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)
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]
Friday 29th June: Winner of SF1 (Jonathan Rawlinson) v winner of SF2 (Jack Worsley) [70 – 80]
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)
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 TrueLad.com. [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…