Weakest Link (or The Weakest Link) is a British Game Show (2000-12) with multiple international versions, often with red haired female hosts who insult the contestants, blending a traditional trivia game with a Reality TV aspect of contestants voting each other off as they become a Dwindling Party until one remains and claims the game's earnings.
The show works as follows:
- A "team" of 6-9 (depending on the version) contestants are each asked trivia questions in turn in a timed round.note
- For each question answered correctly, the amount of money they stand to collect is increased exponentially via a money ladder, with the aim to chain together a target amount of consecutive right answers to claim the maximum earnings in the round.note
- On their turn, a contestant may "bank" the money currently chained by the team before the next question is given, which is added to a pot that safekeeps the banked money, but the money ladder is reset to the beginning. In most iterations, notably the UK and US, unbanked money when the round is over is discarded, but several international versions will auto-bank the ladder into the pot at the end.
- If anyone gets a question wrong, the chain "breaks"; all the team's unbanked money is lost and they are reset back to the start of the chain.
- If the target value in the chain is reachednote and banked, the round immediately ends and is essentially considered a perfect run, though not necessarily flawless. Alternatively, if the target value is accumulated despite not being reached in the chain, it also results in the round being successfully completed. In the final timed round with two contestants left, the banked money in that round is either doubled or tripled.note
- Once the round is over and some host-contestant banter is traded (usually one-sided insults from the host), the team then votes off whomever they feel is "the weakest link" (or whoever might be cleverer than them). They write their votes on a devicenote , and are revealed on their podiums left to right. Whoever gets the most votes is told "You are the weakest link. Goodbye!" and is eliminated from the game. A tie in the voting gives the deciding vote to the "strongest link" in the round. The next round begins with the "strongest link" from the previous round, or the second-strongest if the strongest had been voted off.
- When there are only two contestants left, they compete to win the banked money in an elimination round. They are asked questions alternately, typically a best-of-5, and if no winner is decided after the sets of questions, a "Sudden Death" round is played, and the first player to correctly answer a question when their opponent does not is declared the victor.
It made Anne Robinson very famous and gave her a reputation for nastiness as she took her tough, no-nonsense style (previously seen on consumer-affairs show Watchdog) to new levels. Her popularity made it so that she ended up hosting the American version on NBC; this version lasted a year. George Gray later helmed a syndicated version in the U.S. with its run time cut in half and the contestant pool reduced; it too lasted a year.
There have been numerous celebrity versions, where contestants compete to win money for charity.
The show ended in 2012 as Anne Robinson decided to step down and was not replaced; the final new episodes were quietly demoted to an early afternoon slot on BBC2, with Pointless taking over the prime teatime BBC1 slot. In 2017, it was announced that the show would be resurrected, first with a charity special in November with the intention of a full run in 2018, with Anne Robinson returning as host, although these plans were stalled for some time, with Anne taking over as host for Countdown instead. The show finally made its return to British TV in 2021 with planned celebrity editions and comedian Romesh Ranganathan taking over as host.
A new American version premiered on September 29, 2020, with Jane Lynch as host.
"Who's just yet another cliche thing to happen on a game show?"
- All or Nothing: The "kitty" ultimately goes to just one player, and that's the person who survives all the votes and then wins the final head-to-head, at which point the bank is theirs to take home. Everyone who gets voted off and the loser in the final head-to-head leave with nothing.
- Celebrity Edition: Several, including a Doctor Who-themed episode in 2007 (two years after a futuristic and deadly version of the show was featured on the episode "Bad Wolf") and a puppet-edition later that year, as well as two WWE episodes, a hip-hop musicians episode and one featuring the cast of The Brady Bunch in the U.S. These specials were usually played for charities.
- One episode also parodied this with a B-list celebrity edition.
- Double The Dollars: The final banking round is played for triple stakes (double in the original US version).
- Elimination Catchphrase: "You are the weakest link... goodbye!"
- Game Show Winnings Cap: The maximum value that could be won on the UK version show was £10,000 (£50,000 in the primetime/celebrity version) if in all rounds the target value is met. On both NBC primetime versions in the U.S., the max value was $1,000,000, and the syndicated version cut this down to $75,000 and then $100,000. As with a large number of game shows, this is never done, as the rules encourage the contestants to bank and the full jackpot requires a completed chain in every round; it's a noteworthy accomplishment if a team ever does it once.
- The Announcer
- Game Show Host: Anne Robinson. She carried this role over to America, where she hosted the NBC version, with George Gray later helming a syndicated version, and Jane Lynch hosting the 2020 NBC revival. Australian and New Zealand had local versions hosted by Cornelia Frances and Louise Wallace respectively. Romesh Ranganathan hosted the 2021 UK revival.
- Studio Audience:
- Most versions of the show typically have one, encouraged to laugh at the host's jabs at contestants. For the UK, the regular editions lack an audience (with the exception of the 1000th episode) although the prime-time versions do.
- Due to the COVID-19 guidelines restricting close-quarters gatherings, the 2020 NBC revival uses a Laugh Track sans audience members.
- Who Wants to Be "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?": As with other game shows of its era, it features a darkened stage, an all-or-nothing money ladder with a safety net, dramatic lighting and music, and even more contestant dramatics. In the midst of the Millionaire craze in America, it made perfect sense to NBC to import another show of this trope from Britain, complete with bumping the maximum winnings to a nice, round million dollars.
"These tropes will go through to the next round. But one of you ... will not."
- April Fools' Plot: One episode had Anne don a pink blazer and adopting a kind demeanor, actually being nice to the contestants. Ultimately subverted in that she dropped the act because the contestants were "just so stupid."
- Berserk Button: Anne was never amused to see the strongest link voted off. She made sure to let the other contestants know what they've done, even going so far as to sincerely apologize to the contestant about to be voted off. George was in the same boat, telling off contestants that they made a horrible call. One episode even had George beg for the strongest link to come back after the rest of the team struggled the following round.
- A bigger one was forming a voting block in the green room and taking out contestants in a planned manner, essentially making the skill part of the game meaningless. The one time this happened, Anne did not hold back her feelings about the contestants (Marc Price, Barry Livingston, Danny Bonnaduce and Brandon Cruz)
- Catchphrase: "You are the weakest link. Goodbye!"
- At the start of every round: "Let's play...The Weakest Link!" [dramatic music, lights dim] "Start the clock."
- When the round ends mid-question: "Time is up, I cannot complete the question."
- After informing the group of their current pot before voting: "That money will go through to the next round, but one of you...will not."
- Cutting the Knot: Each round has a maximum cap on what can be earned. Technically, contestants could have just banked values just a little before the top of the chain if they felt like it would be too hard to rattle off a consecutive chain of correct answers and simply accumulate the maximum value, automatically ending the round. Too bad this strategy never really saw use, because a lot of the games ended up being mired down by the contestants' unwillingness to even go past the first few links in the chain without compulsively banking (this by default earns them derision from all three hosts).
- Deadpan Snarker: Both Anne and George spent the time between rounds making pithy and/or scathing remarks at the contestants. Jane has proven herself to be a worthy successor in this regard, in keeping with her typical on-screen persona.
- Do Well, But Not Perfect: One of the most viable strategies to reach the final round. Being the weakest link obviously paints the biggest target on one's back, but being one of the strongest also paints a target in later rounds if players want to dodge them in the heads-up round. It's not uncommon for players to reach the final round by rarely or ever being the strongest link in a given round.
- Epic Fail: A select few contestants have proven their ineptitude in unbelievably inexcusable ways, such as the infamous answer to a question asking what is the name of a female sheepnote being, "BAA??"
- There have also been rounds where no money at all was banked. These were the instances when Anne and Jane really shined with their pithy commentary. George would become a Large Ham in these scenarios. Generally, on the UK version, if the team banked less than £100 in a round, Anne would mock them (this is less than $10,000 on the U.S. nighttime version and less than $1,000 on the U.S. daytime version).
- One contestant answered a question about Chinese animals with "dragons". Needless to say, they were the weakest link that round.
- Elimination Houdini: A non-subjective example, and part of the strategy. Usually, the "Weakest link" is sometimes kept as an opponent for the final round(s). However, it is worth noting that sometimes, Statistically Speaking, the "Weakest Link" may have a correct answer rate of 100%, but because they were asked fewer questions is "the weakest link" that round.
- In the 2020 revival series, this was especially in the case of Aaron Solomon from episode 9. Despite being the worst player for at least four rounds in a row, he was also one of the two finalists for that game and won the cash prize of $44,500.
- Flanderization: At the time the series made its debut in the UK, Anne Robinson had been a long-time presenter on Watchdog, the BBC's consumer affairs programme. After this series became established however, the BBC took her off Watchdog because they wanted her to be known solely for her Weakest Link personality (rather than the much more caring persona she displayed on Watchdog). This was eventually reversed in 2009, when Robinson returned to Watchdog and displayed the same personality she had always done on that show.
- Humiliation Conga: Every contestant voted off is subjected to a dramatic departure where they are scathingly told, "You are the Weakest Link. Goodbye!", their podium is turned off and the lights shine down on them as they are made to walk off the stage.
- Joke Character: K9 was a contestant in the Doctor Who special. He answered all his questions correctly, but was unanimously voted off first because the prop was so unreliable they couldn't guarantee how long it would stay working.
- Lighter and Softer: The 2020 NBC revival hosted by actress/comedienne Jane Lynch is broadly comedic with Jane's barbs, as opposed to more genuinely curt comments from Anne Robinson.
- The Mean Brit: Anne is a Liverpool native who earned a reputation for nastiness as the acerbic hostess. Naturally, this trait was most prominent in the American version.
- Non-Standard Game Over: This exchange, after a contestant insists repeatedly that the statistical strongest link was the weakest link.
- Officially Shortened Title: Dropped the "The" after about a year, and the US version never had it at all. Hardly anyone seems to have noticed.
- Perp Walk: Each losing contestant has to make a "walk of shame" from their podium, out of the studio. Occasionally some contestants make faces, or wave, or imitate Anne's trademark wink at the end of the show.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: People who have never watched the show are familiar with the catchphrase.
- Press X to Die: The players must periodically shout "Bank!" throughout the rounds in order to preserve their winnings. Occasionally, they accidentally shout "Pass!" instead. The hostess will accept their pass and move on to the next player, causing the team to lose any unbanked money in the process.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: This is to be expected with a Mean Brit on board. Unless the team got every question right, Anne would find some reason to berate the players. If they did all give right answers, she'd point out they could have taken the top prize if they'd only had the guts to let it ride.
- Subverted in the case of an episode of the US version where the team got a perfect round. Her response: "A reasonable start, team."
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: A few random/lucky guesses have turned out to be correct, such as Denise Crosby on the Star Trek celebrity edition saying " ... Oh ... Canada?" for the Canadian National Anthem.
- Running Gag: People seem to like trying to make Anne Robinson laugh by cracking jokes or doing something weird.
- Specs of Awesome: Anne always wears glasses for this show, perhaps as part of the "mean teacher" personality, unlike in most of her other TV appearances.
- Statistically Speaking: During the voting, the announcer says that Statistically Speaking, so and so is the weakest link and so-and-so is the strongest link and asks if the voting will reflect that. It's interesting to note that a few things alter whether or not someone is the strongest or weakest link, such as a round where everyone got their questions right, but the person who banked was the strongest link. Or where the weakest link actually got all their questions correctly but was merely only asked one or two questions when everyone else was asked two or three.
- One memorable first round featured a contestent who spent a good twenty seconds figuring out which days of the week began with the letter T. As he went first, he ended up being the only contestant who answered two questions correctly and was technically the strongest link. It didn't stop him being voted off.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The Australian version used Cornelia Frances, known for her role on Home and Away. The resemblance between her and Anne is striking, to the point where Cornelia displayed a similar abrasive personality to Anne.
- Tall Poppy Syndrome: When considering factors outside of statistics that would make someone be perceived as the weakest link, an elimination can be driven by a contestant performing too well and being seen as The Ace and the one to look out form. Sometimes, the opposite occurs- if a contestant chokes under the pressure and banks too early, only to find out the team kept answering questions correctly and gypped them out of reaching the target value, it can lead to their elimination. Or moreso, if a contestant chewed up valuable round time stuttering on an answer to a question. But sometimes, the elimination can be driven purely by the fact a contestant is just plain annoying.
- Unwinnable by Design: The time limit that shrinks with every round, the unpredictability of the question material, and the strategy to not appear too threatening to keep in later rounds makes it essentially impossible that any team would ever reach the maximum prize offered on the show. It's generally considered an impressive accomplishment just to reach the target once. The highest prize awarded on any version of the show was $189,500 of the possible $1,000,000, on a "Tournament of Losers" special edition of the US series. (The UK version once managed to give away £7,750 out of a possible £10,000 in one of the last daytime episodes before the show's cancellation, although that episode was made up of former quiz show champions and hence probably one of the brightest, most Genre Savvy selection of contestants.)
- What the Hell, Player?: Anne and George would call out the team whenever the strongest link was voted off.
- Writing Lines: Anne Robinson orders a teacher to do this in one episode after the other contestants vote him off.
- You Say Tomato: Anne Robinson often poked fun at contestants from Northern England (unless that contestant is from her home city, Liverpool).
"Join us next time on the Weakest Link. Goodbye."