The Travelodge in St. Kilda Road has been packed with brain
power in recent weeks. Twenty-seven brains - crammed with
all sorts of information that can be whipped to the fore
faster than a Tony Barber smile - have been air-freighted
to Melbourne by the Nine Network for Sale of the Century's
$150,000 world championships.
There are nine American, nine New Zealanders and nine Brits
to compete against the Aussie team....and when they haven't
been taping programs or visiting South Gippsland's penguins
and big fibreglass worm (on the way to Phillip Island) or
watching the Windies at the MCG (Americans called cricket
'baseball with valium') they assemble in the Travelodge
bar and play - yep, you guessed it - Trivial Pursuit. Either
that or they talk about the interpretaions of new dictionaries,
or Kings, or what actress appeared with so-and-so in the
1946 remake of...
Grundys, the makers of Sale, have placed a $30 daily
bar limit on each contestant, but that hasn't dampened spirits
at all. These overseas contestants are enjoying themselves
immensely, even if they're up against that formidable Australian
Cary Young (former world champion), tougher questions than
they're accustomed to at home and the renowned lightning
speed responses of the Australians with those cardiac-massage
It's the third world championship' (not to be confused
with the international team challenges that have been run
since 1985) that Nine has staged. The first, in early 1987,
was won by Young, David Bock won it last year. Young is
back again this year, although he'll no doubt be pushed
by the Champion of Champions, Gerard Fanning, the 'Footscray
Flash' who won about $240,000 in cash and prizes on the
show last year.
Those out here for a three-week all-expenses-paid brain-fest
were selected on the basis of their performances in overseas
game shows (Grundys made a Sale of the Century for
NBC in America) and auditions. Three weeks of intense taping
will turn into six weeks of Sale, which begin this week
with the Americans thrashing it out for a spot in the finals.
One of the 36 contestants will go home with $100,000 in
cash and prizes, plus a $50,000 Holden.
Executive producer Martin Rhodes says the internationals
lend a nice flavour to the program - "a champions event
like this is a good way to start the year... it does seem
to go down very well with audiences". So well, obviously,
that one of the Americans, John Gose, who's made several
trips to the Sale set is nearly always recognised when he
steps off the jet at Tullamarine.
It's interesting to discover, following conversations with
these visiting overseas games experts, that our version
of Sale could well be the crème de la crème
of game shows - relatively tough questions, top prizes (and
loads of cash, more importantly) and no taxes.
In America, for example - that nation of boisterous free
enterprise - total prize values offered on the three or
four game shows are far smaller (with piddling or non-existent
cash jackpots) and winnings are then taxed (at 30 to 35
per cent) on top of that.
So if you win $60,000 cash, you pay $20,000 in tax, and
if you win goods to the value of $60,000 you pay $20,000
tax. Which often leads to the ludicrous situation of winners
foregoing prizes (Tom O'Brien didn't mind saying no to the
enormous porcelain dog - anyone wanna buy a china dog?)
or even dipping into their own pockets to pay tax on goods
whose retail value can rarely be recouped through an ad
in the classifieds.
And in England, apart from Mastermind and the pub
competitions sponsored by breweries, they really have only
Going For Gold, a BBC quiz program made in English
but open to European contestants - which means that the
questions are relatively simple to give Europeans (English
not being their first language) more of a chance. These
used to be an English Sale of the Century. It ran
for about 14 years and was hosted by Nicholas Parsons. Rhodes,
a former Londoner, remembers it offering a Mini-Minor as
English competitor Terri Mangan (she's an actress, which
means she does a lot of waitressing) in fact was too smart
in her auditions for Going For Gold. They put her
on file and that's how Grundys got in touch with her. She's
a smart cookie - got a degree from the London School of
Economics - but her drawback is a lack of TV experience.
She's had a few test runs on the set and has watched the
others in action, although she's still in awe of people
It has been said that one of the strengths of Sale,
something that's kept it going going for nearly nine years,
is the huge variety of people who not only face the cameras
each night but take home the loot. "That's the appeal
of the show," says Rhodes. "you've got a truck
driver versus a solicitor verss a nurse versus a schoolboy."
You've got the same variety in these 1989 championships
Melbourne solicitor Denise Bourke (who speciallises in public
liability and insurance work and who's just returned to
work after maternity leave) will face the incredibly long-haired
Christchurch university student Phil Anderson.
Anderson, with a degree in computer science and now pursuing
another in psychology, wears ghastly and garish tie-dye
T-shirts and no shoes ("No," he says grinning,
"New Zealand university students don't all dress like
me") and appears to be a tremendously happy person.
He fought for the University of Canterbury in New Zealand's
University Challenge (it lost the final) and introduced
himself to Kiwi viewers like this: "Hi, I'm Phil Anderson,
and I'm an eternal disappointment to my mother."
The bright-eyed and questioning Bourke cleaned up last
year - she took home two cars (both were sold) and prizes
to the value of $140,000 and came second in the Champion
of Champions contest. The most treasured prize was a trip
to France, which she'll take with her husband (and not the
kids) later this year. She always used to watch Sale
when home with the kids, much to the disgust of her husband.
It drove her husband mad but anything, he said, was preferable
to Derryn Hinch.
The American Sale of the Century saved Tom O'Brien.
He went on a record-winning 11-night streak in the Los Angeles
Burbank studios about 18 months ago and took home about
$175,000 in cash and prizes (they clamped down after he
left - ruled an eight-night winning maximum). He'd come
to California to be a writer six months earlier and had
terrible trouble finding work. He was dead broke when he
went to Sale.
The win led to further good things. O'Brien, who came to
Melbourne for last year's world championships, returned
home and was accepted into the Writers' Guild of America
following his penning of a TV pilot series for Home Box
Office. The trouble was that two wekks after he finished
it, American scriptwriters went on their five-month 1988
strike. He basically lived off his Sale winnings
during this period. And now, he groans, the actors are talking
O'Brien, who used to monitor television programs for a
network, said he had a wonderful time on the quiz program.
"I loved being on camera. I suppose it was because
I didn't wear my glasses. I couldn't see the camera. I couldn't
see the presenter - the audience was just a blur. Oh, it
was great fun."
And where do they pick up their information? Well, game-show
players tend to be curious people, voracious readers, crossword-puzzle
players and insatiable consumers of all sorts of information.
They read footnotes, cereal packets, the labels on sauce
bottles. This lot don't read encyclopaedias (though they
have their doubts about others) but Bourke and O'Brien do
If Bourke's not careful, she'll still be in her dressing-gown
at 11 reading the paper and O'Brien morning ritual is a
6 am start for a two hour stampede through the papers. "They're
a very important avenue for gleaning information."
Rhodes says, however, that a lot of us have mounds of information
upstairs - "a lot of us have got very good filing systems
- we just don't seem to have the same recall ability, to
be able to track it down as easily or as quickly as these
O'Brien says the assemblies in the Travelodge bar have
really been a lot of fun. "For people like us, it's
so exciting to come across so many others who like quizzes,
who like answering questions. You don't often come across
people who constantly want to learn new things. There's
a real hunger for knowledge here."
It struck Mangan the other night, at the bar, with evryone
there trying to match that dastardly Trivial Pursuit. She
introduced a movie quiz, but was piqued because O'Brien
and the other Americans were too good. Her special subject
would have to be literature, but "then you see some
people like Cary Young and what's frightening is that they
O'Brien says it's a thing of beauty to see the real experts
in action - "they can be phenomenally good - what you're
seeing is state-of-the-art Sale of the Century.
"Yes," says Mangan eagerly. "The anticipation
of some is incredible. You only have to say 'Who Am I? I
was born in 1689...' and they know - just like that. You
sort of start worrying about people like that."