This week's game is a Countdown classic for lots of reasons - it features what remains the highest score in any non-Champion of Champions Grand Final, it was the first Countdown to be broadcast on Christmas Day, it was the first (and only) Grand Final to be shown in three parts, and it includes the only numbers game (as far as I am aware) to have three of the same number in the selection. It is also comparatively unusual in being won by the number one seed for the series.
Nic Brown was one of three Octochamps in the series (the others being Stephen Deakin and John Hadfield), while number seven seed Joel Salkin had only won three preliminary games, but had managed to make his way to the final, partly by virtue of an impressive defeat of Stephen Deakin in the quarter-finals, where he won 71-57. For the occasion, Gyles Brandreth was wearing a Christmas tree sweater covered in sparkling presents, and he was joined in Dictionary Corner by Carol Thatcher and lexicographer Julia Swannell.
Round 1 started well for Nic, and he made no bones about his seven-letter word FIBULAS. However, he could have had a nine with the unusual INFUSABLE. In Round 2, he got another 7 and Joel was probably beginning to worry. A reasonably easy numbers game was the perfect opportunity for Joel to receive a confidence boost, and so it was, and the score was 24-10 as we went into the first of two commercial breaks.
Part Two kicked off with another letters game, an eight-letter word for Nic in FROSTIER. Unfortunately, Joel could only manage a 7 with FORGETS. The Countdown favourite GOITRES was offered by the Guardians of the Dictionaries. The fourth letters game again saw Joel failing to match Nic's offering, and the score was 40-10 by the second numbers game. Another straightforward target from CECIL meant that Joel could keep the gap at 30 points, as we reached the first conundrum. Alas for Mr Salkin, it was only three-and-a-half seconds before Nic pressed and offered a CRANBERRY. The score was 60-20, and we were only half-way through the programme.
With the last advert break out of the way, Joel finally managed to equal Nic, but it was looking increasingly like a victory for the man from Woodthorpe. Nic offered HOLINESS in Round 9, and Joel now needed at least one nine-letter word to be in with a chance. Round 10 saw Nic's only blob in the entire match, as he failed to get a relatively simple numbers game correct - "I went on the wrong track and panicked" - I don't think Joel quite believed him! One more letters game and it was all over for the man from Watford, as he offered WICKER, but Nic managed WACKIER. The interest now turned to how high a score Nic could manage, and he didn't disappoint, scoring the maximum available on the last three rounds (I don't think seven can bettered for Round 12, anyway!). What a shame he failed on Round 10 - a score of 118 points would still stand as the highest Grand Final score ever. One final note on the game - Round 13 saw Cathy Hytner put up one of the '6' cards upside down, meaning that the contestants had three '9' cards to play with - as it turned out, Nic did use them all! Could he have got it spot-on if the selection had been correct? Well yes, but in my opinion it makes it a lot more difficult!
After this game, Nic went on to become the fourth Champion of Champions, narrowly beating Tony Vick
78-68. He then disappeared from the Countdown scene, sadly not appearing in either the Supreme
Championship, or spin-off series Countdown Masters. Joel Salkin did appear in the first
Masters series, losing to Series 4 semi-finalist Robert Richland.
This review was originally published as Game of the Week - 28 Jan 2001.