15 to 1, or Fifteen to One, is an outrageously no-nonsense quiz show, broadcast every weekday on the UK's Channel 4 and presented by dapper gent William G. Stewart. Its low-chat, high-questions format has led to its reputation among quiz buffs as one of the most prestigious TV quizzes. This reputation may also have something to do with the fact that the only prize on offer is a trophy (albeit a valuable one), which is awarded only to one contestant per series. Although the questions are not particularly difficult or obscure, they cover a very wide range of topics, so a great breadth of knowledge is normally required in order to win. The show is broadcast at 3.45pm daily, just before Countdown, making it a favourite of students, the retired and the unemployed.
The show's name derives from the fact that the 15 contestants who start each episode are gradually whittled down through a series of rounds until only one remains. Depending on the winner's final score, he or she may qualify to return at the end of the series to take part in the Grand Final. Regardless of the final score, the winner is always entitled to return and take part in a future episode of the quiz.
William G. Stewart (the G is for Gladstone) is a former Butlins redcoat turned television producer, whose company, Regent Productions, makes 15 to 1. Stewart optioned the format from its creator, John Lewis, and succeeded in having it commissioned by Channel 4. In a former life, it seems, Stewart was also responsible for bringing The Price is Right to British television. These background details aside, however, two things about Mr. Stewart are clear to any fan of the quiz:
- He is a snappy dresser, never allowing himself to appear before the camera without his blazer buttons polished, and a natty handkerchief propped up in his breast pocket.
- He is not much given to small talk, preferring to fill as much of the programme's running time as possible with the interrogation of the contestants' general knowledge. This makes the show satisfyingly light on amusing anecdotes from the contestants, and heavy on questions and answers.
Almost as soon as Mr. Stewart has appeared on the screen to welcome us, he has executed a sharp pirouette
on his left heel to face the contestants and begin the questions.
The quiz consists of two preliminary rounds, followed by a final round which involves the remaining three contestants. Each contestant starts the quiz with three "lives", represented by green lights in front of his/her podium. If a contestant loses two of these lives in the first round, however, he or she is immediately eliminated from the contest.
In round one, William G. Stewart asks each contestant two questions. If a contestant answers one of these questions incorrectly, he or she loses a life. If both questions are answered incorrectly, the contestant is eliminated. At the end of the round, the poor unfortunates who have been eliminated are named and shamed and, as Mr. Stewart says, "must now leave us".
Round Two is the "nomination" round, in which contestants who answer their questions correctly may nominate the person who is to be asked the next question. In this way, they seek to eliminate the other contestants, leaving only three standing to contest the final round. As before, answering a question incorrectly leads to the loss of a "life" - lose all three lives and you are eliminated. If you answer your question correctly, your life remains intact, and you can nominate another contestant. Sooner or later, only three contestants will remain.
The three who progress into the final round are credited with a score of 1, 2 or 3 points, depending on how many of their lives remained intact at the end of round two. Any lives lost in the previous rounds are reinstated, so that all three contestants begin the final with three lives. Unlike the previous rounds, points are awarded in the final round for correctly answering a question. As in the previous rounds, however, answering a question incorrectly leads to the loss of a life and brings the contestant a step closer to elimination. The eventual winner is the contestant who is either the last to be eliminated, or who has the highest score after 40 questions have been asked.
The final round also involves nomination, although the contestants can choose to answer additional questions rather than nominating one of their fellows. In this way, a winning score can be built up, although each question involves the risk of losing a life. If your two fellow contestants are eliminated before all 40 questions have been asked, you then have a chance to answer as many of the remaining questions as you can before your lives run out.
Many different strategies are possible, and the contestant's tactics will often be determined by whether he or she is seeking simply to win the day's contest, or is hoping to build up a very high score and thus earn a place in the grand final. In the heat of the moment, however, it seems that many contestants lose their ability to think strategically, and employ entirely the wrong tactics. An example would be a contestant who has already built up a high score, but who only has one life left, continuously asking for a question rather than nominating one of his or her fellows. In pursuit of a place in the Grand Final, this contestant runs the risk of losing the day's contest to a contestant with a much lower score.
As mentioned previously, the questions are rarely obscure, although the wide range of topics means that only a genuine polymath would fail to find the quiz a challenge. Favourite topics include British history, the geography of the British Isles, religion, science and nature, and other subjects on which the average Briton should be reasonably informed. The quiz, however, is open to contestants from Ireland also, so each episode usually features at least one question on Irish history or geography, which allow the British contestants the opportunity to display their ignorance of these subjects. A classic example is the following question:
Q: Which Irish province consists of the counties of Limerick, Clare, Kerry, Cork, Tipperary and Waterford?
In defence of the hapless pom
who tendered the name of a county in the province of Connacht
in lieu of the correct answer, Munster
, I should confess that I often find myself stumped on questions concerning British counties and towns, despite a lifetime exposed to British television
Rich veins of ignorance may also be exposed, however, in other, more surprising topics, chiefly the Bible and the British Royal Family. On the whole, however, the audition process screens out those without a creditable grasp of general knowledge.
If you wish to take part in this gladiatorial contest of intellects, simply email email@example.com - the producers will send you an application form. Once you have completed and despatched your form, you may be called to one of the auditions, which are held in cities throughout Great Britain, and in Belfast and Dublin. The auditions are in the same format as the quiz itself. It is not known what selection criteria are applied - presumably an ability to answer questions coupled with a not entirely untelegenic personality will be enough to see you through.
Channel 4 site: http://www.channel4.co.uk/15to1/
Fan site: http://15to1.org/
More info on William G. Stewart: http://us.imdb.com/Name?Stewart,+William+G