It’s 5pm. You have a dilemma. Tea’s not ready yet and you need something to occupy your time. Something exciting. Something stimulating. Fear not! There is a plethora of programmes just waiting to satiate your burning desire for quizzing!
You’re too late to catch Noel Edmonds’s pseudo-spiritual cosmic rapture on Deal or No Deal. Sorry about that. But what about ITV’s The Chase, in which Bradley Walsh, lorded over by knowledge-hoggers ‘The Chasers’, tries to stop sniggering for long enough to read the question. Or there’s Pointless, where Alexander Armstrong tries to pretend he doesn’t know all the answers while his ‘pointless friend’ Richard Osman bequeathes us with facts from a pretend laptop (Richard, I love you, you’re so tall and wisdomous). Mercifully, I have yet to find a quiz show as painful to endure as Eggheads, in which five trivia ‘experts’ look smug for half an hour. Yes, especially you, Daphne.
But hey, there’s a new kid on the block. It’s called Five Minutes to a Fortune! There are five rounds! The contestants only have five minutes! It’s on at 5pm! Bad luck Channel Five. It’s blue-sky thinking like that which makes Channel 4 such a groundbreaking broadcaster. What you got, BBC? A ‘pointless’ trophy? Pah!
Despite its terrible name, Channel 4’s latest venture into this saturated pool of general knowledge isn’t all that bad. The premise of the show is fairly simple, yet somehow manages to appear inordinately complicated on first viewing. Essentially, there is a huge hourglass with 50,000 pound coins inside. If the contestant doesn’t manage to answer questions quickly enough, the prize money starts to drain away. So far, so cacophonous.
The confusion arises due to the role of ‘timekeeper’. Contestants come in pairs. One answers all the questions. The other chooses five topics for their partner and gives them a time limit for each round. They then proceed to a small podium where they sit and watch their mate get things wrong, fingers poised on an ‘emergency stop’ button to halt the flow of money if they’re failing particularly miserably. I’m not entirely sure why there needs to be a timekeeper at all. They’re mostly redundant until the finale, when they answer the final question, deciding if the pair take any cash home at all. I pity them, rolling their thumbs as their partner cocks it all up, watching their precious pound coins tumble into oblivion.
On Sundays, celebrities take on the mutant eggtimer. Anne Widdecombe and Anton du Beke were predictably ghastly, although not quite as downright disastrous as Gok Wan and his brother Kwoklyn. We saw Gok desperately struggle through wrong answer after wrong answer, as thousands of pounds drained away in the corner of his eye. It was mortifying. It was heartwrenching. It was gripping to watch.
Davina is excellent as always in her role of empathetic and masterful host. She is unswerving in her ability to make contestants feel interesting and worthy, even when they’ve just made themselves look incredibly stupid on national TV. I feel like she’s genuinely enjoying it too, although she must know in her heart it’s exactly 19/20ths less exciting than The Million Pound Drop. She yells “Stop the drain!” with boundless enthusiasm when the contestant has achieved their quota of five correct answers per round, despite it being one of the worst catchphrases I’ve ever heard.
Five Minutes to a Fortune is significantly improved by its interesting take on run-of-the-mill general knowledge questions. The games are original and fun, with contestants having to spell answers backwards or guess which fictional character would have tweeted what. The combination of high-octane pressure and an alluringly large sum of money make me suspect it could hold its own in a Saturday primetime slot. If you ever fancied a bit of a thrill before your spag bol, you could do worse than this.