Jeopardy versus Mastermind: a Quizzing Challenge

Peter B. GiblettStarred Page By Peter B. Giblett, 2nd Nov 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/142lai9s/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

If you grew up in the USA or Canada then you will know about the TV game show Jeopardy as being one to challenge your intelligence, yet on the other side of the Atlantic, in the birthplace of the English language, then you will be familiar with Mastermind as arguably fulfilling the needs of the same audience.

Mastermind

This series was born in 1972, Mastermind is well known for its challenging questions, intimidating setting and air of seriousness all around the sombre symbol of the show, the black chair in which contestants sat while under the spotlight. The show was hosted by Icelandic television presenter, Magnus Magnusson for 25 years, who left the show when it moved away from BBC One, spending three years on Radio 4, i year on Discovery Channel, and since then has returned to BBC Two, where it is still presented.

Show contestants face two rounds, one on a specialised subject of the contestant's choice, the other a general knowledge round, which would be somewhat of a rapid fire round because all contestants knew that if they could answer speedily they could gain extra points and if you were one of the last contestants you knew exactly how many more answers there were left to win. The atmosphere of the show is of course aided by the ominous theme music, "Approaching Menace" by the British composer Neil Richardson.

In the opening round each contestant is then given two minutes to answer questions on their specialist subject which they chose, they would get one point per correct answer, and if the contestant passed on a particular question this could reduce their score in the event of a tie. You would think that contestants would know their specialist subject, but surprisingly many failed to get more than 50% of the questions right, setting up a climactic general knowledge round.

As the time is up if the presenter is asking a question they will continue using the show's famous catchphrase, "I've started so I'll finish" giving a do or die final answer opportunity.

The highest Mastermind score is 41 points, set by Kevin Ashman in 1995, his specialist subject being "The Life of Martin Luther King". Ashman would go on to become four times World Quizzing Champion, additionally he holds the record for the highest ever score on Brain of Britain and was a member of the Eggheads panel of champions, not someone your want to compete against in any quiz.

Jeopardy

The current daily game show started in 1984 and has been presented by Canadian born actor Alex Trebek, although the current game was preceded by a weekly daytime and night-time show which originally aired as early as 1964.

This is a quiz show where contestants are presented with general knowledge clues about specific categories in the form of answers, they buzz in then phrase their responses in the form of a question, TV Guide ranked it first in their 2013 list of greatest game shows ever. The two rounds, Jeopardy! and Double Jeopardy! each featuring six categories laid out in columns each with five clues of increasing value (and supposedly difficulty). Some of the categories have much more complex questions than others, but Double Jeopardy round questions have the hardest categories.

The show format means that the returning champion selects the first clue in the Jeopardy round, while the Double Jeopardy round starts with the contestant having the least money at that time. Contestants use a signalling device to indicate that they are ready to answer the question, the first contestant to press will have their station light deploy, when the contestant answers correctly the dollar value of the answer is added to their score, a failure to respond within the time limit, or a wrong answer, ensures the deduction of the dollar value of the clue from the contestant's score.

There are three Daily Double clues (two in the Double Jeopardy round), that allows a contestant to potentially double their score. Only contestants who have money may go through to the Final Jeopardy round, where they can bet up-to the value of the monetary value they have accumulated this far on the final clue - they bet once told the category and before they know the final question. The winner is the person with the largest remaining pot of money, which can sometimes be a low value (when all contestants get the answer wrong). The top scorer on each episode retains his or her winnings and returns as the champion for the next show (and there can be multiple champions when there is a tie).

Champion Ken Jennings amassed $2.5 million as he won 74 consecutive consecutive episodes, he also became the 2007 Grand Slam Champion and won a further $500,000 on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and has amassed further monies on Jeopardy Champions shows over the years. Brad Rutter has accumulated a total of $4.3 million, he also appeared on U.S. game show 1 vs. 100 (as a member of "The Mob" and finished 140th in the World Quizzing Championship. Both of these grand winners have appeared in and won champions Jeopardy! tournaments.

Which is Better?

Clearly both contests are tough, they are designed that way and give the impression that you have to be smarter than the average TV viewer to be able to take part in either show. The fact that Mastermind champion Kevin Ashman has been four times World Quizzing Champion does not necessarily mean that Mastermind is a higher calibre show it merely shows that he is a supreme talent and having seen Ashman appear many times on Eggheads it is clear that he is very knowledgeable and can adapt to any game format, it does not necessarily mean that he is better than either Rutter or Jennings and it does not necessarily mean that Mastermind is better than Jeopardy because they have massively different format and style. It is getting attuned to a particular style that takes a lot of mental tuning for any player.

It would be fascinating to see a battle of champions between both these shows fought using a combination of show styles as a great piece of entertainment, but would such a run-off provide a conclusion about which is the greatest quiz show? Not necessarily, but it would show the most adaptable contestant.

Image Credits

Images for this article have been provided by:

  • The Mastermind Chair by the BBC
  • Daily Double image from Fox
  • The true quiz master? by Quizmaster.com
  • World Quizzing Championships by International Quizzing Association

Other Articles

The following are some of the more recent articles that Peter Giblett has published:

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Comments

author avatar Retired
3rd Nov 2014 (#)

One would need to see both shows to be able to make a judgment, but my preference would be for a quiz in which the contestants did not enter in the hope of winning vast sums of money.

The only thing I have in common with Kevin Ashman is that I was once a contestant on Brain of Britain - but with considerably less success!

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
3rd Nov 2014 (#)

I have seen both contests and they are both challenging - used to watch Mastermind every week, but now see Jeopardy regularly.

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author avatar Ian R Thorpe
3rd Nov 2014 (#)

The shows have a different target audience so comparison is difficult. I don't mind competition for large cash prizes but I like any quiz that makes the contestant think rather than offering dumbed down questions.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
3rd Nov 2014 (#)

For much I had heard so much about the complexity of Jeopardy from my American friends and how they regarded it as the toughest quiz show, yet they had not seen Mastermind, but I had not seen Jeopardy to compare. Having lived in Canada for 8 years now I am able to compare, one of the reasons behind the article - I am confident I could do well in Mastermind but not so confident about Jeopardy but doing well relies upon having the right questions come up.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
3rd Nov 2014 (#)

Ian, One thingI also know about game shows in the UK (and this is information that I gained from a TV Executive many years ago) is that no TV company believes you should increase a persons wealth as a result of winning a game show, which is why you will win 10,000 GBP max in Britain versus millions in USA.

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author avatar Retired
3rd Nov 2014 (#)

Monday evenings on BBC2 are great for people who like their quizzes to be challenging - University Challenge followed by Only Connect!

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
3rd Nov 2014 (#)

Never heard of Only Connect, it must be new (or at least have arrived after I departed for Canada).

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author avatar Henry Haynes
9th Nov 2014 (#)

In recent years "Jeopardy!" has become much more of a pop knowledge show that when Art Fleming served as host a few decades ago. I won't say the quiz show is now a lot of fluff or pap, but it sure isn't the intellectual show it used to be.

Be sure to read my wikinut article "Jeopardy!" Game Show; What Makes a Great Champion? In the article I describe 10 things that make for a great "Jeopardy!" champion.

I write: The original "Jeopardy!" with Art Fleming stressed academic subjects like math and science. While the modern version of the show hasn't entirely dumbed down the content, there is the recognition that when viewers come home from work, sit down and prop up their feet, they would rather watch a show with clues about movies, sports and rock music than about quadratic equations, Einstein's theory and Kant's categorical imperative. Players who are in touch with pop culture have a better chance than ivory tower, intellectual types from academia.

The one thing "Jeopardy!" does have going for it is an incredible pace. Game shows like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" just can't touch "Jeopardy!" when it comes to having a fast pace.

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author avatar Retired
9th Nov 2014 (#)

I wasn't signed in at the time, so my previous comment didn't come in under my ID as it should have.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
9th Nov 2014 (#)

Henry, I had heard a lot about Jeopardy! over the years but never experienced it till coming to Canada, I still think it is fairly intellectual, but I don't think it is the equivalent of Mastermind, but some of that may be because it is a daily show and that may in part be the cause of some of the dumbing down you talk of, yet having seen Rutter win the recent tournament of the decades I would have to say that he is fast and very knowledgeable and you have to "train" to be that knowledgeable about any subject. If he only placed 140th in the world championship at a time when Ashman was world champion may be the differentiating factor.

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