Grace Dent on TV: When two tribes went to war all you got was Richard Osman’s first flop

This week Grace watched... Two Tribes, BBC2

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The Independent Culture

Before I begin this review of the new daytime quiz show Two Tribes, I must point out that I hate quiz shows. Shows like Eggheads, Pointless, Golden Balls and the like always remind me of visits to my retired parents’ home, with The Chase on at full blast, Bradley Walsh probing Sheila from Garstang on the hits of The Four Tops and my parents both sound asleep in armchairs, thoroughly enjoying my visit.

I have a suspicion that 88 per cent of Eggheads viewers are lost in the land of sleepybobo. As for the rest, 5 per cent are breastfeeding, 5 per cent are unmotivated freelancers and 2 per cent are heavily medicated and can’t find the remote control. The last time I felt visceral tingles at a TV quiz show was in the Eighties during Blockbusters, whenever any sixth-former in a batwing jersey and neon snood got through to a fifth Gold Run. It was even better if the audience did the zany Blockbusters hand-jive during the titles. For me, quiz-wise, it was all downhill from there.

Today’s quiz shows have far too much pointless chat. I would feel a tightening around my neck whenever Chris Tarrant, on the recently defunct Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, cajoled a contestant into unstructured banter about the koi carp pond she’d treat herself to if she won £10,000. “Why koi carp, Karen?” Chris might say. “Um, I don’t know Chris,” Karen would probably then stammer, this being her only time ever to speak on national television. “I just, um, like them.” “Well let’s see if we can get you those fish! Here’s your first question, eyes down: What is the pointy appendage on the front of your face? Is it (a) a nose, (b) a dog, (c) the Stone of Scone or (d) Lena Zavaroni?”

Of course this is beginners-level babble as compared to Deal or No Deal – not even a quiz, merely the posturing of a quiz without questions, just numerical nonsense and small talk – where gangs of people with no gainful employment get a free stay in a Premier Inn and develop a group psychosis about a “banker” who they think they can dupe via the power of positive thinking. And there’s always one massive Bantersaurus Rex show-off contestant hogging Noel’s attention. He can do the splits y’know! And just when I’ve got to grips with all of this, I turn it on and they’re all dressed as the cast of Star Trek or The Wizard of Oz for no apparent reason – Noel in a prop department martian costume asking Leanne from Skelmersdale about her dream of owning a four-berth caravan and taking it to Rhyl.

With this in mind, I decided to give Two Tribes a whirl. Mainly as I have a soft spot for bespectacled quizmaster Richard Osman, who to my mind has the air of a man far too erudite and well-adjusted to want to be on TV at all – but hey, it’s happened now, albeit accidentally, so he’s making the best of the nonsense.

Osman loves quizzes. I fear that we would not make great housemates. I would have suggested that Two Tribes had at least one round in honour of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Two Tribes” video, in which the contestants donned rubber and PVC and slugged it out in a kinky Cold War-influenced manner. I imagine Osman might have humoured me, but eventually vetoed this, as he was determined to make Two Tribes a regular, mainstream daytime quiz show without the merest nod to BDSM or Eighties Scouse Hi-NRG synthpop.

In Two Tribes the contestants have been pre-probed with hundreds of personal questions such as “Are you bossy?” or “Do you have tattoos?” or “Would you like to be Prime Minister?” Then, at the start of each game, they divide contestants into two tribes. In episode one, for example, the “I am single” team battled against the “I am not single” team. Obviously there was banter before the quiz section about whether the “I am single” tribe were “happy being single”, to which they all replied “yes”, because what else can you say with a TV camera pointing at your mug? Something like, “No, Richard, every day is interminable pain. Last Christmas I wedged a cracker in a door frame just to feel the sensation of having someone to pull one with”? Then, worse still, the “I am not single” tribe got the chance to say hello to their loved ones at home. By this point I’d eaten an entire chair arm in solidarity with the “I am single” tribe’s shame. By now, the appearance of Holly Johnson or Ped or Nasher or any of Frankie Goes to Hollywood singing a few extended club choruses would have been light relief.

One thing I did enjoy about Two Tribes was that  the questions – such as “Who had a hit with ‘Wrecking Ball’?” or “Who wrote We Need to Talk About Kevin?” – were reasonably easy. This was pub-quiz level, not University Challenge, where one may find oneself simply shouting “Isambard Kingdom Brunel” or “The Magna Carta” fruitlessly at one’s TV screen for an entire series, hoping at some stage to strike gold. In Two Tribes world I am relatively clever. Obviously if I took part I’d be on the “I really really hate quiz shows” tribe, but luckily millions of other people absolutely bloody love them – so I don’t think lovely Richard Osman would mind a jot.

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