From today there are now two game shows on televison produced by Shine Australia: Minute to Win It on Seven and Letters and Numbers on SBS ONE.
On one show there’s $1m up for grabs, an arena with a mammoth lighting rig, a pumped up audience, cheering contestants, computer graphics and a cheeky, youthful host. On the other the wrinkly host is seated behind a desk, no audience, a bloke with a dictionary, a girl manually shuffling letters on tiles and a consolation prize of a Dictionary.
The two could not be more further apart.
But despite the apparent appeal of Minute to Win It‘s “Egg Roll” and “Noodling Around” it is Letters and Numbers that has a long history on international television.
Veteran presenter Richard Morecroft, who hosts the show for SBS, isn’t shy in asking for viewer support.
“It’s a format that has been a global phenomenon, airing in countries around the world including France in the 1960s and the UK since the 80’s. And of course, we’re hoping the show will be just as popular here,” he says.
It contrasts markedly from Darren McMullen’s confident style that would have you believe Minute to Win It is an instant hit.
Aiding Morecroft is research mathematician, Lily Serna.
“It’s certainly a long way away from computational fluid dynamics, but I’m really excited about having some fun with numbers,” she says. Riiiiiiight.
Poring over the Dictionary to verify answers is Cruciverbalist (a glorified name for a crossword enthusiast) David Astle.
Each episode has two contestants. The first night included an art enthusiast who is also part of a knitting group.
As the title would suggest, the gameplay is divided into two games. The “Letters” round sees contestants request a number of consonants and vowels, randomly selected by Lily manually onto a large board. While Adriana Xenides gave letter spinning her own brand of glamour on Wheel of Fortune, Lily isn’t given any of the bells and whistles (or gowns either), but she’s cheerful at this very perfunctory task. I couldn’t help but wonder if having a female given such a manual job was still necessary in this era, but presumably somebody has to prove the letters are chosen fairly.
The contestants have 30 seconds to come up with the longest word they can think of while Astle checks the accuracy and meaning from his very large book.
For the “Numbers” round contestants choose a group of numbers from Lily (as either large or small numbers: 100, 75, 2, 9, 5, 7). Then they are given another “target number” which is the sum total of the numbers via multiplying and adding -they just have to figure out the right path in 30 seconds to score more points. This was a tricky challenge but in explaining the answer, Lily’s skills come to the fore. She’s a bit of a wiz in adding and subtracting in no time at all.
The final round is worth extra points as a way of throwing a wildcard into the outcome.
This is an unapologetically humble show and in a 6pm timeslot it is likely to have a small, devoted legion of fans. I can see a lot of older viewers warming to its logic challenges. As Morecroft reminded us, it has decades under its belt in France as Des chiffres et des lettres and in the UK as Countdown.
The interactive element for playing at home is simple -I beat the contestants twice- but then I’m not under the pressure of TV lights and cameras.
If you enjoy alternative game shows on public broadcasters (ie. The Einstein Factor) this should appeal.
Letters and Numbers airs 6pm weeknights on SBS ONE.