Speaking as a true aficionado, I can tell you that nothing beats a good British game show. (Many a cold and rainy summer afternoon in Ireland has provided the crucial data in defending that thesis!) There’s no jackpot in the American sense of the word. There’s no promise of fame or fortune – no free cars or living room sets for that matter either. The prizes are minor; the money negligible. The reward, however, is as addictive to the national character as all those endless pots of treacly tea. It’s about the sport. And the self-effacing bragging rights that come from publicly facing a challenge with a degree of grace under pressure – whether or not you ultimately end up with egg on your face.
Could you imagine an American game show where the winning team walked away with five dollars? Or even better, zero dollars – as often happens at the end of Bargain Hunt, one of my dirty little addictions? Doubtful. The idea of winning without winning any thing just doesn’t mesh with the American character – to the victor deserves the spoils, man!
Here’s a clip from my favorite teatime distraction: Countdown, an alternating series of math and word challenges. It’s hosted by the Webster’s definition of “male chauvinist,” and relegates Carol Vorderman – supposedly possessed of the highest IQ in Britain – to the Vanna-inspired role of letter picker, when she’s not called upon to perform intricate mathematical calculations off the top of her head, that is. What this clip makes abundantly clear: grace under pressure is easier said than done.