Ben Wilson's Experience - Page 2

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October soon came - by this point, I'd signed on and was seeking work, and Osama Bin Laden had had several websites dedicated to him and his unhealthy love for megalomania, terrorism, and strangest of all, donkeys......

In the meantime, I had become somewhat intrigued (and slightly miffed) upon seeing Simon gain himself free publicity in the Lincolnshire Echo - not that he didn't deserve it, I was just miffed that I hadn't got any. However, I preferred it that way - no point telling the world (or, in my case, Lincolnshire) that you're gonna be on national TV, only to make a complete prat of yourself when you eventually get on the show. Fortunately, no fears of that in either mine or Simon's case, but still better safe than sorry.

Anyway, October, and the recordings. As Matt, who was rapidly turning into my sidekick, had never been to Leeds before, I was required to navigate all the way there. Perfect - I get roadsick if I read in cars and he wants me to bury my face in a road atlas. Still, I managed to direct us in the general direction of Leeds, but finding the studio on Kirkstall Road was a bit more of a dilemma - it's in the west of Leeds and we eventually wound up halfway to Bradford before we realised we were on the wrong road. Fortunately for us we had a back-up plan - leave ridiculously early so we have enough time to trawl all through Leeds in case we get lost. Didn't need it in the end - my map-reading skills put in a brief appearance and we found the studio, had a quick flap over which parking lot we were supposed to use (for all budding contestants - it's lot 3), and walked into the studios, ready to take on the world.

We were taken through to the green room, and watered and fed whilst the studio was being prepared - the crew often give themselves ample leeway in preparing the set - and still go over (again, I'm kidding)! We met Marie (again), and Lee, the floor manager (voice of the directors and producers on the actual set). After being taken for make-up (just some shine-resistant powder, NOTHING MORE), I was taken to be seated in the hot seat - the place in the (surprisingly small - little more than 90-max) audience where the next day's contestant will sit. I also got my first impressions of the set - a lot less sophisticated than I first thought - especially the "Dave was 'ere" scribbled on the back of the numbers (chip)board. Still, at least the clock was larger than life, and that's all anyone who visits the studio cares about - except, of course, for the two real stars, whom I was soon to meet. First out were the "Dictionary Dell" team - usually consisting of a celebrity guest and a member of the team from the Oxford University Press, who compile the dictionaries (or, up until recently, Damian Eadie or ex-producer Mark Nyman). The OUP member in this case was the very nice Claire Pemberton, who I was later to meet again in the final rounds, and the celebrity was the smaller-than-life Vanessa Feltz - smaller in that she's not as fat in real life - not fat at all, in fact. Then, the stars were wheeled out, whilst the warm-up man was doing his job, Carol Vorderman and "Twice-Nightly" Richard Whiteley himself made their entrance, and when Lee had made sure everything was as is, the now-familiar opening credits started to roll (on the overhead TV screens in the studio), and it was all systems go.

The reigning champion, Rosemarie, was defeated by my namesake, Peter Wilson, by about 90 points to 75, setting up a clash of the Wilsons for the next game. Typically, my bit in the hot seat (all that happens is Richard asks you if you solved the conundrum, and you say yes or no), had to be re-done twice due to technical errors. The third time, I decided to be a bit cheeky, and claimed I got the unsolved conundrum in about 5 seconds - I now confess, it took me longer than that, but I did crack it within the time limit.

What they say is true - it is harder in the hot seat than when you're playing it for real - mainly because you have an obscured view of all the games, you're sat in the audience chairs (which can, quite frankly, make your limbs fall asleep very quickly if left unchecked), and you know it's your turn next. Had I actually been playing that game I would have been thrashed badly. Fortunately, I wasn't, and I was whisked off to change my (trusty yellow Monday) T-shirt (actually I just put a sweater on over it), have my make-up touched up (important to look one's best), and plonked down in the challenger's chair.

Interestingly, I later found out that part of the reason for Rosemarie's losing was that she was still hung over from the night before - Phil (another contestant from the final rounds who was at the same recording as Rosemarie) later told me a few tales about her extraordinary alcohol capacity, which I'll go into a bit later.

The opening credits rolled yet again, and it was game on - me vs. Peter, Wilson vs. Wilson. Immediately, the first round, I fall behind, and stay behind going into the break. I started formulating plans to snatch and run with a teapot, but I started improving, taking the lead in the second part, and by the time the conundrum rolled around, I was 91-70 up - an unassailable lead. Putting all thoughts of teapot theft out of my mind, I relaxed and concentrated on the conundrum - which I got in about two seconds (and this time I have proof!) to take my total score to 101 - a century in my first game? Not bad by anyone's standards. I was congratulated afterwards by Richard, Carol, Vanessa and all the crew, as (once again) I changed shirt, ready for the first defence of my crown.

The first defence came against Jeanette Littlejohn, whom had arrived at the studios just after us, and we had got talking and got to know her fairly well. In what increasingly became a rarity, I commanded the game, eventually winning by 102 points (my highest score) to 49, although, to be fair, the game was a lot closer than the score suggested - I had just put my usual third part surge on. Two games, two wins - by this stage I was getting confident. Next up was Bob, the game to be recorded after tea.

We ate tea in the YTV canteen (Richard, Carol, etc. have their own meals elsewhere) with Rosemarie, and to be quite honest, I can't remember much - my mind had become focused (and I'd heard that bloody music 45 times in one day - getting it out of my head was not an option). Sure enough, teatime came to an end and we were back in the studios.

The game against Bob was probably the most memorable - I developed the bad habit of offering the weirdest word that entered my head from the selection in question, coming up with such words as SEXPOT, CRAZIES and LOONIEST (all allowable - just a shame that Bob beat my SEXPOT with a 7-letter FOXIEST). Add to that the conundrum, which by an amazing coincidence turned out to be CRAZINESS, and you have what is certainly a memorable game. The score (although it barely seems relevant) was 98-60, and I was in cruise control. A control which was about to get abruptly curtailed.

My fourth game, and last of the night, was against Mike, a human resources director, and it proved to be one of my closest and nerve-wracking of the lot. I was (apparently) falling to bits throughout - I may have been on the outside, but I was focused on the inside. However, it had been a long day, and Mike was a very, very good opponent, and with 14 rounds played, the score stood at 80-80 - meaning a crucial conundrum. Erk! I may have been able to get three conundrums in a total of about 5 seconds, but that didn't mean I would be able to get this one. Fortunately, after about 4 seconds had elapsed, I was able to press the buzzer, and get the conundrum right (can't remember exactly what the word was). Mike later told me that he was no expert when it came to conundrums, which, as you can imagine, didn't come as much of a comfort.

What did come as a comfort was the (free - woohoo!) bar afterwards, where Matt and myself discovered Rosemarie's near limitless capacity for alcoholic drinks - by the end of the night, she had practically drunk Matt under the table (I was limiting myself to non-alcoholic drinks, although I could have used a hand in getting to sleep as I would discover later). In the end (about 11:15), we were shown the way out, and after being congratulated once again by Damian and Michael, made our way to the hotel.

The hotel wasn't bad - we arrived long after anything decent had been on Sky One, but Sky News sufficed until we were able to get to sleep - which in my case, was hardly at all. Matt's habit of sleeping naked was very distracting, but not as much as his constant farting during the night. The laundry must have loved him. Just as Matt dropped off, I thought I might be able to as well, and then he started snoring. We had originally planned to get up at around quarter to eight - this was eventually pushed back to half past nine. Matt went and got some breakfast whilst I showered and dressed, and we checked out at about 11 a.m., and headed straight back to YTV, where my fifth game, against whom I was totally unaware of, awaited.

We were let into the studios at around 12:15, and I asked for wardrobe to iron my T-shirts which I had selected to wear for the next (possibly 2) show(s). Unfortunately, they were not ready in time, so the yellow T-shirt made its second appearance, again on a Monday.

It's funny, I cannot actually recall the name of my fifth opponent (Pearl Norman - I later checked). I do remember that she was a member of the W.I. (something like that you don't forget), but her name eludes me. Sorry, Pearl. Much of the game eludes my memory as well - probably a testament to the atrociously small amount of sleep I'd got, but I do recall that I won the game 86-72, for the first time, not getting the conundrum (although I was literally about a third of a second behind. I often hear that from a beaten opponent and I don't believe it, but experience has taught me otherwise. Fortunately, the conundrum was non-crucial, but it so easily could have been). This was it - for this series only, it's six wins and you're out, and my sixth game was next. This suited us because Matt had to be back in Lincoln for about 7:30, and even if we left immediately after the final game, we would barely get back for 6.

Once again, my memory for names escapes me completely for my sixth opponent (John), a retired priest (typically I can remember THAT), but I do remember that it was a very close game, resulting in what Richard described as the "first crucial conundrum in ages", despite there having been one 4 days previously (transmission time). Fortunately, I was able to solve the conundrum to win by 93 points to 76 (but only by a few milliseconds - again, my comfort had to take a serious back seat), and run out as a viscount - 'vi' being 6 in Roman numerals and 'count' standing for Countdown, and I even allowed my stoic demeanour a grin as I was informed that I was #1 seed, with a total of 570 points from 6 games. Interestingly, the #2 seed also had 570 points from 6 games, but had a highest individual score of 100, as opposed to my 102. This allowed me to take the position of #1 seed. And to make matters even more interesting, eventual #3 seed Loz Sands (knicker-elastic manufacturer extraordinaire) had a total of 569 points from 6 games. To say it was close would really be an injustice to the word.

Anyway, I picked up my goodies, said goodbye to Richard, Carol, "Dictionary Corner" guest Nigel Rees, Michael, Damian, Lee etc. and started gunning for home. Fortunately, Matt was better at getting out of Leeds than he was getting in, and we arrived back, one teapot to the good, at just before 6. I was constantly getting asked how well I'd done, not least after appearing in the Echo (Mother had rung them after I rang her informing her of my success shortly after leaving YTV) a couple of days after the recordings, on a date coinciding with Simon's first appearance (I think he scored about 121 points - not bad for a first appearance). On the week of my first appearances, I was as big a celebrity as possible in Hykeham - they'd never had a Countdown multiple winner before, I suspect. Then, I got the letter - the recordings for the final rounds were to take place on November 13th and 14th (the 13th, ironically enough, also being the date of my last appearance for the time being).

..... And on November 12th I was rung up by Marie and informed that due to Richard Whiteley having a bereavement (his mother had sadly passed away), the recordings had to be put back a week. Naturally, I felt sorry for Richard, but once again, I had to schedule in extra preparation time. I didn't work, so having time off was not an issue. Matt did, however, so I was in real danger of losing my lift.

Fortunately, Matt was able to reschedule his time off for the 20th and 21st (the new recording dates), and I woke up on the 20th, not knowing whether or not I'd still be #1 seed, but ready for my challenge.

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