Skip to content


I guess I just like liking things

(What’s this? Dire TV? I made the rules for this series, and I can break them. This week, I’m doing TV. It’s a world gone topsy turvy.)

Game shows. We’ve all been suckered in while channel surfing. Without meaning to, we’ll watch the whole thing to see if Susan picks the right case on Deal or No Deal, or Alan manages to solve a tricky puzzle on Wheel of Fortune. Some game shows are really edge of your seat stuff – the UK for example produces one called “The Chaser” which pits everyday people against people with incredible general knowledge in the hopes of winning large cash prizes. As far as game shows go, it’s a winner. Tight editing, fast quizzing and the chance to see a bunch of strangers pick up a bundle of cash.

At the other end of the UK Game Show Scale is “Tipping Point.” To explain Tipping Point, I need to ask you if you’ve ever seen one of those machines in an arcade with a pile of coins in front of a sweeping arm. Have you? The idea is you drop in a coin and that coin might be the one to push other coins off the ledge, which you then win. It’s not really a spectator game, but that didn’t stop some TV executives from basing an entire game show on the concept of “Round things being pushed off ledges.”

Sit down. Drink some chamomile tea to ensure you don’t get over excited and join me, please, for a thrilling episode of Tipping Point.

In the studio is a giant version of that coin game, filled with plastic discs. Some discs are white, some are black, but they’re all worth the same amount of money – equality at all times. Along the back of the machine are four “drop zones,” we’ll come to those later. Control yourself. First we have to meet the contestants.

Our Heroes

Our Heroes

Laura is a Sales Executive from St Albans. Caspian is a Competitive Intelligence Analyst from West Sussex (I don’t know what a competitive intelligence analyst does either). Jo is a Teaching Assistant from Essex. Chris is a Driving Instructor from Stevenage. These are our heroes. One of them will walk away with £10,000. Possibly.

Before that though, they have to work through a convoluted questions, answers and counters system which the host runs through as quickly as he can but it’s pretty slowly anyway because it’s so convoluted. I’ll do my best. Hold my hand, we’re going in.

Round one. Every contestant has three “counters” which means they have the chance to answer three questions. A correct answer lets them drop a counter into the machine to try and knock down the counters inside. If the contestant decides there’s no chance of the counters in the machine dropping, they can make someone else drop a counter instead. It’s all so twisty turny! Wrong answers put counters into a bonus pot which someone will get to play with to knock more counters off ledges for more money. Each counter in the machine is worth £50. The person with the least money at the end of the round is eliminated.

Chris is first to buzz in to tell the host that Bambi’s friend Thumper was a rabbit. He opts to let Laura drop a counter because it’s too early for anything to drop. Laura chooses Drop Zone 2 (They call it a drop zone, it’s basically a mini plinko board, but who am I to argue with the brightest game show minds in the world?). To release the counter, Laura presses her buzzer and then we have 15 seconds of counters being moved backwards and forwards on ledges to look at. My blood pressure is through the roof right now. Anyway, Laura scores £100. “It’s exciting, isn’t it?” asks the host in a voice that sounds like he could not possibly be less excited. I wonder who he crossed to end up being offered this job.

Chris knows how many zeros there are in 1,000,000,000 and decides to drop a counter of his own this time. He opts for Drop Zone 1 and I can’t believe he’d be so foolish – drop zone 2 is clearly riper for counter movement. He scores nothing, as only one counter moves, and it doesn’t drop to the bottom. Oh the humanity!

Jo thinks “Mad Men” was set in the 1950s, and her counter is removed from her as punishment and dropped in the bonus pot. Caspian knows how many rings there are on the Olympic Flag, and wisely selects Drop Zone 2 for his counter. He picks up £100 and now everything is even more thrilling. Neck and neck!

I jump forward about 5 minutes to see what’s happening in the future. It’s still round one (no, really) and I’m just in time to see Caspian add £150 to his total. Jo, with no counters left and no money, looks to be in line for elimination, but don’t forget the twisty turny bonus of the jackpot pot… of counters. To win this, with a juicy two counters to play with, a question must be answered. The host tells Jo it’s not over yet, she has a chance, she can still win this! She can’t though, because Chris answers the question and takes the counters. Bye Jo. The round ends with Laura at £550, Caspian at £250 and Chris at £500.

Jo? Jo who? We do not speak of her.

Jo? Jo who? We do not speak of her.

After the commercial break, the podiums have been rearranged to cover the empty one where Jo left, like she was never there. Never there. Round two, thankfully, changes up the game. Each contestant gets 30 seconds worth of questions, with each correct answer earning a counter to play. Laura goes first and manages to answer one question. Not just “one question correctly” but “one question” – she passes on the rest. Still, her counter gets her £200. Chris is next up. He’s much better at answering things, and also follows up his answers with a cheeky smile. I’m warming to Chris. Except of course that his five correct answers mean we get to watch just over two minutes of the ledge machine.

I’m just going to jump ahead again now. Caspian has been eliminated, and his podium has gone too. We do not discuss eliminated contestants. Laura and Chris are now playing for £10,000 and there’s still 20 minutes of show to go. I feel that round three might last for infinity. Round three is six questions, each right answer awards (see if you can guess…) a counter to drop into the slidey machine. If a contestant doesn’t know an answer, they can throw it to the other contestant. If the other contestant doesn’t know the answer, the first contestant gets the counter. It’s so convoluted I can’t even understand how it all happened.

This round introduces computer graphics to say if an answer is right or wrong. It’s all a bit amazing, and I will certainly be needing a lie down at the end. “Is the answer… Shirley Bassy?” asks the host, looking off to the left like he can see some guy at a computer who will give him the thumbs up after a speedy Google. I’m feeling pretty bad for the host at this point – he’s trying to inject some excitement into what amounts to long shots of plastic counters being slid around on flat plates. I wonder if he cries at night.

Jumping forward another five minutes brings me to the end of round three, which Chris wins. He’s getting a chance at £10,000! I’ll point out here that the “money” the other contestants win on this show doesn’t actually exist, it’s just for scoring purposes. If they don’t make the final round, they get nothing.

The host is now waving a new counter around. It’s bigger, and it’s got a red star pasted to it. This is the jackpot counter. It’s bigger! It’s better! It’s got a red star pasted to it! I, personally, have reached fever pitch.

Now comes the bit that is in every single game show. “You might win this money, what are you going to do with it?” This lets the contestant discuss their plans to travel, or buy a car for their mother who only has one leg but has seven eyes, or donate it to a charity for children who feel like their heads are itchier than they should be. Chris wants to go to Machu Pichu, which would be a cool way to spend £10,000. Assuming he wins it, which he probably won’t because we’re back to the slidey machine.

For this last bit, which is the tense bit (you can tell because the music is all low key and the lights have gone down), the shiny red starry jackpot counter is dropped into the machine. Chris then earns counters with more answers to questions. With these counters he has to try and shove the shiny counter out of the machine.

Now, right now you’re thinking “Wow, after the twisty turny convoluted rules of the earlier rounds, round four is simple!” You’re wrong. Wrong! There’s six questions, on six different subjects. When he picks a subject, Chris can bet one, two or three counters that he knows the answer. The more counters he bets, the harder the question.

I was going to make this into a .gif, but I couldn't get a slow enough frame rate

I was going to make this into a .gif, but I couldn’t get a slow enough frame rate

At least he’ll win some money either way. His total from the game is counted, plus the usual £50 per counter. This is like drinking Red Bull and then going on a roller coaster – I can’t take the thrills anymore. Chris drops the shiny counter down Drop Zone 4. It lands flat! Hurrah! Sometimes they land a little bit on top of another counter, you see, which means they’re not pushy enough. You care.

With a bet of three, Chris gets ready to drop three counters into the machine. Not all at once, that might make people over-excited. Nope. One at a time. Long, loving shots of a bunch of plastic discs swooshing gently back and forward. Soon, with some more questions, the shiny counter is almost over the edge! I’m dizzy!

The short version of this final round is this: Chris wins the £10,000 on his final counter. I’m actually, despite thinking this is the most tedious game show in history, pleased for him because he’s so nice. I’m also amused by the slow motion replay, because the whole show is in slow motion anyway.

Therein lies the boredom. I suspect the idea is that the audience will be on tenterhooks as they watch plastic discs being pushed over various edges. In reality, it’s a bit like watching paint dry, but with a shiny studio set around the drying paint.

The host makes a lot about “skillful drops” but again, the only skill in the drops is timing. After the timing is done to make sure the plastic disc lands when there’s room for it to fall flat, the rest is up to the plinko system of pegs. The contestants can’t see where the disc is at the top, so they can’t try anything interesting with the location (assuming it moves, it probably doesn’t). The host also talks a lot about “precious counters” so maybe he’s being paid in counters, and the bosses have brainwashed him to believe they’re valuable.

The show is 45 minutes long, and most of that time is spent with shots of the machine, which moves slowly so as not to jolt any counters around to much. There’s different camera angles, there’s a close up, there’s a shot from the side, there’s shots from above, there’s zooming but in the end it’s just plastic discs, swishing from side to side.

Personally, I’m waiting for “Claw,” the game where contestants answer questions for a shot at picking money stuffed toys out of a rigged claw machine. Your ideas for more tedious games are welcome in the comments.


Written by: