Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Thinking Man's Crumpet has decided to call it a day...

Just heard the sad news that Carol Vorderman is quitting "Countdown", the Channel 4 day-time quiz show cum national institution, after 26 years of dedicated service.

I first came across Countdown when I was in my undergrad years, when I developed a habit of watching late-night replays of Countdown while getting some midnight snack, and my little sister used to watch it with me if she couldn't get to sleep either. Not only have I always been a sucker for quiz shows, but I particularly relish the gentle and unassuming nature of Countdown - there's no big money prizes (the winner gets a Countdown mug and a dictionary), there's no flashy graphics or stage design (the same Countdown clock has been in use for decades and the set hasn't changed for years), and the games themselves - there is a letters game and a numbers game - are humble brain teasers that simply test the contestants' mental agility rather than their ability to retain useless facts and trivia. The appeal of this gentlemanly show lies in its combination of the best of both literacy and numeracy games, and whether you're as young as 5 or as old as an octogenarian, you have equal chance of coming out on top if you have a quick mind (numbers game) and/or a broad vocabulary (letters game). In the simple, genteel world of Countdown, the reward for being smart is simply the acknowledgement and respect that you earn from an intelligent audience. In many ways, Countdown is like the ideal simulacrum of academia, whether one's forte lies in the humanities or the sciences.

Carol Vorderman herself, along with the late Richard Whiteley, have become part of the national institution through being co-hosts of the show for decades. Carol is one of the few - in fact, I couldn't think of anyone else off the top of my head - overtly intelligent women in show business, whose celebrity turned on the very fact that she is unabashedly smart, whose keen intelligence actually enhances her innate sexiness. One could only sigh at her ability to perform complicated mental arithmetic at lightning speed as she sets the contestants to rights when she reveals the correct solutions in the numbers game. Her contribution to the game show rendered her recognition and acclaim beyond your average "posh totty" used as simple eye candy.

Such is her allure based on a potent mixture of brains and beauty, Carol has earned the epithet of being "The thinking man's crumpet". Her male fandom goes right against the conventional wisdom that men find intelligent women threatening. On the contrary, hordes of men from members of the aristocracy right down to the daytime-TV-watching unemployed found her bright-as-a-button persona irresistable and downright sexy. The fact that Carol Vorderman does not in anyway feel the need to downplay her intelligence in the pervasively chauvinistic environment that is contemporary show business is something that smart women everywhere drew inspiration and encouragement from. Indeed, when the show "Britain's Big Brain Game" came up, Carol was the obvious choice for the host, and it was also no coincident that she was involved in presenting the Cambridge University Science Festival.

What's even more brilliant though, is the fact that Carol has aged gracefully over the years and is still as attractive now at age 47 as when she first appeared on Countdown in 1982 at the tender age of 21, fresh out of an engineering degree at Cambridge. That she managed to stay for 26 long years on a show that is even watched regularly by the Queen is no small achievement - We will miss you Carol! Countdown just wouldn't be the same without you, and I hope this doesn't mean the end of your untiring work in flying the flag for smart women in show business.

The only saving grace is... Youtube!

(The first Countdown episode with the late Richard Whiteley and of course Carol Vorderman, who was introduced thus: "Countdown is in fact about numbers as well as letters, and we've figured we've got a pretty good figure ruling that part of the game. Meet our vital statistician, Carol Vorderman, she's a Cambridge graduate and she works in computers." And already, in the very first numbers game, Carol's mental prowess was clearly displayed, and the two middle-aged male contestants, along with Richard Whitely himself, could only marvel at the brains AND beauty of such a modest young woman)

(A rare Numbers Game where a guy's imaginative sums bests even Carol's)

(A 5-year-old prodigy in the audience solved a puzzle that stumped even Carol).

(Carol showing a jokey side when she got to pick the letters herself).

(An octogenarian champion in a 2008 final of the show.)

(Countdown is officially declared a national institution when the Queen herself is also reported to be a fan).

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At Sun Jul 27, 01:31:00 a.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

That's just impossible. Over here, I think the brainiest show I can think of is Jeopardy.
Mental prowess of the "old man," actually most of the contestants are just scary. There are just smart people out there who make you feel to kill yourself, I mean me, myself.

At Sun Jul 27, 12:37:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

I like Carol Vorderman, but at the same time, I can also appreciate Vanna White. I am not saying White is dumb, I don't know it's just that her TV persona doesn't demand her to be overtly smart or smart looking. The bottom line is both of them are pleasant. I think that matters more to me as an audience.

At Sun Jul 27, 10:09:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Yeah, it's funny actually how American TV exports are predominated by drama (Lost, etc.) and reality shows (Apprentice, Project Runway, etc.), while the UK seem to export out its quiz shows (Millionaire, Weakest Link, and I hear "Deal or no deal" - that vapid show about nothing - has also been embraced by the US). It does seem to point to the existence of distinct entertainment cultures on either sides of the pond.

Actually Countdown itself is not the brainiest show over here. There's the "University Challenge" hosted by Jeremy Paxman which consistently puts ME into a bad mood by wondering aloud at the amount of stuff I still don't know yet apparently are just common knowledge to undergrads in Oxbridge universities. Then there is "Mastermind" with its iconic black chair where contestants are put on the spot to test the depth of their knowledge about a particular subject of their choice (as opposed to the breath which is more the domain of University Challenge).

Anyway, while I can manage the letters game with little effort (which is like just a mini-Scrabble game), I can't for the life of me ever solved one single numbers game on Countdown in 30 seconds!! I've come close to getting at the right number but never actually getting at the number, so I understand what you mean about how scarily brainy the contestants are. Oh well, I never get more than a B in Maths anyway...

Re: Vanna White. I've heard of her (I think years ago she had a lawsuit suing a robot presenter that looked like her?). Anyway my point is that it seems to me - again contrary to the US and perhaps much of Asia - audiences in the UK and Ireland appreciate intelligent women on their TV (Carol wouldn't have earned an MBE for her "services to broadcasting" if she wasn't immensely popular - in fact, she wouldn't have been able to parlay her hosting duty on a humble quiz show into a lifelong career as the standard bearer for clever clogs in show business if the audiences didn't demand intelligent women on their screens), and perhaps even more to the point (and apropos of a recent blogpost by Yun), it seems that guys over here see intelligence as an INTRINSIC part of a woman's sex appeal (and in fact have invented a term for it); while guys in America and HK seem to disconnect brains from beauty and in fact would run a mile if encountered with a gorgeous and clever woman, silly wimpy unconfident men that they are. Really, it's their loss.

At Mon Jul 28, 03:12:00 a.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

This is quite an interesting topic. Regarding Yun's post, I guess there is some truth in her observation and conclusion about American men or just men in general. I think it's about compatibility, about similar interests. Just like you found a pleasant bus driver is just a pleasant bus driver and there is really not a lot of common interests to share and enjoy together. In short, very hard to develop into a relationship.

Personally I don't think I actively sought out "stupid" women. No. I guess especially when I was younger. Men like pretty girls that's for sure, it's just built-in and from there you kind of give and take, and for the most part adjust downwards. I think personality goes a long way, I just like a girl who is pleasant and can carry on a conversation with me, that's all. And above all, smart but at the same time stupid enough to go out with me.

JJ Abrams just lost ALL his credibility, if he has any, with Cloverfield. I never watched Lost, not even one episode. It must be very good but it just doesn't interest me the least. How the hell people lost for so long? So it keeps dragging on and on and on. Or like Prison Break, you either make it out or you got gang raped in the Big House, how the hell there are seasons and seasons of Lost or Prison Break is beyond me. I am totally biased, never mind me. If you enjoy them, good for you.

I think being smart is certainly good, but it's got to be tiring to be smart 24 by 7. Thank goodness I don't need to worry about that.

Using your European standard and argument, I think you must be one incredibly ... never mind.

At Mon Jul 28, 12:14:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

"I guess there is some truth in her observation and conclusion about American men or just men in general."

I agree that there is indeed some truth to it (but so is every stereotype you'd ever hear about men and women), but I do think it has more truth to it in America and Asia than over here.

"Just like you found a pleasant bus driver is just a pleasant bus driver and there is really not a lot of common interests to share and enjoy together. In short, very hard to develop into a relationship."

I don't see how this example works for the argument that men chose women based on their looks? Indeed, it seems to be a counter-example. The bus driver is a pleasant guy to chat to, yes, but even if he's George Clooney good-looking I wouldn't consider him relationship material as you say just because he's good looking.

"Personally I don't think I actively sought out "stupid" women. No. I guess especially when I was younger."

I don't think anyone deliberately seeks out a stupid mate to be honest (well, apart from some male chauvinist pig from the Confucian era who considered women without intelligence as being a virtue), that's why I disagree with Yun's sweeping generalisations too. But your "especially when [you were] younger" part seems to counter Alex's claim over there that men appreciate women's intelligence more as they get older.

Anyway, I agree with you that both men and women look for the whole package too rather than just physical appearance IF we're indeed talking about relationships. I think in these discussions (like the one over at Yun's) it's too easy to forget that at different times in their lives, BOTH women and men might want different outcomes when they get together.

Oh I've only watched a couple of Lost episodes and not a fan at all. I just couldn't think of anything else off the top of my head and I have NOT seen one single Prison Break episode either. I agree that the premise of these series just don't sit well with me. However, I was following Mad Men for a while when it was broadcast on the BBC but then my fecking Sky box went kaput and I didn't get to see the last episodes of the first series!!! *Sob*

"Using your European standard and argument, I think you must be one incredibly ... never mind"

I can't for the life of me determine whether it's going to be something incredibly positive or incredibly negative to follow the end of that sentence!! What a cliff-hanger! Anyway, I'm afraid I am just an ordinary person by any standard or arugment... even though I've this insane idea that I won't be ordinary and would make something of myself in this life.

So back to work!

At Mon Jul 28, 02:45:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

The late Anita Mui, the legendary songbird once said, or at least that's what my friend told me, she picked good looking guys over ugly looking guys because ugly guys can be an asshole too (no good heart, no conscience), so why not a handsome asshole? Something to that effect.

Mad Men got a lot of positive reviews but I haven't seen even one.

Good luck with all your endeavors.

At Mon Jul 28, 04:51:00 p.m. IST, Blogger mad dog said...

thanks for visiting my blog! i've just subscribed your blog. :)

At Tue Jul 29, 06:58:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Thanks Mad Dog for stopping by my humble blog too :) I've also just linked you to my blogroll now, look forward to "seeing" you more often :)


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