Quite possibly the best series ever. The top 3 seeds are the 1st, 3rd and 5th highest-scoring contestants ever, while all 6 octochamps scored over 750 points (averaging over 90 points per game). And that’s not even touching on the contestants who DIDN’T make it; Zarte Siempre was on for a 900-scoring octorun until he was paired against the now highest-scoring contestant ever, while several other contestants fell after a clutch of impressive century-scoring performances. Every finalist has been practising frantically since they finished filming… so it’ll make for an interesting series finals to say the least.
1st QF: Dylan Taylor v Gemma Church (12th December)
2nd QF: Jen Steadman v Callum Todd (13th December)
3rd QF: Glen Webb v Jonathan Liew (16th December)
4th QF: Bradley Cates v Alex Fish (17th December)
1st SF: Winner of 1st QF v winner of 4th SF (18th December)
2nd SF: Winner of 2nd SF v winner of 3rd SF (19th December)
Grand Final: Winner of 1st SF v winner of 2nd SF (20th December)
1. Dylan Taylor (8 wins, 974 points)
He’s not bad at Countdown, this kid. Highest octototal ever (974), most ‘maxes’ – i.e. the best you could score in a round – ever (101/120), an average score of 121… Although his conundrums could have been stronger and he dropped more points than the venerable #2 seed, suggesting there’s not much between them, it will be no great shock to anyone if we see our second consecutive 17-year-old series winner. Even if he can’t pronounce half the words he declares.
Highest score: 129 (6th show, v Leone Mitchell)
Biggest win: 129 – 22  (6th show)
Nines spotted: SEPTARIUM (2nd show), GLUTAMINE (5th show), PANTIHOSE (6th show), GRADIENTS (6th show)
Conundrums solved: 5/8
2. Jen Steadman (8 wins, 952 points)
Oh, hey there… *awkward silence* In between looking awkward and trying to hide under my fringe, I broke a few records (here and here). Unfortunately, with the vastly-improved Callum Todd up in the quarter-final, and probably Glen and Dylan to face hereafter should I win, this is probably the rawest deal a #2 seed’s ever had. Bummer. Don’t hold your breath for the first female series winner for 15 years…
Highest score: 130 (4th show, v Ian Talbot – whose friend wrote a poem about our game; see him reading it in inimitable style here)
Biggest win: 112 – 19 [93 points] (2nd show, v Derek Knowles)
Nines spotted: COURTIERS (4th show), PANTIHOSE (6th show), MOUSEBIRD (7th show), HORTENSIA (8th show)
Conundrums solved: 6/8
3. Glen Webb (8 wins, 945 points)
Although most of his games were played in series 68, his 8th game was the first game of the series – which means he joins the 69ers (snort). In his third game, he got the highest score ever for a normal preliminary game, and his letters are razor-sharp online after some intense practise – so he’s definitely capable of fending off the top 2, as long as his occasionally weak numbers don’t get in the way.
Highest score: 141 (5th show, v Martin Wilsdon)
Biggest win: 141 – 49 [92 points] (5th show)
Nines spotted: RELATIONS (1st show), DITHERING (3rd show), LONICERAS (5th show), SABOTAGED (5th show), NOTARIZES (7th show)
Conundrums solved: 6/8
4. Bradley Cates (8 wins, 862 points)
What’s this? A very high-scoring contestant who isn’t registered on the real-life online equivalent of ‘8+’ (c.f. The IT Crowd), Apterous.org? But with words like ‘HERSTORY’ and ‘SFUMATO’, he proved that you don’t need computers to help you score highly and avenged his loss to Ian Volante 6 years ago, when he originally appeared on the show aged 11 (and won 2 games before losing). Will the Apterous advantage work against him? We’ll see…
5. Alex Fish (8 wins, 798 points)
I don’t want to carp on (hehe) with a load of fish-related puns, but unfortunately I can’t resist the temptation. Haters of terrible puns; scroll down quickly.
His scores were far from pollocks (hehe); it says something about the quality of the series that a player scoring 798 is only 5th seed when Series 67 had not a sole (hehe) player scoring this highly. Any roe to glory (hehe) for him in this series will be difficult, especially given how inconsistent he can be. Has he cod what it takes (hehe), or has he already jumped the shark (hehe)?
Ok, it’s over, you can stop groaning now.
Highest score: 112 (4th show, v Uday Patel)
Biggest win: 112 – 59 [53 points] (4th show)
Nines spotted: RETRAINED (4th show)
Conundrums solved: 5/8
6. Jonathan Liew (8 wins, 754 points)
Otherwise known as ‘The Mysterious Octochamp’. We knew there was a 6th, but whoever it was hadn’t been broadcast prior to the finals being filmed. Rumours abounded. Was it the mother of an octochamp two series ago? Was it a player using a pseudonym on Apterous? No, it was Telegraph sportswriter Jonathan Liew, who had snuck under the radar online. (My grandparents, avid Telegraph readers, assure me he’s “very good”.) After a close shave in his 5th game – in which he was losing by 18 points with 2 rounds to go before making up the deficit with a numbers game and a deft conundrum solve – he’ll probably not be expecting too much from the finals. But he’ll know that, as with the FA Cup, shock results and upsets are part of the magic of the series finals.
7. Callum Todd (7 wins, 747 points)
The octochamp that should have been! After a slow start to his run, Callum discovered Apterous. And then the centuries began flooding in, only for some dubious conundrum etiquette from Abdirizak Hirsi to foil him on a tiebreak conundrum in his 8th game. But he’s been practising very, very hard since he qualified (3,000 games played on Apterous in 3 months), so don’t let his seeding fool you…
8. Gemma Church (6 wins, 606 points)
Jewellery-maker, owner of a Masters degree in Astrophysics and a mum? Probably one of the more unlikely combinations for a Countdown series finalist (typically, as proven by most of the seeds so far, geeky but highly-competitive adolescent boys), but it’s always good to have some diversity – especially when they’re as lovely as Gemma. Although her scores could be inconsistent, great spots such as SPACIOUS mean she’s by no means out of her depth here.
While watching her 6th game in the audience before filming my games – where, if she won her 7th game, she would be my first opponent – witnesses will confirm that I was scared shitless by how little she was missing. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for her, a slightly more erratic performance in her 7th game saw her lose to the equally lovely Peter Etherington, who then had to play some awkward fringey bint… and the rest is history.