Category Archives: Television

‘The Finals: Countdown’, The Series 69 Version – Return Of The Jen-i

Previously: Series 65, Series 66

Overall Summary
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)


Individual Summaries

Continue reading →


‘The Finals: Countdown’ Strikes Back – The Series 66 Version

Back by popular demand, this is pretty much the only blog on the internet to provide in-depth analysis of the Countdown series finalists – because I really am that sad! Featuring a finals broadcast schedule [objective], contestant analysis and a round-up of series bests [both subjective].

.     My first and previous one of these, for series 65, provided a few more Google hits than expected whilst also stirring up a bit of controversy. You see, I rashly decided to air my slightly exaggerated views on the #2 seed and eventual winner Graeme Cole, suggesting he had potential to be a serial killer. What I didn’t intend was for Graeme (and, later, his mum) to actually read this. Although he took it like a pro, finding it funny, several of Graeme’s fan club didn’t – understandable, as Graeme’s one of the loveliest people you could hope to meet, hence the added disclaimer on the article. About ten apologies later, all accepted, I still feel terrible about this. (SORRY AGAIN, GRAEME. AND GRAEME’S MUM.) …However, I don’t apologise for my opinions on runner-up Carl Williams, who is apparently even more of a douche in person than previously thought possible. (NO SORRY FOR CARL. OR CARL’S MUM.)
So, onto the present series. To be honest, Series 66 has been a bit of a disappointment. Fewer octochamps, fewer dislikeable characters inviting a rant-fest, fewer potential serial killers who are actually awesome. Plus there’s been the change in host to adapt to; Nick Hewer started very woodenly but has improved, despite still making acerbic comments which sit badly with the show’s nature. Still, there have been some great octochamps, even if none have bantered their way into a huge Jen-bias for the title. This means I have to assess their actual game performances. Boo…

Broadcast Schedule [winners in bold]

QF1; Thursday 21st June: #1 (Jonathan Rawlinson) v #8 (Rob Gibney) [101 – 77]
QF2; Friday 22nd June: #2 (Jack Worsley) v #7 (Mark Murphy) [75 – 52]
QF3; Monday 25th June: #3 (Peter Lee) v #6 (Victoria James) [80 – 73]
QF4; Tuesday 26th June: #4 (Suzi Purcell) v #5 (Nick Hall) [80 – 86]

SF1; Wednesday 27th June: Winner of QF1 (Jonathan Rawlinson) v winner of QF4 (Nick Hall)  [108 – 54]
SF2; Thursday 28th June: Winner of QF2 (Jack Worsley) v winner of QF3 (Peter Lee) [91 – 88]

Grand Final
 Friday 29th June: Winner of SF1 (Jonathan Rawlinson) v winner of SF2 (Jack Worsley) [70 – 80]

Contestant Analysis

 1.    Jonathan Rawlinson (8 wins, 850 points)
Opinion: He’s sung in Notre Dame! He plays piano to grade 8! He’s almost at the same level on the violin! He’s off to Cambridge to do Maths in the autumn! He looks like he could be in One Direction! And, somewhat sickeningly, he’s rather good at this Countdown lark too. But before you start rooting for his opponents, “the Kid” [© Nick Hewer] is really quite sweet, with a disarmingly big grin. Yet this just masks ruthless efficiency at the game, casually declaring words like ‘TARTUFO’, ‘SENECIO’ and ‘ACUPOINTS’ like he’s been injecting pages of the dictionary into his arm. However, towards the end of his run he was less impressive [Less impressive = under 100 points in 2 games! Quelle horreur!] – and, with his quarter final filmed immediately after his eighth win, tiredness could affect his performance. When on form, though, he’s outstanding – he was one round away from a perfect game in not one, but two performances [his first and third shows]. Plus he’s only the sixth contestant in the show’s history to have solved all eight conundrums in his heat games… As my mum said, “Is there anything he can’t do?”.

Highest score: 120 (3rd show, against Stewart Calver)

Biggest win: 119 – 24 [95 points] (4th show, against Max Eyre)

Nines spotted: UNDERGOES (3rd show), ACUPOINTS (4th show), ANODISERS (5th show)

2.    Jack Worsley (8 wins, 818 points)
Opinion: The last heat game champion of series 65, and of Jeff Stelling’s tenure as host. But fast forward to January and his next seven shows. Much of Nick Hewer’s pre-game chitchat centred on Jack’s university dilemma; should he study Criminology or Accounting? As soon as he took to the numbers rounds of his games, however, it became apparent that he could probably teach most accountants a trick or two with numbers, getting full marks an incredible 23 times out of a possible 24. His letters weren’t shabby either, getting several good nines, shorter but still impressive spots like ‘NEUROMA’, ‘SLEAZING’ and ‘MONETARY’, and inuring Hewer to the joys of amusing declarations along the way (‘FANNIES’ and ‘TRANNIES’). Only short of a century on one occasion, in his eighth game, he’s certainly in with a shout of winning that dictionaries/laptop/OED online life subscription prize package. (Just what every teenage boy wants, eh?)

Highest score: 110 (3rd show, against Catherine Green)

Biggest win: 110 – 44 [66 points] (3rd show, against Catherine Green)

Nines spotted: INDURATES (3rd show), TERMINALS (6th show)

3.    Peter Lee (8 wins, 801 points)
Opinion: There’s nothing like a suave Irish accent to add a little va-va-voom to the dreary consonant/vowel picks (apart from Rachel Riley, if you’re that way inclined). Flying over the Irish Sea to return to the show ten years after his first appearance (a loss to eventual Series 47 semi-finalist Kevin Thurlow), he proved his patience had paid off as he stormed to an average of 100 points per game, despite arguably a harder draw than Jonathan and Jack. Cracking words like ‘BRESAOLA’ and ‘OTHERWISE’, one of his four nines – more than any other finalist – made up for occasionally missing a very doable numbers round or two. Should he have rectified that, he could definitely overturn higher seeds – especially if they underperform. Failing that, he should at least charm a good section of the show’s older female viewers.

Highest score: 120 (5th show, v Kieran Bray)

Biggest win: 105 – 15 [90 points] (8th show, v James Belshaw)

Nines spotted: OTHERWISE (5th show), CREMATING (5th show), MORGANITE (6th show), INVENTORS (6th show)

4.    Suzi Purcell (8 wins, 686 points)
Opinion: It’s always refreshing to see a female octochamp, and Suzi was the first since Jayne Wisniewski some eight months ago (herself the first female octochamp for two and a half years). Down-to-earth and likeable, she proved that you can get great words and scores without fitting the traditional finalist demographic of young, nerdy male. A few lapses in concentration prevented her from breaking the 700 barrier – her fantastic spot of ‘VINEYARD’ was only marred only by her failure to pluralise it for that elusive 9, while other good spots were misspelt (‘pewits’ instead of ‘PEEWITS’) or misdeclared (‘RACIER’ for a 7 instead of a 6). I’m not sure her flashes of brilliance will be frequent enough to derail those with octo-totals of 800 and above, but it’s not inconceivable.

Highest score: 106 (2nd show, v Jamie Lock)

Biggest win: 98 – 36 [62 points] (6th show, v Paul Magson)

Nines spotted: None, but she made up for it with several stunning eights – ‘VINEYARD’ (4th show), ‘MANPOWER’ (4th show) and ‘MEGASTAR’ (6th show).

5.    Nick Hall (6 wins, 588 points)
Opinion: Dispatching his first competitor sadly deprived us of the most interestingly attired contestant since, well, ever – Kerry-Anne Alcock won her first game dressed as a cavewoman, but lost her second game against Nick by a point. Yabba dabba boo. Still, he’s the highest-placed non-octochamp of the series, lifted up to the #5 spot courtesy of spots like ‘FORAMINA’, ‘INDOLENT’, ‘TARPON’ and ‘INPUTTED’. Could be capable of a quarter-final upset, but overturning the top three seems unlikely.

Highest score: 96 (6th game, v Luke Spencer)

Biggest win: 87 – 40 [47 points] (4th show, v Fiona Owen)

Nines spotted: None, though ‘FORAMINA’ for eight was a spot arguably better than some nines!

6.    Victoria James (6 wins, 567 points)
Opinion: Robbed! Robbed of at least one more win and a higher placing by the incredibly dubious decision to disallow ‘SEDATIONS’. Apparently ‘SEDATION’ is a mass noun – and the rules state you can’t pluralise mass nouns. Really, though? Can doctors not administer ‘SEDATIONS’ to their patients? It’s a debate that’s been raging long and hard between… err, a few Countdown viewers. ‘SECLUSION’ was allowed though, along with good declarations like ‘MUSTANG’, ‘RAREBITS’ and ‘EQUATOR’ to spur her onto six wins. It’s just a shame that a dodgy dictionary call prevented her from potentially being another female octochamp. She’s probably used to missing out on glory, though – she does work for Arsenal FC…

Highest score: 97 (3rd game, v Aliraza Alimohamed)

Biggest win: 94 – 59 [35 points] (6th game, v Ed Barker)

Best spot/nines spotted: SECLUSION (1st game), SEDATIONS (7th game – dubious, but I’m putting it in anyway)

7.    Mark Murphy (5 wins, 454 points)
Opinion: You may not recognise the name, but you probably read about one of his declarations. Every so often, the letters selections offer nothing more – or, at least, nothing more obvious – than a naughty word (with this surely being the best example). And so, in his first game, Mark found himself in the situation where ‘WANKER’ was the longest word he could see. Blogs and websites that should know better breathlessly documented this, and the Facebook generation loved it. Take that, Mary Whitehouse! I didn’t actually see his games due to uni commitments, but I read about ‘WANKER’. It’s certainly more obvious a spot than ‘REAWAKEN’, the maximum from that round, and far funnier too. [This story featured in The Mirror, The Huffington Post, The Guardian and The Telegraph.]

Highest score: 98 (1st show, v Nick Evans)

Biggest win: 98 – 34 [64 points] (1st show, v Nick Evans)

Nines spotted: None. ‘CRAYONED’ and ‘QINTAR’ in his fifth show were his most inspired spots.

8.    Rob Gibney (4 wins, 486 points)
Opinion: Exploding onto the scene with a century against the returning victor John Bird, despite declaring an invalid word in his first round, he looked promising as he consistently declared sevens and solved a conundrum in 1.75 seconds (EXPLETIVE – that’s the solution, not me swearing out of rage or amazement at how good this was while not being courageous enough to express actual swear words). He managed another century in his fourth game, but was derailed by a point in his fifth game against Nathan Steggles. Better than his position suggests, but a win in his quarter final would be an almighty upset.

Highest score: 105 (1st game, v John Bird)

Biggest win: 52 point advantage (4th game, v Spencer Taylor)

Nines spotted: None. ‘ASSUAGED’ for 8 in his second game was, in my opinion, his best spot.

Bests and Predictions

Highest score of the series: 120, shared by Peter Lee [episode 5433] and Jonathan Rawlinson [episode 5505]

Biggest win of the series
: Jonathan Rawlinson 119 – 24 Max Eyre (95 points) [episode 5506]

Best contestant spot of the series
: ‘BRESAOLA’ by Peter Lee in his 4th match. An outstanding 8 from a horrible letters selection, and tricky to spell correctly. Trust me, it took a few attempts!

Best Dictionary Corner spot of the series
: While none were as jaw-droppingly brilliant as CUNJEVOIS (in series 65, ep 5344) or QUODLIBET (in a 2010 special), honours from this series are shared between GENDARMES (episode 5446), AIRSTREAM (5401), SEPTENNIA (5467) and CERASTIUM (5494).

Best bit of contestant banter
: “What do you want?” asked Rachel Riley, numbers lady and nerds’ pin-up, anticipating that contestant Niall Seymour would ask for one of the numbers round combinations of 1, 2, 3 or 4 large or 6 small. “A whisky on the rocks, please,” he replied instead. This unexpected bit of hilarity was rightly rewarded with a mention on [Incidentally, this featured in the same match as the ‘best contestant spot of the series’, episode 5432.]

Best Dictionary Corner guest:
Doctor Phil Hammond – always unrivalled for the Steadman household. Expect to see him back in DC to propel next week’s finals games on with crudeness and hilarity.

Prediction for the winner?:
Despite the former flagging towards the end of his run, I’d still plump for an all-male gap year student final of Jonathan Rawlinson (#1) v Jack Worsley (#2). Picking one of the two as a winner, though, is intensely difficult; Jonathan has the edge on letters, but Jack proved more lethal on the numbers in his heats. On conundrums Jonathan stands undefeated, but Jack managed a 0.25-second solve during his second show (Jonathan’s fastest was 0.75 secs) – and it’s all about speed. Time to sit on the fence, then…

Eurovision Liveblog

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Click the link above to go to the Modern Life Is Rubbish Eurovision Liveblog. I can’t work out how to embed it in this post, but if you click on the link that’ll bring it up.

The Finals: Countdown (Or, The Worst Article Title Ever)

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.

Conundrums, Consonants and Crushes; Why I Love Countdown

                So, my first year of university is over, and for my troubles I got a nice 2:1 as a reward. It’s not really a surprise when you consider that I’ve spent the year improving my word skills and vocabulary. Except that these improvements haven’t come through the bleary-eyed 9am lectures, or from frantically leafing through thousand-page bricks trying to understand postmodernism. In fact, they’re not really anything to do with my degree at all. Instead, they’ve come from a 7-month obsession with Channel 4’s long-running daytime show Countdown, now in its 29th year. I may still be baffled by postmodernism, and I can’t talk about the ‘Penelope’ chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses without frothing at the mouth, but if you want to find GODETIAS, GIAOURS or ASTROIDS, I’m your go-to girl.

                …well, alright then. In all honesty, that’s a huge overstatement of my anagram-unscrambling activities. While it’s true that I’ve seen ASTROIDS recently (nothing to do with their similarly-spelt space counterparts, apparently), I’m often befuddled by the conundrums and somehow always manage to miss words ending in ‘-ATION’ in the selection. But it can’t be denied that if, like me, you become addicted to this simple yet brilliant show, your knowledge of the 75-times-table will improve exponentially (unless, of course, you’re already a maths genius) and your vocabulary will begin, slowly but surely, to widen. You’ll forget the meanings immediately, but who needs meanings when you can chuck ‘ARBORISTS’ into conversation with that desperately attractive man/woman at the bar? The other person will be so awestruck by your nine-letter skills that they’ll be jumping into bed with you before you can say ‘18 points’.*

Of course, as with any daytime TV show, Countdown comes with its own perils. With Jeremy Kyle, you run the risk of losing brain cells; with Deal Or No Deal you’re in danger of losing all your friends (if you had any in the first place). Countdown’s imminent threats are mostly to your health: your blood pressure is sure to rise when the incumbent champion only spots a five-letter word when there’s a bloody obvious eight in there. The shouting at the television that follows is likely to convince your friends, family and flatmates that you’re barking mad, possibly resulting in you being committed to an institution. Ah, well. As long as you’re near a TV, you’ll at least be able to continue to mock the contestants who didn’t see that blatantly obvious way of making 138 with two tens, a three and an eight.

Imagine my dismay on discovering that, contrary to the myth, not all students are obsessed with the show. In fact, I’m the only student I know who watches it. For my money, it’s far better than the other required student viewing (discounting Jeremy Kyle), University Challenge. Aside from the fact that I’m absolutely useless at Uni Challenge and my sheer incompetence makes me think I’m better suited to a career flipping burgers at McDonald’s than spending several years chewing the academic fat, Countdown isn’t usually stuffed full of pretentious, smug-looking nerds. Certainly Countdown is less elitist – the winner of a programme could ply their trade as a dustman or a burger-flipper, and the format itself isn’t impossible to all but the most fervent Wiki-trawlers. The notion of a Scouse street-sweeper potentially becoming a daytime hero courtesy of his impressive vocabulary is far more romantic than a university student knowing the name of a particular French obstetrician.  Essentially, Countdown is just a whole lot more inclusive than UC, from format down to host (Jeff Stelling also hosts my other daytime television favourite, Gillette Soccer Saturday, the show to which I attribute my conversion from nominal Chelsea fan as a toddler to vidiprinter-obsessed child). And, on a classically shallow Jen note, there are some distressingly attractive series winners amongst the chaff – not to be sneered at, considering the show’s considerable pensioner fanbase. Obviously there’s the occasional non-deformed, rather good-looking contestant on UC, but night-time TV listings are packed with alternative totty-fests. Three o’clock in the afternoon, on the other hand, is not the most fecund period for televisual ogling.

Yes, there’s a sense of joy when you get an answer right on UC – the same sense of joy you get when watching Countdown if you get a nine, or beat Rachel Riley on the numbers round. But the austerity of UC and Paxman’s tiringly withering glare makes it far less fun than the occasional banter between Countdown contestants and the amusing Dictionary Corner guests (my mother and I are most fond of Dr Phil Hammond, a hilarious if perverted doctor-turned-comedian). Even if Stelling’s opening gambits are often hackneyed and/or predictable, it adds a delightful cheesiness to proceedings; a necessary pick-me-up in the mid-afternoon when you’re exhausted after a particularly grinding seminar or in need of some respite from a brutal essay about post-structuralism. It’s also got the element of luck. Choosing a vowel as your last letter instead of a consonant could be the difference between the eighteen points from JUDGESHIP and a feeble six from JUDGES.

And so that’s my paean to my daily 45 minutes of words, numbers and occasional babes. At the end of the day, though, I’m glad I’m not doing a degree in Countdown aptitude – because if an octochamp automatically qualifies for a First, I’d be scraping a Third. Until I’ve improved enough to spot SHMEARING when I see it, I’m not going to be applying to sit in the challenger’s seat. So don’t expect to see me up there any time soon.

* This is pure hyperbole on my part, so please don’t get angry if your conundrum-inspired chat-up lines fail to impress/get you laid. There’s a reason why ‘REJECTION’ is also nine letters.