TV Review: Tipping Point

Ben Shephard might be the host of Tipping Point, but it's the machine that is the star.
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Ben Shephard might be the host of Tipping Point, but it's the machine that is the star.

Being descended from several generations of Presbyterian elders, I have a genetic aversion to gambling dens.

The only time I go into casinos is to take advantage of the cheap food on offer and watch other people throwing their money away. I have always been impressed, however, by the lighting and sound effects of the slot machines, which create a real mood of excitement.  Tipping Point (Weekdays, 2.55pm, TV One) lets you have all the excitement of a gaming arcade den without the need to embezzle funds.

Some mechanical genius has designed an arcade-type machine with two sliding shelves. Heaps of counters lie on the shelves. When players drop extra counters down chutes onto the shelves, some of the other counters may move forward and – with a bit of random luck – reach their tipping point. As they cascade onto the win tray, they earn points for the players.

Now, this would be as boring as that game at the Winter Show, where you fed ping-pong balls into clowns' mouths to win kewpie dolls, except that the machine's designer is not just a mechanical genius, but is also a showbiz genius. They've added rows of flashing lights, mirrored surfaces, illuminated drop-zones, twinkling reflections and assorted whizzers and buzzers.  These serve no purpose other than to kick viewers' hind-brains into action and set our adrenaline pumping and pulses racing.

You probably think I'm going to jeer at Tipping Point, but you're wrong. Add people and the mixture functions just like it says on the packet. Tipping Point is a viewer-amusing mechanism to while away an hour – and it works. I joined a sophisticated chunk of Wellington society to watch the afternoon quiz show.

A typical episode begins with Ben Shephard (a former Krypton Factor and Good Morning Britain  host) introducing four guests and the machine. Of these, the machine is clearly the most important. It looks great (round the back, they probably have Fred Scuttle pushing the shelves out but who cares?).

If you're of the accounting fraternity, you'll notice that Tipping Point is an ITV accountant's dream game show. There are no guest stars, there is no audience and there is no big studio. All you have to pay is the power bill for the machine. The prize comes out of petty cash.

Round 1 begins with each contestant answering questions for the right to play one of their three counters. Rachel knows Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun so she has a chance to play her own counter first or (crafty strategy) make an opponent play first. Rachel opts for Parin. Selecting "Drop Zone 4", Parin releases his counter and – dzwhing, chong, bazip! – gets two counters to tumble into the win zone. Counters have a nominal value of £50, so before long the scores look good. Paul has a landslide of nine counters, while Rachel sets 14 tumbling.  Of course, this doesn't mean they'll win hundreds; the only cash on offer is the elusive £10,000 jackpot. Fortunately one of Rachel's counters has a ? on it, which translates into a weekend in Cornwall.

Parin is sent home and Round 2 offers each of the three survivors a bout of rapid fire questions. Each gets as many counters as correct answers.  By now, the jargon is becoming clear. As the counters bounce their way down, they may land flat. This is the desired position. "Lie flat, please," begs Rachel, as she feeds in her five counters. Problems arise when one counter rides up on top of another and thus fails to do any nudging. Dzoom, wow, whop, whop! "Oh, no! It's a rider."

By now, Paul has a nominal £1500, while Rachel has £1400, so poor Simon, who thinks Picasso is from Italy, is sent home. We now have a duel between Rachel and Paul, facing alternate questions and using tricky strategies. The counters are amazingly resistant to tipping, gathering in piles which dangle tantalisingly over the brink.   Finally, Rachel has the lowest score and a ? which turns out to be a case of Virgin wine, so she has lost both ways.

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Paul has won the round, so he now goes for the £10,000 jackpot, which means he pops a special starred jackpot disc into the machine, then selects from a menu of question subjects to earn more counters. There is tremendous tension as Paul battles to nudge the starred disc to the first and second shelves. "Just a nudge," coaxes Paul. Dzoom, wow, whop, whop! The counters oblige and, with a final dzwhing, chong, bazip, the starred disc hits the win tray. Paul the landscape gardener has won a real £10,000. "You've been a cracking contestant," says a visibly impressed Ben Shephard.  "Blooming marvellous," says Paul.

The Wellington audience were impressed by the continuous tension and excitement of the show.  I'll bet the ITV accountants were impressed too.     

What's On?

Sapphire and Steel (Saturday, 4.35pm, The Zone; Sky 016) is another chance to see the eerie 1979 series starring David McCallum and Joanna Lumley as time-travelling agents fighting to protect time from being tampered with.

Two good movies on Saturday: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (6.30pm, Four) and Mt Zion (8.30pm, Maori TV).

Romeo and Juliet (Sunday, 9.30pm, Maori TV). A Maori language performance of Shakespeare's Romeo raua ko Hurieta, recorded at a live performance in the Auckland Museum last month. Starring Kimo Houltham and Te Ahorangi Winitana.

Hip Hop-Eration (Tuesday, Prime, 8.30pm) follows some Waiheke senior citizens to the World Hip Hop Championship in Las Vegas.

Shelf Life (Monday, 8pm, CTV: Freeview 40). Our only programme dedicated to books and reading comes from Canterbury. Well, Sydney, actually.

The Perfect Diet for You (Tuesday, 8.30pm, BBC Knowledge; Sky 074) is a three-part BBC series based on the idea of matching your diet up with your particular heredity, physiology and personality.

Science of Stupid (Wednesday, 7pm, National Geographic; Sky 072) has Richard Hammond demonstrating silly mishaps and showing how they could have been avoided if you'd paid attention in science class.

World Forklift League (Thursday, 8pm, Maori TV). It's only a world contest because nobody else in the world thought of having forklift drivers competing. Mike King once operated a forklift, so he's the presenter. I once got loaded on a plane by a forklift, so I'm watching.

Pick of the Week

Get Your Arse Off The Table (Monday, 9.30pm, Maori TV). One of the decade's best, and certainly wittiest, New Zealand documentaries was Toi Iti's Why Be Maori When You Can Pass For Italian? Now he returns with another light-hearted, but deadly documentary, Get Your Arse Off The Table, examining the place of Maori custom (tikanga). Along with his usual innocent-abroad questioning technique, Toi Iti has a craftily-worded narration. Watch for his nod to those skilled in the traditional craft of "filling out grant application forms". He also offers the lowdown on good manners, hair disposal, nude surfing and moonlight toe-nail clipping. Watch very carefully as the ad-breaks approach; this programme has its own satirical mock-ads, for Maui's Night Light and spray-on Wai-Wurry.  

 - Stuff

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