How can nobody have noded this televisual institution?
Well, since I'm just about old enough to remember the tail end of its original run with Gordon Burns from 1976 to 1995, and since ITV has recently resurrected it with some bloke called Ben presenting, I feel it's time.
So then. The Krypton Factor. Describing itself as "television's toughest quiz," and quite possibly living up to its name (although Mastermind, with its interrogation-like aesthetic, might beg to differ), groups of four contestants are tested on a variety of physical and mental challenges in order to win points added to their Krypton Factor, the winner being the person with the highest score at the end. Each series is structured in a knockout tournament manner, with the winners from each block of three episodes going on to one of three semi-finals (the fourth semi-final place going to the highest scoring runner up), and the three winning semi-finalists and the highest scoring runner-up going through to a grand final, the winner of which is crowned "Superperson of the Year" and rewarded with a large "K" trophy.
Rounds in The Krypton Factor are as follows:
- Mental Agility. The contestants are each subjected, in turn, to a set of logic problems, usually of the same variety. For instance, one might be themed "opposites" and the question might be "up, hard, small, quick," to which the answer is, of course, "down, soft, large, slow." Or they might have one in which A=1, B=2, C=3, etc. and be asked "F plus M," in which the answer is the number corresponding to the letter, to which the answer is, of course, 20 (and "7 plus 11" would thus be S.) Or they may have some sort of memory type puzzle to complete. Contestants must get as many of these right in a short time period and the one who performs best thus wins the round.
- Observation. They're shown a clip of something, usually an ITV series of some sort, and then quizzed on it, both in turn and on the buzzer. Popular variants of this include continuity errors, spot the difference, and so forth. As before, the winner is the one who gets the most questions right.
- Response. Sadly lacking from the 2009 resurrection of the show, this was an ace round in which the contestants had to land a plane in a flight simulator, fly with digitised Red Arrows, or even, in one Grand Final, land a real-life jumbo jet. I personally have no idea why this round was omitted from the new series, because it really stretched the contestants. They could be the massively-IQ'd, high-flying apotheosis of adrenaline junkies and they'd still have the potential to cock up alarmingly on this one.
- Physical Ability. An assault course. The old series's assault course was an Army affair somewhere in Kent, for which one contestant memorably claimed to have practiced for by speedrunning on kids' adventure playgrounds - and it paid off, since he was by far and away the winner on this round. The new series' number is allegedly more difficult and gruelling, but I question that. It may be longer (completion times six or seven minutes rather than two to three), but there are fewer obstacles and more running and mud involved. I wouldn't therefore say that the new series' assault course is harder, just that it seems to require a different set of skills - the old series' one was also structured as a straight-up race between the contestants rather than as a time trial, and was more a sprint than a distance event.
- Intelligence. By far and away the hardest round in the programme. When shown, it takes up three or four minutes of screen time, but according to one reviewer who saw the programme being filmed live, the host would simply put the contestants in front of the challenge, and bugger off leaving them to it. It's usually a 2D or 3D spatial awareness type puzzle with a number of tricks involved. Invariably, there's only one correct solution and lots of things that look right but aren't. The first contestant to solve the puzzle wins the round, and it goes from there.
- General Knowledge. A timed shoot-out on the buzzer, with points scored for each right answer. This is where the game is won and lost, for the most part.
At the end of each round, the host shows the result, usually with the winner gaining 10 points and the runners up gaining 8, 6, 4, and 2 (dependent on the series). Then a current scorecard is shown, with the leader being announced "having a Krypton Factor of 26, it's the pensions administrator from Leicester, Raymond Garraty!"
That's about it really. It's simple, and it works, like all the best game shows. And what is more, it has, for the most part, great play-along-at-home value (apart from the assault course and those fiendish 3D puzzles).
One difference between the old serieses and the new one, it seems, is the general makeup of the contestants. It used to be that they were fairly ordinary folks who did fairly ordinary jobs and did it for the love of the game. However, the first episode of the 2009 series' contestants were, in order, a banker, a consultant, a managerial type, and a maths student from Cambridge (note to Sam512 and Wntrmute - hit that assault course because I'll be expecting to see you pair in the next series.) Furthermore, in each of their introductions in the new series there was a short interview explaining why they wanted to go on the Krypton Factor and with a ticker at the bottom explaining how they had an IQ of 155 and competed in triathlons and were in training to go running the marathon. Oh, and the programme itself is now sponsored by Sage, a company that does business training. Yuppies, if you will, usually of the adrenaline junkie bent. Whether that will be good or bad for the programme remains to be seen at this time.
They also have smothered the new series in flashy green graphics, including a heart rate monitor during the Mental Agility round - and I have to say, I felt a bit of a buzz playing along with that at home this week. Call me backward, but I'm not sure that all these graphics, especially the big soundproofed cube during said round, and the buzzers that light up entire walls of the studio when buzzed, really add much to the programme.
Still, I'd rather watch the new Krypton Factor than the latest edition of I'm a Celebrity, Strictly Come Dancing, Shag Me, I'm Famous or Really Big Explosions. Which has just set off a particularly nasty lurch in the pit of my stomach - Celebrity Krypton Factor? It can't be far off. They do Celebrity Mastermind (with easier questions so as not to show the thick-as-pigshit nobodies up too much), so...