A bit of a first for Game of the Week this week, as it features a game that was never broadcast, which is a great shame, as it is something of a classic. The second series of Countdown Masters was nearing the end of its 52-week run when it was rudely interrupted by the Gulf War, and the five minutes of breakfast entertainment from Richard and Carol were dropped (probably quite rightly) in favour of the latest news from the Middle East.
This particular game, scheduled for transmission only three weeks after Countdown Masters was pulled from the airwaves, turned out to be the one that decided who would walk off with the complete set of Oxford dictionaries for winning the series. It featured well-known Countdown contestant Clive Freedman (octochamp, Series 8 semi-finalist and the second ever Champion of Champions) against relative unknown Andrew Fisher (who won one game in Series 9). On paper, a classic match did not seem likely, but that was how it turned out, as things were not as one-sided as it appeared. Since appearing on Series 9, Andrew had become a regular on the Scrabble circuit and I'm indebted to him for sending me details of the programme, having re-watched the video of his appearance.
The game started with a not very encouraging set of letters, with both players settling for six, although both words were impressive - Andrew opting for GALIOT (a kind of boat) and Clive offering AGOUTI (a burrowing rodent). Dictionary Corner spotted ALIQUOT (a portion) for seven. It was clear that both these men were a force to be reckoned with on the letters games, but what about the numbers? Round 2 was a reasonably easy challenge, so it would be the Tuesday recording at the earliest before their numbers form could be determined. And what of the Monday conundrum? Well, it looked like Clive was going to take the lead when he pressed, but he declared the 8-letter INSOLENT, which was obviously wrong. Andrew then came up trumps after seventeen seconds had registered on the clock, and against expectations, Andrew was 26-16 ahead with four days still to go.
Tuesday's segment began with both contestants getting an 8-letter word. It's the sort of selection that suggests a possible nine, but I can't find one. The form of the contestants looked certain to be tested in the following numbers game, as it was one of those "four from the top" selections so loved by Ms Vorderman. In actual fact, it didn't prove too tricky a target, although it did baffle Clive - probably the usual problem of having so many big numbers that you have lots of routes you can go down and only thirty seconds in which to find one that works. The next round saw Andrew getting the conundrum in under one second (and we never saw it!), and he had now pulled out a lead of 30 points in only two days! Would Clive fight back?
Well, as Wednesday's section dawned, it looked like he could. A relatively appealing set of letters offered the prospect of several sevens, but while Clive opted for the safe (no pun intended) RELIANT, Andrew declared LIBRATE, which, unfortunately for him, was not in the dictionary (he tells me he had seen other words, but that LIBRATE is a well-known Scrabble word - it is listed in the NODE, but only LIBRATION was in the COD in use at the time). Clive's luck did not last long, however, as he blobbed on the numbers game, while Andrew bagged the full 10 points again. Andrew also spotted the conundrum in five seconds, and it was beginning to look like a walkover with the score at 74-31 in Andrew's favour.
Thursday's letters game saw them both scoring another eight points with REFUSING - Dictionary Corner offered the rather dubious plural GUNFIRES. Despite none being selected from the top row, the fourth numbers game was straightforward and both Andrew and Clive got ten points (doubtless aided by the presence of the '10' in the selection). Just when it looked like it was all over for Clive, he fought back on the conundrum round, dropping a BOMBSHELL (sorry, I couldn't resist it) after five seconds, but he still needed maximum points on Friday to stand any chance of beating Andrew.
Friday's letters looked reasonable enough,
but a nine looked out of the question with the 'W' involved. So it proved, with Clive offering AUCTIONS and Andrew the
excellent WAINSCOT for eight, and it was Andrew's match for sure - but could he beat the 118 points scored by Countdown
producer Michael Wylie and Stephen Deakin earlier in the series? Another "bottom three rows only" selection ensued, but
again the friendly '10' appeared, and both players achieved the target with the same method. So, one round to go, and
Andrew needed to get the conundrum to be in with a shot at those leather-bound dictionaries. Could he do it? Well, as
VINEBILGE was revealed, we only had to wait for one second (I'll say it again - we missed this game!!) before he
unravelled it and Andrew finished the game with 120 points. Peter Finley almost matched this in what was probably the
last ever Countdown Masters recorded (another game which would have been good to see), while Andrew's score almost matched
the 124 points scored by the first Countdown
Masters series winner Julian Hough. Clive went on to appear in the Supreme Championship in 1996, losing to Andrew Perry
in the Group B Final.
This review was originally published as Game of the Week - 31 Mar 2001.