Here's what they don't tell you about being a contestant on Pointless 5 years ago

Here's what they don't tell you about being a contestant on Pointless

If you have eyes, a television set and a working remote, chances are you've seen at least one episode of 'Pointless'.

The TV show which made Richard Osman not just the brother of that guy from Suede (no, really) and Alexander Armstrong not just that recurring character from Saxondale (yes, we remember it, even if no one else does) has been on our screens since 2009, providing us with literally thousands of questions.


But there are a few which have gone unanswered all this time, so we did what any self-respecting website would do. We've asked someone who was literally on the show a matter of days ago.

Jack McKenna, who runs the brilliant 'Footballers with Animals' Twitter account, twice made the head-to-head round with teammate Shahan, but the pair came up just short on both occasions.

He spoke to JOE, to answer all those burning questions we're sure you all have about the daytime TV favourite.



JOE: How many people go into each audition, and how many go through from that selection?

Jack: We were in the audition with three other couples, but our audition was one of several they were doing in Bristol throughout the day. Only one of the other couples has turned up on the show so far and funnily enough I bumped into one of the other pairs while playing Laser Quest. I spoke to them for ages about being on the show before they eventually told me they hadn't made it through. I just assumed they had.


Their 'interesting stories' (everyone had to have one) were incredible. One of them runs a charity cinema, which they take out to places affected by natural disasters and screen cartoons and films for kids who would otherwise be forgotten while everyone is attempting to rebuild and organise aid, so we were quite astonished that they hadn't been selected. The couple that did get through had a guy whose interesting story was that he went to University to do regular Engineering and when he got there he switched to Chemical Engineering instead, so the standards weren't particularly high.

How many days off work do you need to book to go on the show?

We only needed one day off in the end. It's difficult for them to predict how fast they'll go through contestants (if the finalists are constantly first timers then they'll go through them a lot quicker). We were originally asked to book two days off in case we were needed earlier. We ended up filming the last two shows of the series, and there was a possibility that we would've filmed one episode that day and would have needed to come back about seven months later to film the first episode of the new series (which did happen to one couple we were waiting with).


What's the green room like?

A really long thin room with a load of sofas squashed in. We had windows that look out onto the entrance of the studio, which I didn't realise were open when I watched Richard Osman duck to go through a door and quite loudly said "Jesus, he's like an Ent". Luckily I don't think he heard.

You fill out a lot of forms about not telling anyone the result before it airs and go through every rule in depth. They bring you food throughout the day and you can either watch TV (they preferred if we watched BBC) or play a travel edition of Pointless, which Steve from another pair was annoyingly good at. I don't remember being allowed to leave the room unsupervised.

We were at the studios by about 7:30am and didn't leave until after 4pm, so we spent a lot of time sat in there. Whenever a finalist couple were brought back in they had to grab their stuff and leave before they could tell anyone how they did. It was only when you went in and saw the prize money for your show that you knew if the previous finalists had won or not.


Oh and it wasn't green.


How many people are in the audience?

A hundred, maybe. The comedian they had to warm up the audience used to do stand up gigs with my teammate Shahan, funnily enough, and because you're not meant to know anyone involved in the production of the show if you're a contestant there was a 30 second panic with the production team of 'this doesn't count, right?!'. Turns out it doesn't count.

You're allowed to invite family and friends down to be in the audience, but I think it was mainly just random members of the public. Once you've recorded your show(s) they shepherd you out of the studios pretty quickly, so there are no contestants sticking around to watch.

Do you start to doubt yourself on really obvious stuff?

Strangely enough, no. I thought I'd panic and forget everything. In one round about countries ending in '...nia' or '...ria' I came up with Liberia almost instantly, but I was second to go from the pair and when my friend Shahan used it as his answer I was luckily able to pluck Armenia out of the air in the 10 seconds I had to do so.

The main problem most of us seemed to have is when you came up with one answer it was almost impossible to think of anything other than that one answer. I could only think of Liberia, and when that was taken away I could only think of Armenia.

The anagram rounds were much harder in person that at home. They're usually one of my strongest rounds when I watch it at home, but I couldn't figure out any of them. One of the low scoring anagrams was Kristin Scott Thomas, and I'd downloaded a film she was in to watch on the train down, but we revised instead. Could've been like a much less exciting version of Slumdog Millionaire.

How long does it take to film one show, and how is that time used up?

An hour or maybe even less. There's two or three minute breaks between rounds where they change the set over and cake your face in another layer of make up (we all probably had it applied six or seven times throughout the day, which took half a box of removal wipes to get rid of afterwards). They record a few bits at the end of each round where they might have stumbled over a line during the original take or something, but apart from that it's a very smooth operation.

What sort of stuff doesn't make the cut?

The royal rumble at the end. Alexander Armstrong has a lethal belly-to-belly suplex. From the actual show? Pretty much nothing. They trimmed the contestant introductions down a little bit (my mention of Footballers with Animals went unedited though), but everything else is almost exactly as it was filmed. The microphones you have on go straight to Alex and Richard, so if you're passing on information to a teammate when you shouldn't be they'll pick it up and do whatever they do with cheaters.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what brand of laptop does Richard Osman use?

I don't think it had any branding on it. It doesn't work. It's not plugged in. It's just a blank screen he pretends to check information on to make out he's not quite as clever as he really is.

You can watch Jack's episodes of Pointless on BBC iPlayer (season 15, episodes 54 and 55) for another few days