I started watching Countdown on a daily basis from Series 50 in 2003. Before that I was an on-and-off viewer, usually getting home from school halfway through the show. From the beginning of 2004 in Series 51, I made a point of creating a notebook especially for Countdown, where I would write down the letters and numbers as they came out and keep a tally of mine and the contestant's scores. Gradually I became more adept at the game and I first considered applying in mid 2004, but nerves and indecision got the better of me. It was like this until the end of Series 53, when I woke up one Monday morning for school, the TV was on and I heard the sad news of Richard Whiteley's death. I thought I had blown my chance because I couldn't see the show returning after this. Then Des Lynam took over the chair at the end of 2005. I never got round to applying until March 2006. I was in my ICT lesson in Woodlands Community School in Southampton, and I had a break, so I browsed the Internet and the Countdown page. My friends said about me applying for the show, as I told them I was considering it. Eventually, after much persuasion from my family and friends I plucked up the courage to send off for an application form.
The application form arrived very speedily, it took only two days. I filled it out as soon as I opened it, but I couldn't find a passport-sized photo of myself to stick onto it, so I had to stop for the time being. It wasn't until a whole two months later until I sent it off. A couple of weeks later I received a letter back from the producer Daniel Twist, inviting me to an audition three weeks later in my home town of Southampton. Luckily at that point I had just finished doing my GCSE's and was in the process of waiting for the results.
I turned up at the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, along with my mother, father, brother and aunt, who were keen to support me. My audition was at 11 o'clock that morning, and we arrived there at a quarter to. From there my dad asked at reception where we needed to go from there. He guided us up outside the room, and I was quite nervous. We waited outside along with three other people who were auditioning. I remember one of them discussing their experiences on Fifteen to One, which unnerved me slightly because I had never done anything like this before and he had, giving him the upper hand effectively. A man (who later introduced himself to be Daniel Twist) then popped his head through the door and invited us all in. We sat around a long, circular table. The audition went surprisingly well. One round I thought I would risk a nine, which didn't pay off. I had tried the word OBSERVITY, which Daniel later revealed could have been rearranged to get VERBOSITY.
Five days later I received a letter from Yorkshire Television, saying that I had been successful and that they would be writing to me in the coming months with a recording date. It was just under two months when I got my date, which was the 27th of September. It said to be at the studios for 12 o'clock. The four weeks before going up I was trying to contact as many people as I could to tell them.
As it was the summer holiday I had plenty of time to get in some practice. Then the day to go up there came. We travelled up the day before on the train, as we worked out that to get there for midday we would have to leave Southampton at about six in the morning, which would have meant that I would have been shattered for when I had my recording at 5.15 that afternoon. We checked into the hotel when we arrived in Leeds, and then spent the rest of the day exploring the city. The next day we went down the road to the studios and waited at reception to be called in. About ten minutes later Jay the runner came out, introduced himself and guided us and the other contestants for that day in. He gave us a basic tour of what was where. Then we were shown into the green room, which had a sort of peachy colour to it. The previous contestants who had already recorded were sat there watching the television in the corner, which was showing the current recording taking place. Then it was lunchtime and we headed down to the cafeteria and had something to eat.
When we left the cafeteria we saw the afternoon audience being guided to the studio (as they have two audiences during the course of one day). We went back to the green room and were told by Jay that we were more than welcome to sit in the audience and watch the next recordings (as mine was the last scheduled that day). I was keen to see the studio and watch, so I managed to drag my dad away from the cup of coffee he had just got from the coffee machine in the green room and we joined on to the end of the audience line. We sat and watched the warm-up man Dudley Doolittle before the recording started. Then Susie Dent and Jo Brand came out and prepared themselves. Carol then came out and spoke to the audience before getting herself ready. Finally Des came out and spoke with the audience before getting himself ready. Before long the titles were running and the show begun. I played along with the complimentary pad and pen that everybody in the audience got. I didn't do terribly well, and I was thinking that my nerves would ultimately get the better of me when I was due to record. Fifteen minutes after the show (and a quick costume change for the hosts), the next one started, and I did slightly better, but not a lot. Then there was a half-hour tea break, and the audience proceeded to the cafeteria, where free cups of tea and coffee were distributed, along with a biscuit.
Then the time for my recording had arrived. I went to the green room and from there we were taken to make-up, which took a lot less time than I imagined. Just a quick brush over with some powder and that was it. Then Jay took me and Richard Woodward (a man from Mensa who had unsettled me somewhat with his impressive score of 108) through to the studio. We walked across the studio whilst Dudley was entertaining the audience. We were seated and Lisa the floor manager came over, introduced herself and went through the procedure. Susie was the first to introduce herself to me, shortly followed by Jo Brand, then Carol, and finally Des, who talked to me about what I was studying at college. Then before I knew it, the titles rolled and I was being introduced. The first round started the game well, with both of us getting sevens. Then the second round I couldn't see anything more than sixes, which led me to trail behind score-wise, until the numbers round, where I was relieved that he chose one large and five small. For the next few rounds I had gained quite a comfortable lead, until I lost three rounds in a row, putting me thirteen points behind with four rounds remaining. The fact that Richard got a nine didn't do me any favours, and I was annoyed because the very second he announced the word 'nine', I saw RIGHTEOUS. I was surprised when I got the word CONFIDE and Richard missed it. On the last numbers round I wasn't sure whether to try tactics and go for six small numbers or stick to tradition with the one large and five small. I decided to stick, just in case it backfired. Fortunately it paid off for me, nevertheless it was still a crucial conundrum. I could feel my hand shaking slightly as I had it poised on the buzzer. When it was revealed I saw the useful '-ing' lurking within the selection and I uncovered the word REVAMPING within four seconds, but when I was there I thought it was about fifteen seconds that had gone. It wasn't until the end when I turned and looked at the clock when I knew. I was ecstatic to have won, especially such a close game, which from watching Richard's previous performance I was somewhat doubtful of winning. Then when the recording finished I was congratulated by Jay and taken back to the green room before being congratulated by several members of the audience as they left. Then we went back, got our stuff and left. I wasn't due back for my next recording until a month later as there was a break in recording. A few days later I heard the news that Des was leaving the show, but was grateful that he wasn't leaving until Christmas.
During the month I had away I tried squeezing in as much practice as I could whenever I had the spare time to do it, along with watching the show. Then the time came to travel back up. We once again travelled up the day before. I was consistently given anagrams and numbers game to do on the train. We again checked into the hotel and went to the city centre to have something to eat. I was sure to get an early night ready for the day ahead. I went to bed at half past ten, but didn't manage to fall asleep until about midnight from the excitement of the day ahead.
The next day we got up about eight o'clock and went downstairs for breakfast. Then a quarter to twelve came and we walked leisurely down to the studios once again. We sat in reception and waited for the remaining contestants who were due to record that day. Jay came out and shook all of our hands and took us through. The male contestants were taken to the male changing room and we got our different sets of clothes out and hung them up, ready for inspection by the costume lady (who I always called Helen, but now thinking about it, I think I got the names mixed up). We sat in the green room for what seemed like ages and chatted about Countdown. Then it was recording time once again and me and Dean Rowley were taken through to the studio by Jay. We were seated (me this time in the champion's chair) and taken through the procedure, which I remembered well from the previous time. Everybody came in and prepared themselves. Carol came over and shook our hands. Again the words "opening titles" could be heard from Lisa.
Des introduced me and I rather embarrassingly froze when he asked me about my subjects I was studying at college. I knew what I wanted to say, but not how to say it. For about five long seconds I was frantically trying to think of a reply. Fortunately though Des saved it and he asked me about what music I liked.
The game on the whole went well for me as I was matching what Dean was getting. During the eighth round he had declared eight and I only had seven. When he said the word REFILMED I immediately thought he had it, and like a lot of people, I was surprised to hear that it wasn't in the dictionary, so I had a lucky escape. The following round I was also lucky with the word CAPERING, which I was very unsure about. The next numbers round it took me until the last couple of seconds to get a solution that was actually rather simple. Much to my surprise Dean hadn't got it at all. I was expecting him to have got it within a few seconds when I saw how it could've been done. On the twelfth round Dean chose the letters, and I was hoping that the last letter would either be an 'M' or a 'V', then I would have a nine-letter word. When I heard Carol say the letter 'M' at the end I immediately wrote the word TRAMLINES, then the word TERMINALS. When I announced that I had nine, I was deliberating which word to go for. I decided to go with TRAMLINES because I thought it sounded more interesting. I was overjoyed because I was two points away from a century at that point. When the next round of letters were dealt I remember thinking to myself "if this last consonant is an 'N' I could have INTERVALS for another nine", and unbelievably it was. I announced that I had another nine and I could hear a few gasps from the audience. I was then on 116 points. I calculated at that point that it was possible to get into the 130's (something that I have only seen happen thrice, but had actually happened five times I later found out). When I got the next numbers Des told me that I had got the highest score of the series (something that I should've known as I hadn't missed an episode of the series up to that point). I was shocked. Then I got the conundrum, making a total of 136 points. I never expected to get a score anywhere near that. At the end of the game Dudley congratulated me as we went back to the green room. Both Dean and his wife congratulated me on my victory when we arrived.
About twenty minutes later (and a rapid costume change) it was time for my next game against Vicky Hubble. This game went well also, with Vicky putting up a good challenge. On round nine she beat me, with the word TREFOILS, where I had the more common TRIFLES. I struggled on the conundrum, which was HOUSEWIFE, as I was searching for some sort of suffix such as '-ing' or '-ed' and there weren't any. After a long twenty-two seconds I got it (just a split second before Vicky did), giving me a second century. After the game there was another quick costume change and a slightly longer break before I was due to play my next game against Carl Gregory. For a few minutes before being taken into the studio we were talking about what the goody bag contained and various other subjects. The next game was indeed a challenge, as we were level pegging at 36 – 36 for the first part of the show. I was lucky though with the fourth letters round. Only at the last second did I spot FATHERS, which I had rearranged from a very risky SHAFTER that I had written down (which I later discovered wouldn't have been allowed). As he was a maths teacher I knew I would get a run for my money when it came to the numbers rounds. At the sixth round I took the lead with ETHANOL, which Des said I could've put an 'M' before to give METHANOL (which weirdly enough I had heard of). On round nine I saw the word MAGENTAS straight away, which didn't seem risky, but after a little bit of deliberation Susie decided to allow it. I also had NAMETAGS written down, but I wasn't sure as to whether it was two words or not. On round twelve I was quite lucky as I managed to get the word CORTINAS, thanks to the previous game where CORTINA was there and I had the word lodged freshly in my brain. I ended the game with a score of 116 to Carl's respectable 68.
The hour lunch break had arrived (even though it was about half past five) and I didn't feel all that hungry, so I just settled for a plate of chips and some fruit juice. I was half-expectant of the rest of my family questioning me endlessly about getting three centuries in a row and my record score of the series, but they didn't, which I was grateful for to a certain extent, as I wanted to keep a clear mind. After the break I went back to the green room, ready to play my next game against Glenda Fullard. It was then when a student came over to me and introduced himself as Dan Ward, who I hadn't seen up until that moment. He told me that he was the last contestant of the day. As soon as I saw him I had a feeling that if I went on to play him, it would be a tough game. After another speedy costume change me and Glenda were taken through into the studio, where a new audience (consisting mainly of students this time) were being given all the health and safety information by Lisa and then entertained by Dudley. This game was another where I received a good challenge. On the fourth round I had the word PULSATOR written down, but opted not to risk it, but upon looking at the dictionary at home, found out that it was a word that Dictionary Corner didn't get. The only obscure word I managed to get was CANALISE, which Des asked me after announcing it whether I knew the meaning. I said I had a vague idea (the vague idea being that I knew it was something to do with canals). On round eleven I slipped and made a stupid mistake. I had both SLAINED and DENIALS written down and I don't know why, but SLAINED seemed more logical at the time. Once I had declared it the mistake was obvious to me. I managed though to gain another victory, with yet another century.
I got back to the green room, feeling mentally shattered from playing four games. I sat down on one of the cream-coloured, leather seats and helped myself to a banana from the bulging bowl of fruit on the central coffee table. Dan then came in and we talked for a few minutes about how surreal the whole experience of being at the studios was. Then after one final costume change we were taken to the studio, and the recording began shortly after. The first round my mind just went blank. All I had was SONNET for six. I knew instinctively that there was more there but I couldn't see it, despite the fact that there was a 'Z' and a 'V' in the selection. As I had gathered Dan declared seven, when I could only declare six. When he said INVENTS I kicked myself. It wasn't even a remotely obscure word. Nevertheless I didn't let it get me down, and I was keen to announce that I had a nine in the next round, which unsurprisingly Dan had also got. My inklings had been proven correct; he certainly was a formidable opponent, that I could easily picture myself losing to. The third round I didn't see INANELY until right at the last moment. Like Dan I had FINALE written down, but I needed to try and gain some points to catch up, so I went for the seven and luckily it paid off. Susie admitted that she hadn't spotted it, which needless to say, made me feel quite proud of myself. The next few rounds we were getting the same scores bar one, where I managed to gain the lead with the word ROTATED. By the beginning of the third part of the show we were both in the seventies with our scores. making it highly possible for both of us to achieve centuries. I chose the letters for round eleven, finishing with a vowel, in the knowledge that if it was an 'E', I would have PATRONISE for another nine, and it was. So I rapidly wrote it down, along with another nine, which was ISOPTERAN (an adjective relating to termites, which for some strange reason I have always been able to remember). I expected Dan to announce nine when he was asked, and was surprised when he said "a dodgy eight". I opted for PATRONISE because the dictionary had changed since the last time ISOPTERAN appeared and I didn't want to take the risk that it wasn't in that particular edition, especially with an opponent such as Dan. The next round I decided to stick with a seven, even though I had the word PASTURED written down, which Dan risked to his avail. For the rest of the game we equalled scores, and neither of us saw the conundrum UPROOTING. The game ended with me having 110 points and Dan having a very respectable 93 points. The recording finished and the audience came down onto the studio floor to get autographs and photographs. I was talking to my brother as a group of female students came over with a sheet from the numbers game, covered with autographs. They asked me if I could sign it, which I gladly did. They congratulated me on my close victory and went off to gather more autographs. I then went back to the changing room and collected my clothes and bag. Dan was already in there and he shook my hand and congratulated me before leaving. Then when I found the rest of my family we left and headed back to the hotel.
The next morning we intended to head back down to the studios for 9:30am, but never actually left the hotel till then. We waited in reception for about two minutes and Jay came out. I apologised for my lateness and he took me and my Dad through to the now quite familiar green room. We chatted to the other contestants due to play that day, who had heard about my five wins the previous day and were joking about how nervous they were. Then the wardrobe lady once again inspected my clothes and said they were okay. Then after a short conversation with Des in the make-up room the game began between Jennifer Brown and me. The game was very close (with me forgetting that I had spelt the word DEMEANOUR in the American way and therefore having it disallowed). The game ended with me winning the last three rounds, which if I hadn't would have probably led to another crucial conundrum. We went back to the green room and I got changed ready for my last game.
When me and Sue Pascoe were taken through to the studio and seated I overheard Carol speaking to the audience and saying something along the lines of "Steve must have been partying a lot last night. He didn't get a century that time." Jay explained the procedure and said that I probably knew it word for word. The first round I was quite pleased with myself because at the very last second I saw the word MELODICA, which I had only learnt a couple of days prior to going up there. The rest of the game went well, with me scoring in every round except the conundrum, which my brother David got amazingly (which he refuses to stop boasting to me to this day). When Des said that I was the number one seed I was genuinely surprised because I hadn't really been keeping a tally of the scores, especially after an unpromising first game. After the game Carol came over and shook my hand and congratulated me on my performances. Des patted me on the back and said well done. We went back to the green room, where I was congratulated further by the contestants. Jay came in with my goody bag. I was eager to see what was inside it, but thought that I should wait until later. We were then told that we were more than welcome to watch the rest of the games to be shown that day, to which I gladly accepted. It was a welcoming relief to know that I wouldn't need to play as I was shattered, and I didn't. I sat and watched the rest of the games, relaxed as I knew that I had done my bit. We then went to the pub in the city centre that we had become quite familiar with and had a meal to celebrate.
I got a very welcoming reception when I arrived back at Southampton. For the following three weeks I was bombarded with questions about it. Then the time came to return for the finals. I didn't really want to practice that much on the train as it might have knackered me out. We checked into the hotel on the Monday evening and had a drink there. Tony Warren (a fellow finalist and octochamp) was sat reading the newspaper a couple of tables away. Then as the evening set in Stu Horsey arrived with his wife.
The next morning I woke up early and got myself some breakfast, along with my family. As I was helping myself Stu came over and introduced himself. I remember thinking how strange it was that people who I had never met before (only seen on television) recognised me. After breakfast we went back up to the room and I got ready, trying to find clothes that looked smart, but also not too formal. I decided that a plain blue shirt would do just fine and we went downstairs for a cup of coffee before once again setting off for the studios. My parents and aunt grabbed the opportunity to have a cigarette (something which I have always nagged at them about). Tony came over and introduced himself and we invited him to sit down with us. We were discussing Countdown generally. We were exchanging interesting bits of random trivia on the show, such as the letter distribution and so on. Joy Longworth then came over with her husband and chatted to us. We then all walked down to the studios together. I was talking to Tony again about Countdown, which then turned into a conversation about the hotel. We waited in reception for Jay to come out and take us through. There wasn't any room in the green room for our guests, so we had to go in by ourselves. When we went in there the rest of the finalists were sat around chatting. I was so nervous, the only two people I could recognise straight away for some reason were Richard Brittain and Andrew Blades. I kept quiet as I was very nervous and watched the television in the corner for a few minutes. Andrew then came over and we started talking. We were then taken to the changing rooms for clothes inspection, the men in one room and women in another. I was fine as I went to the studios in the blue shirt to save me changing.
About twenty minutes later Daniel came in and went through the order of play. As I was number one seed I played first, against the number eight seed Phil Watson. Daniel flipped a coin to decide who would sit in which chair. I called tails and it was heads, so Phil chose the challenger's chair. I then remembered that he was famous for his "Four Tops" selection in the numbers rounds, which unsettled me. There were three games due for recording before my game. We all sat together in the audience and watched. I couldn't resist the temptation to play along. I didn't really want to as I might have exhausted myself for my game, which was due to record at 7pm. The first game I did okay, the second I did terribly, and the third I did somewhere in between. There was an hour lunch break and then it was time. Me and Phil were guided into the make-up room, and then into the studio. I was a bag of nerves. I kept telling myself I'd done it eight times before, but it didn't make any difference. We were seated and taken through the procedure. Carol and Des came over and shook our hands and wished us both luck. Then Susie and Ken Bruce wished us luck, and before I knew it, the titles were rolling. Me and Phil shook hands and wished each other good luck. Des then gave our statistics after some informality. The first round I started off badly. I knew that there was more than a six there but couldn't see anything beyond FLEETS, which caused me to fall behind. The second round wasn't much better, with me forgetting to put the 'S' onto the end of ORDAIN, but at least I got some points. I was lucky with the word HEARTED on the next round. The round after that I tried a nine, which I thought sounded feasible, leading Phil to also try a nine. I was expecting him to also announce OUTSTANDS, but instead announced UNTOASTED. If I had just rearranged it a little bit I could have had STANDOUTS. The rest of the game went badly for me as I had the word FOILERS disallowed. I was desperate to catch up, but Phil did well to keep ahead. I narrowly beat him on the last numbers round, creating a crucial conundrum. When it was revealed I couldn't see anything. I desperately tried unscrambling it to find something, but the best I could come up with was TIGERCAGE, but I knew that that wasn't it. Then the clock finished and I had lost. I congratulated Phil after the game and we sat in the audience and watched the final game of the day between Richard and Andrew.Steven Briers