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Series / Mastermind

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Dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum, Da-da!

Can you please tell me your name? This Troper.

What is your occupation? Media Snarker.

And your specialist subject? The BBC quiz show Mastermind.

OK, you have two minutes to answer as many questions as possible. Let's begin. What country produces this famous quiz show? Great Britain.

When was the first run of this show on TV? 1972 to 1997.

Who was the first host? Magnús Magnússon.


Where was the birthplace of long-serving presenter Magnús Magnússon? Errr.... Scotland?

Wrong. It was Iceland.

What is the format of the show? Four contestants answer two timed rounds of questions; one on a specialist subject, followed by a round of general knowledge. The highest total score wins. Winners of heats go on to semi-finals and then the final.

What happened to the show between 1997 and 2003? There was a Radio 4 version, then a Discovery Channel version, the latter hosted by Clive Anderson.

Who hosts the current BBC version, running from 2003 to the present? John Humphrys.

Are you allowed to pass in this game? Yes.

What happens if you pass in this game? Err ... pass.

If you get the answer wrong, what happens? The host reads out the answer, wasting time for the contestant.

What inspired Bill Wright, the creator? Being interrogated by the Gestapo.


Which show is Mastermind's similarly-challenging team equivalent? University Challenge

Which pair of comedians famously (Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!) I've started so I'll finish ... spoofed the show by having one answer the question before last? The Two Ronnies.

I'll accept that as it was the joke's first appearance on TV. The very first appearance of the sketch was on spoofine radio show The Burkiss Way.

At the end of that, you had one pass; if you pass in this game, the host reads out the correct answers to any passed questions at the end of the round, and in the event of a tie the contestant with the lowest number of passes wins. You have eleven points!


This show contains examples of:

  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Magnús Magnússon.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: The only prize for winning is a large glass bowl. Of course, Mastermind champions practically become minor celebrities, particularly in the quiz circuit, because it proves that you're really that damn smart.
    • Indeed, one of the 'Chasers' on The Chase is 2004 champion Shaun Wallace.
  • Catchphrase: "I've started so I'll finish."
  • Celebrity Edition: Runs for ten episodes on BBC1 (rather than BBC2 for the current 'standard' series) over the Christmas period each year. Unlike the standard series, the episodes are standalone (and the general knowledge questions tend to be easier).
  • Cool Chair: The black leather swivel chair in which contenders sit. It was once kidnapped and held for ransom. Seriously. The original black chair was given to Magnús Magnússon as a goodbye gift at the end of his tenure.
  • Darker and Edgier: The black chair, the harsh spotlight, the sombre manner of the questioner, THAT THEME TUNE... This is the quiz show as Serious Business.
    • This would later get amplified in the 2019-2020 series, which made the Mastermind set more suitably menacing.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The 2019-2020 series reduces the color of the set and on-screen graphics down to just white and black.
  • Epic Fail: The worst score ever achieved was just 5 points (4 on their specialist subject and 1 on general knowledge), although on multiple occasions people have managed to score 1 point on their specialist subject (oddly, most of these people managed to make a comeback in the general knowledge round).
  • Hidden Depths: Often turns up stereotype-defying contenders, including a cab driver with extensive knowledge of 14th-Century Italian art.
  • Insistent Terminology: Those people answering the questions? They're not "contestants", they're "contenders".
  • Shown Their Work: The whole point of the "specialist subject" round.
  • Sigil Spam: Starting in the 2019-2020 series, a "M" logo is plastered throughout the set.
  • Small Reference Pools: Essentially, the first round tests depth of knowledge and the second tests breadth - meaning that this trope is both inverted and played straight.
  • Spin-Off: Several.
  • Theme Tune: Named "Approaching Menace" and conveying it as effectively as the theme from Jaws.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: ESPN's 2 Minute Drill, using sports questions.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Played for Laughs by Michael Winner on a celebrity edition, where he was doing poorly and resorted to repeatedly asking to phone a friend or ask the audience.
    • This was also used in advertisements for the Discovery Channel version, which said "No, you can't phone a friend" or "No point in asking the audience".


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