Competition is as old as humanity itself, and in its best sense, encourages us to be the best we can be.
Even the Bible gets in on the act, when Paul writes to the early Christians “Don’t you realise that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (I Corinthians chapter 9, verse 24).
But on the ABC’s new quiz show Think Tank there are no big prizes to be won, and the focus is on enjoying challenging our minds as we play along at home. The honour and glory of being the smartest mind on the night is the goal.
The format is the usual three contestants, but there is a ‘think tank’ panel of eight people drawn from different worlds. One is Melbourne’s happiest tram driver, another is an educational psychologist, and then there is a nurse, a community care coordinator and several other ‘think tankers’ from different fields. Diversity of ethnicity and profession is the key phrase here, and it makes for an interesting and stimulating mix.
The contestants are asked individual questions, and they may enlist the help of the think tank, who may or may not be correct. And therein lies the fun of the program, seeing the mental processes of the contestants as they try to work out who in the think tank might have the right answer, and who is leading them up the garden path.
Host Paul McDermott uses his proven skills as a comedian and actor to provide the momentum, buzz and timing that makes the format work. He is truly ringmaster of this particular circus, and is the antithesis of the usual young, clean-cut television game show host.
Middle-aged McDermott cuts an elegant and hirsute figure, with manicured bushy grey beard, groovy thick-rimmed black glasses and a black frock coat over turned up tailored jeans. Something of a mix between a professor and a trendsetter, he thoroughly enjoys his role.
While McDermott enjoys a gentle dig at his contestants, he is happy to take what they throw back at him, as contestant Lana responds by calling him ‘Paulie’, eliciting a chuckle from the assembled think tankers.
Another welcome difference is that McDermott avoids the traditional kiss on the cheek for the female contestants, and offers a dignified handshake.
In his opening remarks, McDermott describes Think Tank as somewhere between Graham Kennedy’s racy Blankety Blanks and Stephen Fry’s intellectual QI. Think Tank also has elements of the 1960s guess-the-identity show Tell the Truth and the more recent Would I Lie to You? . There’s also a nod to Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with Think Tank’s phrase ‘Shut the gate!’ being a variant on ‘Lock it in!’ when contestants submit their answers.
And while there is a kitsch trophy of a mock brain sculpture as the ultimate prize, on the first night of competition nobody won it!