A real Countdown milestone for this Game of the Week - the first time anyone scored 83 points, which has yet to be beaten, despite plenty of opportunities. Series 12 was only two days old when former "Television Scrabble" contestant Stephen Balment arrived from Leicester to challenge York-based champion Keith Albans.
The game got off to a good start when both contestants spotted the nine-letter word RELATIONS (Gyles Brandreth also offered the alternative ORIENTALS). Round 2 saw both contestants score seven points, but in the next round Stephen pulled ahead by spotting NUANCE (a shame he didn't spot FINANCE for 7). A straightforward numbers game left the score at 41-35 as we moved into the commercial break.
Stephen moved further and further ahead in the second half, with SOLDIERS, UPSTAGE (although he missed the 8-letter FATIGUES) and BROILED (which Keith had offered in Round 2!), leaving Keith stuck on 35 points. With just the second numbers game and the conundrum to go, Keith had already lost, and attention was focused on whether Stephen could score 83 points and thus beat Harvey Freeman's record. Another low target from CECIL netted both contestants 10 points, and Stephen 'just' had to get the conundrum right. 'CATFAINTS' was revealed, and the clock started ticking... and it kept ticking, and it looked like the programme might not be a record-breaker after all. But with Alan Hawkshaw's music reaching its crescendo, and just two and a half seconds remaining, Stephen's bell rang, and he correctly spotted FANTASTIC, which was extremely appropriate.
Perhaps surprisingly, Stephen only won three preliminary games (not enough to make the quarter-finals
these days, of course), being knocked out by Mike Tobias, who only won one game. However, Stephen
returned as number 4 seed, and was declared Series Champion in June 1987. He also appeared in the
third Championship of Champions, being knocked out by fellow Scrabble expert Darryl Francis, and
in the Supreme Championship where he was defeated by Countdown's first ever champion Joyce Cansfield.
He also appeared in both Countdown Masters series, in one case scoring a very respectable 105 points.
This review was originally published as Game of the Week - 2 Dec 2000.