As Band Aid once so famously sang, “It’s Christmas time…”. As they did not sing, famously or otherwise, this means it’s time for the press to get moist over the upcoming TV series finals of the likes of the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity and every other prime-time autumn reality show you can think of. You can look forward to seeing half the tabloids stuffed with analysis of those finalists, including their odds to win, high points, low points and probably some sort of bitchy comment about their dress sense. Maybe you’ll even get a soundbite from the contestants/future D-list celebrities themselves, trumpeting self-belief and clichés whilst showing all the personality of a beige wall! Something to look forward to, indeed.
But, being the primetime-shunning nerd I am, I couldn’t give a toss about dancing/jungle-inhabiting G-list celebrities or a bunch of over-emotional, autotuned goons. My finals of choice are those of series 65 of Countdown, my not-so-secret televisual vice. Seeing as these series finalists have been cruelly neglected by The Sun et al., I thought it only fair to give them a similar sort of coverage; whether or not they decide to descend into alcoholism and end up in rehab/dating one of the Cheeky Girls hereafter is entirely up to them. So, in order of seed:
1. Mark Deeks
Stats: 8 wins, 824 points
Opinion: It’s totally unfashionable to vouch for the #1 seed, isn’t it? You’re supposed to go for the underdog, stick pins into your voodoo doll of the number 1 and cackle like a Disney villain every time Dictionary Corner gets a longer word than them. But hell, you don’t need me to tell you that I’m generally an unfashionable person (I’m writing an article about Countdown – what more do you need to know?), and I’m not even going to pretend I am here – any #1 seed who plays ‘SCATMEN’ as a word on daytime terrestrial television is worthy of respect, even if it is invalid in the Oxford English Dictionary. Some found him smug, but I thought he was more ‘endearingly awkward’. In any case, Jeff Stelling clearly loved him after their little bit of banter and so did Casa Steadman. You should too.
Housewife’s Opinion*: “Looked like he might wet himself with terror, but we were in awe of his mental capacity.”
Highlight: Absolutely mullering his opposition in his last game, winning by 126 points to 44, for the highest score of the series.
2. Graeme Cole
Stats: 8 wins, 813 points
Opinion: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (June, Kent), we saw Graeme become the first octochamp of the series. Unfortunately, as it was so long ago I can’t remember much about his performances, but I remember the following things:
1. His squeaky voice annoyed me.
2. Jon Culshaw, the impressionist, was in Dictionary Corner during his octochamp run and made him do an impression of Jools Holland. I can’t remember how good it was because I was too busy wondering if he was a eunuch.
3. He was very good at Countdown and introduced ‘GIAOURS’ to my vocabulary. (It’s an offensive term for non-Muslims, I think.)
4. There was something about him which, to me, suggested he had the potential to be a serial killer. The sort that would kill you in a dark alleyway if you beat him at Countdown. The sort who would stare at your corpse after beating you to death with a dictionary and laugh squeakily about it before running home to read that same blood-stained dictionary…
…However, I have it on good authority that he is, in fact, very nice in real life and isn’t actually a potential/actual serial-killer. So there we go. (Though it’s always the nice ones.) On a non-libellous note, he’s definitely in with a good chance of winning the series. Though his task may be easier if he just kills the other finalists.
UPDATE: I can from first-hand experience confirm that he is actually lovely and, if imbued with any inclination towards homicide, hides it marvellously.
Housewife’s Opinion*: “Squeaky voice. Err…” [She clearly doesn’t remember getting annoyed when he won on a crucial conundrum. I, however, do.]
Highlight: Spotting ‘NURSEMAID’, a fantastic spot which gave him 18 of the points he racked up in a 125-19 win – the second highest score of the series and the most crushing (if we define ‘most crushing’ as the biggest difference between scores).
3. Paul Keane
Stats: 8 wins, 744 points
Opinion: Ok, I admit it. I haven’t actually got as far as his octochamp run. I’m about a month behind on watching Countdown. This is the problem with not having a TV and having to do uni work occasionally. I’ll just have to go with the housewife’s opinion on this one.
Housewife’s Opinion*: “Nice.”
Highlight: In the two minutes since I typed my opinion of him, I haven’t had a chance to watch his episodes… so I dunno. Presumably any one of his four centuries would’ve been a highlight for him.
4. Carl Williams
Stats: 8 wins, 708 points
Opinion: Ever wonder what David Cameron would have ended up like if he’d taken up weightlifting and Countdown? Wonder no more. This smug, orange buffoon is a less-posh, more-muscly (but still-a-twat) incarnation of DC, something that the world really didn’t need. If you like your octochamps trying to blag the numbers by staring at them for a few extra seconds after the timer runs out, remaining stony-faced and refusing to clap when Dictionary Corner found a weird and wonderful word or Rachel solved a ludicrously complicated numbers round, or just generally looking like he’s a bit in love with himself, you’ll love him. If you possess a modicum of sanity or taste, you probably won’t.
Casa Steadman rather disliked him, in case you hadn’t worked that out.
Housewife’s Opinion*: “Who’s Carl?” [after jogging her memory – poor old dear’s getting on a bit and needs a bit of help sometimes] “Oh, HIM! My self-preservation mechanism had obviously cut in and deleted him from my main-frame memory. Ugh.”
Highlight: My highlight of his shows was the end of his eighth one, because I wouldn’t have to look at his slimy orange face for another four months. But, attempting to be impartial, probably spotting two nines in a match to win 116-43. Although one of them was ‘RELATIONS’, which is the most common 9 to spot. But still, others have faltered before it.
5. Jayne Wisniewski
Stats: 8 wins, 705 points
Opinion: Someone, call David Attenborough! We’ve got a rare species here. The Female Octochamp hadn’t been spotted on Countdown in two and a half years prior to Jayne’s run. But just as all aspiring future female octochamps (ahem) had given up hope of ever seeing a female contestant string eight wins together, Jayne came along and, with the help of a few nines, finally did our gender proud. For that reason, she’s now my Countdown heroine.
Housewife’s Opinion*: “Seemed nice, and nice to see a female octochamp for once.”
Highlight: Her game against teenager Ophelie Humphrey, which she won by 102 points to 79 – the best all-female game of Countdown for some time.
6. Dave Taylor
Stats: 8 wins, 691 points
Opinion: Dave’s the sort of contestant who you’d want to be your granddad – he seemed friendly and had an amusing habit of saying “Probably the same” before declaring his word – and when the other contestant declared, it usually wasn’t the same word! Haha, what japes!! (You can tell I don’t get out much.) Not to mention he was quite good at the game, despite missing ‘PALINODES’ twice during his run – even I spotted it the second time. But he was so adorable I’ll forgive him. Can’t see him getting to the final, but maybe he’ll surprise us all.
Housewife’s Opinion*: “Affable old codger. Slightly iffy teeth.”
Highlight: He made up for failing at ‘PALINODES’ by spotting ‘FOCALISED’ in his sixth game.
7. Nikki Roberts
Stats: 7 wins, 655 points
Opinion: After the rare sighting of the Female Octochamp just weeks before, we nearly saw another one in Nikki as she racked up win after win. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be as she came unstuck in her last game, but despite some nervy performances she came across well, managed several centuries and had some impressive spots in the shape of ‘CAROTID’ and ‘GIRASOL’.
Housewife’s Opinion*: “Unlucky not to win her last game, as she did really well.”
Highlight: Spotting a 9 in ‘UPLOADING’ – not the most obvious –ING nine to find in her second century game. Though she probably thought another opponent being unable to make 493 from a selection including 50, 10 and 7 was a highlight!
8. David Butcher
Stats: 7 wins, 620 points
Opinion: If he’d won his eighth game, he would have been the lowest-scoring 15 round-era octochamp ever… but he didn’t, so let’s forget about that and focus on what did happen. Considering how nervous he seemed to be from his first show to his last, seven wins is an achievement in itself. That said, he had some quality spots (‘DOCTORATE’) and can’t be totally written off. Just mostly.
Housewife’s Opinion*: “Smiley and looked like he was enjoying himself.”
Highlight: Spotting ‘DOCTORATE’ from the selection in his first game, which even Dictionary Corner didn’t spot. An excellent declaration by any standards.
Who wins? You decide! Actually, that’s a lie, it has nothing to do with you. It’s all up to them now. You’ll just have to wait and see…
*A real-life housewife** provided the opinions here. Her identity will, of course, remain anonymous. Thanks for helping, Mum! (Whoops.)
**Ok, so technically she has a job, but she is someone’s wife and lives in a house. Jen Steadman bends the dictionary at will.