Surely the whole point of a quiz is its essential uselessness

Complaints have been made to the BBC that Barry Simmons shouldn’t be allowed to enter another quiz show because he is a ‘professional’

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I have never really been sure that there is such a thing as a professional quizzer.

I know people who quiz for money, but that’s hardly the same as being a professional. Anyone who’s ever won a pub quiz has been paid – even if only in beer – for knowing the answers to trivial questions. That doesn’t mean you make a living at it, unless you can live off lager and crisps, which most of us cannot in spite of our best efforts.

But there is money in facts, and an elite band of quizzers can earn some serious cash: Barry Simmons, for example, made £64,000 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. He also appears as one of the Eggheads on the eponymous BBC2 quiz show, having acquired his place there by winning the related show Are You an Egghead?.

Now he has made it to the final of Brain of Britain, having reached the semi-final a few years ago. Complaints have been made to the BBC that he shouldn’t be allowed to enter the show because he is a professional and, presumably, they view Brain of Britain as being on a par with the Olympics (like Olympic boxing that is, not like Olympic tennis). 

The BBC has stood firm, pointing out that the only people ineligible for Brain of Britain are its previous winners, and that the quiz itself is unpredictable so he might not even win. What it has not done, which a lesser organisation – or I – might have been tempted to do, is bellow: “For crying out loud, it’s just a sodding quiz.”

Do you know what you win if you win Brain of Britain? The glory of being named Brain of Britain. You don’t win a cash prize or a car or a cuddly toy, you win the title of being best at remembering which cinematographer won the Oscar in 1969 (Conrad Hall for Butch Cassidy). There are some book tokens to be won, but they are awarded to the listeners who send in questions that foil the quizzers. The whole thing couldn’t be more innocent and less capitalist if it was held in the Garden of Eden and the questions were solely focused on which is the tastiest fruit.

Surely the point of a quiz is its essential uselessness: knowing every fact about every FA Cup Final ever played doesn’t make you a great footballer. It just makes you the guy who knows a lot about football. Knowing trivia about anything is less useful – even if it’s occasionally more remunerative – than knowing the subject itself. Would you rather have the glory of being able to name every Nobel Prize winner or of winning a Nobel Prize? Tough question.

To 3D or not to 3D?

I thought my love for Stanley Tucci had reached its peak when he guest-starred in the TV show, Monk, playing a method actor playing a detective. Wrong again: he has increased my devotion by announcing, the week after the US release of 3D film Jack and the Giant Slayer in which he stars, that he hates working in 3D.

He describes the experience of wearing tight Spandex covered in ping-pong balls for 13 hours a day to get two shots as “humiliating”. It certainly isn’t much like acting, which is why some movie stars only ever appear opposite imaginary dragons and aliens: put them in a scene where they have to have emotional responses and they’re lost. Tucci acknowledges that even the Spandex-wearing will be over soon, as actors are fully replaced by digital creations. He hopes to be either rich or dead.

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