. I think it’s worth at this point taking a moment to mention just how nice the production team are on Only Connect. I’ve never done any form of TV at all, but I’d struggle to see how any other production team could be nicer, and were happy to help put us all at ease. I’ve heard from other contestants who’ve been on other TV quiz shows that the Only Connect family are head and shoulders above the others, and it’s easy to see why.

Only Connect - Green Room

Relaxing before the recording

We were shown to our dressing rooms, where were could get changed into our show attire (no check shirts or company logos), and whisked into make up. They did their best with me but there’s only so much you can paste over, and before we knew it, we were in the studio. It’s a very surreal experience, visiting a TV set. Somewhere you’ve never actually been, but is so familiar to you that your mind just assumes you have. It’s at this moment that I suddenly realise that this is actually happening. Up until this point, it’s all seemed like something that while fun, was happening to someone else, and I was only there to watch on the sidelines. Now, sat in my seat, flanked by my team mates, with my name on the front of the desk, it became very real.

Before Victoria arrived, there was a run through of each round, with Jenny performing the hosting duties. This helped us get used to the buzzers, and make sure we could see the screens properly. I seem to recall we did fairly well at answering the questions, trying to provide amusing connections when we were completely stabbing in the dark. And then, before we knew it, Victoria had arrived, the run through was over, and we were ready to begin.

Watching it back now, I don’t remember round one being quite as one sided as it obviously was. We’d managed to get a couple of answers correct, even stealing the first one, but we were already four points down, and worrying that we were going to really struggle. The second round saw our confidence raise as we settled down a bit, we had raised our game, and managed to claw back a couple of points. Only two behind, and time for the wall round.

Only Connect - The Wall

There must be some groups in here

The wall round is filmed differently to the rest of the show, in a different part of the studio, and without the other team. We waited outside the studio while the Draughtsmen played their wall, and as they left the studio, their faces gave no clue as to how they’d done. We needed a good round to stay in contention. Fortune favoured us here, and we immediately recognised two sets of clues. Watching it back, it seemed to take us an age to finish, whereas in the studio, it felt like we’d completed the wall pretty quickly. Having explained our answers to Victoria, we’d scored the maximum ten points, and so at least we knew we were in with a chance, heading into the final round.

Before the round started, Victoria announced the scores, The Draughtsmen had also scored the maximum, and so we had a couple of points to make up if we were to win the contest. Before the show, and even up until the end of the second round, I genuinely wasn’t that bothered about winning. I just wanted us to give a good account of ourselves, and not let down the people who’d supported us and encouraged us to even get this far. We’d already completed a difficult application and had a filmed audition to even make the show. Now though, heading into the last round, we’d had a taste, and we wanted victory.

OC - the studio

Taking direction – “Stare at Vicky”

The quickfire last round is always a bit of a blur, even watching it on screen, more so when you’re involved. Sean was really on the ball for us, single handedly keeping us in the hunt for victory. The round ebbed and flowed, but had we done enough? Victoria prepared to announce the final scores. We had scored 26, a good score, usually good enough to win, but clearly not enough this time. She announced the Draughtsmen’s score. 26! We were going to a tie break. Captain versus captain, nobody else was to speak. One phrase, no vowels, no clues.

And so, back to those letters.

THHN DSQCK RTHNTHY

They appear on the screen. My mind instantly conjures up an option for what it could be, but it doesn’t fit the letters. Now that’s all I can think of. Stupid brain. I can feel my team mates tense beside me, they know the answer, but are powerless to help.

The buzzer sounds. It’s not me… I hear the phrase “The hand is quicker than the eye”, and suddenly it’s over. We’d come close, but in the end had fallen short by a single answer. We’d been beaten by a great team, and I wish them all the best for the rest of the competition. I can’t help but think that had we come up against a different team in the first round, we’d maybe have made the quarter finals. It was not to be.

As it was, I’d managed to get on my favourite quiz show, met one of my favourite writers/tv presenters, and had one hell of a great day. Not a bad return, all told. Watching it on screen last Monday was far worse than the actual recording, much more nerve wracking. It’s a very strange thing to see yourself on TV if you’re not used to it, particularly when you know how it’s going to end.

If you want to try your hand at the connecting wall round, you can do so here. Our episode is also on the BBC iPlayer for a little while, you can find that here.