After an all-too-brief appearance on Countdown (on 13 August if you want to watch me being beaten), I’ve been repeatedly asked two questions. The first is whether Rachel Riley is as attractive as she appears on-screen, and indeed she is. The second, does Susie Dent cheat by using a computer to look up words on Countdown? The answer’s no, obviously, but let me explain…
A while ago, Countdown forsook the physical Concise Oxford Dictionary for the Oxford English Living Dictionary. That way, anyone at home can nip online and see if the word they’ve come up with actually exists.
I didn’t go round and check Susie’s screen, but I’m confident that’s exactly what she did when I gambled (being around 20 points behind at this point) on the word “tortage”.
The trouble with this approach is that, unlike the physical dictionary, viewers may wonder if Susie is using an anagram solver to find the words. (Even before, there were ridiculous rumours about being fed the words in an earpiece.)
The reason that’s so unlikely is twofold. One, Susie operated with a physical dictionary for years, and was always brilliant. While still brilliant, I haven’t seen her suddenly come up with weird words that an anagram solver would produce. Two, where’s the fun in that for Susie?
If you need more evidence, consider that when genuinely amazing contestants come on, they can often beat Dictionary Corner in a couple of the word rounds. And then there’s the site Apterorus, which shows the maximum words people could have got as soon as each show is aired.
I checked afterwards, and I could have had “Aegrotat” rather than tortage, for instance. How did I miss that?
How do you get on the show?
Another completely non-techie question I’m asked is about the entrance procedure. This is actually simple. I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org in early February. A week later, James Harrow, the very friendly researcher and all-round good guy, emailed me back to invite me to a phone audition.
Around two weeks later he hit me with five word rounds, two number rounds and a conundrum. I did well enough to get through, and then it was a matter of filling out paperwork. Nothing too arduous. A month later, I was offered a couple of dates to appear. As it happens, I couldn’t do those, so ended up filming in June.
It all happens in Channel 4’s Salford studios, but Channel 4 pays for a night in a local hotel if you need it. And, naturally, pays for travel costs too.
Comment below if you’re interested in going on the show. I’ll answer any questions and give you whatever advice I can!