This week's game is what I would call an "instant classic" and epitomises all that is great about Countdown - the nine-letter words, the sudden-death extra rounds, the one-second conundrums, a potential long-running champion - need I go on? At the time of writing, Kevin McMahon is of course the number one seed so far of the current series, and I make no apologies for including this match as a Game of the Week straight away.
Before the game began, 15-year-old Kevin already had three wins under his belt, each with a winning score in the fifties, and Round 1 started promisingly with both contestants spotting the 8-letter BALMIEST. Gloria Hunniford, making a return to Dictionary Corner alongside the "Mighty" Richard Samson, offered an anagram of BALMIEST - TIMBALES, meaning dishes or drums. Round 2 saw Kevin get a nine for DEVOURING, but challenger Gareth could only manage VIGOUR. Kevin pulled further ahead in the last letters game of Part One, when he offered RELATES for 7, although he could have had an 8 with RESONATE. A straightforward numbers game saw both contestants bagging 10 points in Round 4, and as we approached the break, Kevin had amassed an impressive 43 points. What would Part Two hold?
After we had suffered an excruciating comment from Richard about "going out with grim-looking women" (does Richard get worse, or do they edit less out these days?) and a couple of plugs for Flora Pro-Activ, the second half was upon us, and just when we thought it was going to be a walk-over for young Kevin, he failed to score for two rounds, while Chelmsford-based Gareth netted 15 points for FIDGETY and AROUSING. With three rounds to go, the gap was down from a massive 25 points to just 10 and it was all to play for.
If there is one way in which the match was not a perfect example of a game of Countdown (Richard waxed lyrical the next day about it being the perfect game to stash away in a time capsule, and in many ways I wouldn't disagree), it would be that it featured very few unusual words, either from the contestants or the Guardians of the Dictionaries (TIMBALES being a notable exception), and Round 7 was true to form, Kevin scoring 7 with DITCHES and Gareth scoring 7 with the admittedly slightly unusual FOISTED.
So, two rounds to go, still ten points in it - would CECIL come up trumps with a tricky numbers game? In general, the random number generator has a rather inverted sense of occasion, and to some extent it was true here - the target, though trickier than some, failed to fool either player, and it was 60-50 to Kevin with the conundrum remaining. In his previous games, Kevin had solved two of the three conundrums he had been set, so he looked favourite to unravel PONGIGALL first, but it was Gareth who pressed first, a whisker after two seconds, and the scores levelled for the first time since Round 1. Another conundrum was quickly set up, and this time Kevin lost no time (well, one and a bit seconds!) in spotting DEBATABLE, and winning the match 70-60. Gareth certainly had nothing to be ashamed of, and on many days would have been happily clutching his Countdown teapot.
Kevin of course went on to win 8 games (with some impressively high scores too) and become the 55th octochamp
in the history of Countdown. As to whether he will become the champion of Series 44, we will have to wait
This review was originally published as Game of the Week - 24 Mar 2001.