Shirty over show and tell

Published in The Australian,
September 20 2001

The Weakest Link, 7:30pm, Seven

I AM the weakest link, good grief. I'm about to make an appearance as a contestant on The Weakest Link, and I'm worried. Not about what's going to happen on the show: after all, there's only a one in nine chance that I might win the money, and I've already convinced myself that won't happen. The worry I'm grappling with is choosing my clothes.

Male contestants are instructed to bring a choice of three shirts to the filming. However, there are restrictions: anything that's dark blue, white, shiny, striped or featuring a complicated pattern is forbidden. Sadly, this describes a very large percentage of my wardrobe.

Determined to make my quiz show debut wearing a tasteless shirt despite the rules, I eventually settle on a patterned purple stunner I haven't worn since high school and an oversized piece in chambray. Purely to make up the numbers, I throw in a pale yellow short-sleeved shirt featuring an image of a 50s diner. No one would pick that.

Naturally, the wardrobe girl goes wild for this shirt. "You don't mind wearing this, do you?" she exclaims. I guess not, even though I know I'll end up freezing on the studio floor. She races off to iron it.

My journey to the Melbourne studios had begun a fortnight before, when I showed up for a "contestant audition" in a Sydney RSL club. Along with 80 or so other aspirants, I sat through a written general knowledge test. Those who survived the first cut (only about a quarter of those who tried) had to stand up in front of the room and explain why they'd make a good contestant.

This is the easy part. "I've noticed that most of the people who win on the show are morons, and I think it's time for someone to make a stand for the non-moronic majority," I began. The other aspiring contestants look appalled, but who cares? I want to impress the selectors, who are furiously scribbling notes. Being nasty works; a week later, I get the call inviting me on.

Having been in the audience for television shows before, I knew filming would be a protracted process, but I didn't expect it to take almost eight hours to produce 45 minutes of quiz show. What this teaches you is that the unsung heroes of the show are the editors, who assemble disjointed fragments into a fast-paced masterwork of suspense you could swear had been recorded in real time.

Everything takes ages. Just shooting the introductory images of the contestants in the green room, which occupies perhaps 15 seconds on screen at the beginning of the show, takes almost 10 minutes. To ensure we look animated, we're told to discuss who will win the next federal election.

What all the contestants end up discussing, of course, is Cornelia Frances, the actor-turned-quiz-bitch who hosts The Weakest Link. Are her lines scripted? Yes, but she helps to write them. Will we meet her before filming? That one's a clear no. Frances is kept well away from the contestants at all times, the better to maintain her vicious headmistress air.

After make-up, more ironing, signing confidentiality agreements, a lecture on how to hold up the cards with people's names on them, and some uninspired sandwiches, we're finally taken to the set and recording begins. Despite the snail's pace, it's all a bit of a blur at this point. It's a common observation, but true: once you're actually on the (not very clean) studio floor, the simplest questions can completely throw you. They certainly threw me.

And did I win? Well, because of that confidentiality agreement, I'm not going to say. But if you watch tonight's episode, it's possible that at some point you'll see a tall guy in a tasteless shirt striding down the Walk of Shame.