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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Confessions of a TV quiz contestant
By Ben Jeffrey
BBC News Online

Me appearing on Channel 4's Countdown as a student
Long hair was fashionable when I was a student

Everybody thinks they know that people who take part in TV quizzes are nerds.

As sure as the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066, the boffin who can name the former capital of Corsica will have few friends, poor social skills and a wardrobe full of dodgy knitwear.

As a relative veteran of the television quiz show scene, with two recent appearances on Channel 4's soon-to-be-broadcast show Beat the Nation being my sixth and seventh on TV, my experience is that most quiz show contestants do not conform to this stereotype.

In fact, television quiz contestants are actually confident and friendly people.

The first thing to understand about TV quizzes is that those who take part in them can recognise each other.

When I got to Nottingham's Carlton studios to film my quarter-final appearance on Beat the Nation, I realised that I had seen two of the three people I was competing against on previous TV quiz shows.

Tim Brooke-Taylor (left) and Graham Garden in The Goodies
Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graham Garden host Beat the Nation

None of us had met before although, when I filmed the final of the quiz show The Machine in 2001, three of the contestants knew each other personally from quiz leagues and game shows.

Looking at the competition, I knew that my heat of Beat the Nation would be difficult to win as I was pretty sure I had seen one of the contestants, Andy, win the BBC's Weakest Link. He later confirmed he had triumphed on the show.

But I was pleased to see that none of the really big names in TV quizzing were present and felt that I stood a chance of progressing to the final.

Had someone like Daphne Fowler, the formidable 15 to 1 champion, had turned up for my heat I would have known that, short of a shock comparable with Wimbledon winning the FA Cup, I would be going home penniless.

As the contestants talked about who we hoped would not be waiting for us in the final, the glamorous women and trendy men who make up the behind-the-scenes staff on such shows, looked on with barely-concealed amusement.

My quiz show career
1995 - Countdown
2001 - The Machine x 2
2001 - Number One
2002 - Brainteasers
2003 - Beat the Nation x 2

Andy, an outgoing tour guide with no fear of the limelight and a generosity with his cigarettes, told us about the time he once joked with a fellow contestant that the mint he had given him was a sleeping tablet.

The man angrily spat it across the room and, Andy said, and took some persuading he was in no danger of passing out.

Game show contestants must be among the very few people who take home money for appearing on television whose egos are in check and who almost never throw tantrums.

So although I do compete in TV quizzes to try to make money - I came away with 750 for two hours' work on Beat the Nation - I also know I am likely to meet a decent group of people.

Nerds' convention?

This time round, one of them was a glamorous, attractive woman called Melanie, a bilingual thirtysomething with a passion for fine cuisine.

As the first reserve contestant, her good humour ought to have been dented by the very presence of the four men who were denying her a shot at playing for 25,000.

But she even gave me her phone number at the end of filming to arrange a rendezvous in Edinburgh

The downside is that we would not be alone - Melanie has invited me to a convention of former players from the popular Channel 4 quiz "Countdown".

What could possibly be nerdy about that?

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