Tom Stevenson – Countdown Success!

by Tom Stevenson

It’s fair to say that when I sent off my application form at the beginning of the year, I A) wasn’t expecting to hear back from them, and B) couldn’t have ever imagined that I’d end up breaking two of the show’s records. 

What is Countdown?

For those that don’t know, Countdown is a quiz show that has been on TV for 40 years this year. It consists of 10 letters rounds, 4 numbers rounds, and a “conundrum”. For the letters rounds, you are given a set of 9 random letters, and must find the longest word you can using those letters once. So, say if you find a 4, then you’d get 4 points, unless your opponent finds a longer word. For the numbers, you must find the answer to a randomised target between 100 and 999. You are given 6 numbers – smalls (between 1 and 10), and larges (100, 75, 50 and 25). You can have as few as 6 small numbers, or as many as 4 large numbers to solve the target using either: addition, multiplication, subtraction or division. If you get the target spot on, you get 10 points, between 2 and 5 away (7 points), between 6 and 10 away (5 points), and more than 10 away, you get 0 (though you won’t get points if your opponent gets closer to the target than what you do). Finally, for the conundrum, you have to unscramble a 9 letter word, which will bag you 10 points if you do so before your opponent. For all of these rounds you are given 30 seconds to find the longest word, solve the numbers and aim to get the conundrum. 

My experience on the show

My main aim was to not disgrace myself, both in the way that I came across, and in terms of how I played, so I tried to learn some obscure words with the hope that I wouldn’t end up being trounced by a whizz kid if I faced one. I came on just after an octochamp (someone who has had to retire because they have won a maximum of 8 preliminary games), so me and my opponent were both 1st timers. It was close for the first 3 rounds, but I managed to pull away afterwards and win the game, earning the coveted Countdown teapot.

The Countdown teapot given to winners of an episode

I ended up winning 2 more episodes before my 4th game, against Lauren from Cardiff. Whilst I didn’t set myself any targets for this game, I was low-key hoping that a 9 would come up, because I hadn’t found one in the previous episodes. One did come up, and then another, and then another. You get 18 points if you find a 9, and just before the final numbers round, Colin Murray, the host was taken aside. All I remember was overhearing him say “do we tell him?”. I then had an inkling that I was on for the highest score, which Colin then confirmed, providing I was to get the last numbers and conundrum. I was quite relaxed about it all, mainly because I’d already achieved what I wanted to achieve, which was to try and win one game. However, after solving the last numbers, I could feel my heart pounding going into the conundrum. Thankfully, I managed to solve it, and therefore got the highest ever score on the show, 154! I was honestly still relaxed after getting the high score, and wasn’t exactly celebrating like England had won the World Cup! It was only the next day that it dawned on me, leaving me in disbelief! 

About a fortnight after recording my first 5 episodes, I went back up to film a maximum of 3 episodes. Colin then reminded me that I had never lost a round, something that he repeated in game 6, game 7 (which was close for the majority of the game), and then finally my 8th game, having still not lost a round. I wasn’t necessarily setting out to not lose a round in the last game, but I was playing it safe with my word declarations; not going for any that I wasn’t 100% sure of. However, the record looked in doubt when my opponent declared “Remainer” for 8, and I had a 7. Surprisingly, though, Remainer was disallowed because it was capitalised, and capitalised words are not allowed on the show. It came to the final conundrum, which I managed to solve. Colin celebrated like his favourite team had won the Premier League, as I’d managed to not lose a round.

I’m filming for the finals this week, so it remains to be seen how I will fare. It’s been a great experience, and one that I can highly recommend!

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