Game Show Memories – Alphabetical.

Alphabetical (ITV, 2016-2017)

This is a daytime game show that I watched regularly, and I was attracted to this for a couple of reasons, although unfortunately this didn’t turn out to be a big success, mostly because there was a rather big flaw with the format. Firstly, Alphabetical was based on a Spanish game show, which itself was based on BBC1’s The Alphabet Game, which means that in a rather roundabout way one of the creators of this was Andrew O’Connor.

Secondly, the host was Jeff Stelling, and it was good to see him having another go at a game show following his departure from Countdown (and lots of people said that he was a suitable host for this one because his name is Jeff Spelling, even though it actually isn’t). Alphabetical was a game that was all about words and letters.

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As most game shows are now in an hour-long slot, there was probably a discussion like “how are you going to do essentially a variation on the same thing four times?”. Four contestants took part, three challengers, and one returning champion, who stood at a separate podium as if to make it look like they were rather superior. They were all given 100 seconds on their clock.

The first round is First Letters. There are 60 seconds of questions, and all the answers begin with the same letter. There is one second for every correct answer. Next is Last Letters, which has the same idea, but this time the answers end with the same letter. Then there is Starting Letter. Categories are given, and the first letter of every word in the answer. At this point, the lowest-scorer is eliminated.

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Next is 13 Letters. Half of the alphabet has been chosen, and questions are asked that begin with those letters. This is now on the buzzer, with two seconds for a correct answer, and being frozen out of the next question for a wrong one. Again, the lowest-scorer leaves, and the remaining contestant plays the champion in the final, which is the real trouble with the format really.

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With the time that they have made, usually around 130 seconds, they now have to answer 26 questions, one for every letter of the alphabet. If they are not sure of an answer, they can say “alphabetical” and came back to it later. But only one wrong answer means that it’s all over, they have to get all 26 of them right in time to win the money.

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Now there are two rather big problems with this. Giving 26 consecutive correct answers is rather difficult in itself, but trying to do it in barely two minutes as well is practically impossible (most contestants did well if they managed to score 20). The jackpot started at £5,000, and went up by £100 for every correct answer that was given in the final if it wasn’t won.

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There were two series, and nobody at all won the top prize, meaning that almost £59,000 went unclaimed. Jeff tried his best to inject some excitement into all of this, especially if there did turn out to be some close finishes, but watching people take an hour to win nothing became rather frustrating. The returning champion would probably wonder if it was worth it.

To give an idea of just how difficult this final challenge is, in the Spanish version, they can go so long without a winner that the rollover jackpot sometimes reached seven figures and would become a rather big deal. And well, they weren’t ever exactly going to give away a million pounds on ITV in the afternoon were they. Bring back XYZ.

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