Chris Cummins

At home


Fifteen-to-One, Channel 4, 2000

A good place to start, because you could get lost in the crowd. I think I had about 40 seconds of screen time, which was plenty. The show was cancelled not long after, although I suppose it can't have been entirely my fault.

Countdown, Channel 4, 2003

Having stalled on doing so for some years, I eventually auditioned for this when at uni, thinking I might not ever have as much spare time again. The first two recording days were very pleasant, relaxed affairs. No-one was too stressed about what happened, with the curious exception of one elderly lady who was quietly furious about losing.

The finals, later in the year, were a different matter. I've never known so many bland and inoffensive people develop such profound loathing for so many other bland and inoffensive people. There must have been something in the tea. In the end I was a good compromise candidate for the series win, being less openly despised than some of the other contenders. (It's not a fix, I should stress. If it were, I can think of at least two other series winners who would have been barred by the management.)

Once again, I didn't receive any money, but I did get 62 kilos of dictionaries. For the same episodes, Carol Vorderman was apparently paid a total of £40,000. But in fairness, she did have to stand up a lot of the time.

University Challenge, BBC2, 2005

This was all about trying to follow in the footsteps of our illustrious forebears. Looking back, this is a blur of rail cancellations, parking fines, and missing team members, with some kind of quiz tagged on to the end of it. One of the team kept a video diary of the whole experience, but I'm not allowed to see it - I understand it's a bit like The Blair Witch Project. Or maybe The Ring. Anyway, I gather we're still on speaking terms.

Twelve years later I had the opportunity to be in the audience for the show, it now having moved from Granada to MediaCityUK in Salford, supporting the Edinburgh team, a couple of whom I'd been on pub quiz teams with. This was altogether a much more relaxed and pleasant experience, and well worth the extra expense. The team was quite successful; I bumped into celebrity UC alumnus Bobby Seagull, who remembered me from our meeting years ago before he was famous; and Jeremy Paxman seemed just as confused as he had been all those years earlier. Plus I discovered that, according to the Daily Mail, someone who had always struck me as mild-mannered to a fault was in fact a complete control freak - and furthermore had been lying to us all about his name...

Only Connect, BBC4, 2010

After a few years to recover from the UC experience, I was accepted back into a quiz team (not as captain this time, which suited me fine). Suddenly everything made sense again - nice people, a relatively relaxed atmosphere, and the reassurance that comes from being on BBC4 that no-one will notice you. My main regret is that, despite having made pleasant conversation with Victoria Coren several times, I never got around to telling her about the profound feelings that my colleague Jeff was nurturing for her. Now, of course, it's too late.

Mastermind, BBC2, 2012

This was not intentional. The BBC put the nearest audition right on my way to work. This happened when I was a student again and had free time; unfortunately the show itself wasn't so neatly scheduled. Required to choose three specialist subjects, in case I got through the rounds, I selected the TV career of Victoria Wood; the US Masters; and the life and work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Obviously in that order - I certainly didn't want to fail abjectly on the career of Wittgenstein first up. This led to derision on Twitter from people who thought Victoria Wood was an unbecoming topic for a PhD student, so in hindsight Wittgenstein would just have served 'em right.

Anyway, I was pleased to get through the first round, but alarmed to discover that the semi-final would be in my first week in my new job in Bielefeld. As my predecessor in that job left after three days for no clear reason, getting the time off required delicate negotiation. Still, it went OK; I didn't make the final, but I did successfully find my way back to the office afterwards.

Fifteen-to-One, Channel 4, 2016

This was definitely a mistake, as far as I was concerned. I thought it would be convenient, as they were filming in Glasgow, and I was working in Edinburgh by this time. It wasn't. In the old days, everyone just got called up en bloc, recorded a show and went home. The new production company had decided to do things more dynamically, which involved requiring about 30 of us to turn up at 6am, and then deciding which 15 would be used for the first programme. For the rest of us, hours went by in the green room (we were strongly discouraged from going anywhere) - I was lucky to be called for the second show at 1pm, and was out of there by early evening. I believe two of the attendees didn't even make it onto the third show, and were required to come back at 6am the next day (although their evening entertainment was paid for, to a maximum of £13 - don't drink it all at once). Essentially, it's jury service with different questions at the end.

On the plus side, as a consequence of having taller contestants on both sides of me, I can now claim the rare distinction of having had to stand on a box in order to talk to Sandi Toksvig.

Mastermind, BBC2, 2017-8

Having failed twice at Fifteen-to-One, it seemed reasonable to even the score with a second failure at Mastermind. Again, this seemed like a good idea at the time, but I was much more nervous this time around, possibly because I worried about doing much less well than before, and whether that should be taken to signal a general cognitive decline. In the event, this went OK; reached the semifinal and ended up as the highest-scoring runner-up, which got me invited back to the final as reserve. Not being called upon was then a considerable relief.

This result did get me an invitation to come back on the show the following year, without having to audition. I deferred that, thinking that the viewers deserved a break. But then the production company lost the contract, rendering this particular gift voucher suddenly worthless, and leaving me wondering whether I should branch out a bit for the next thing...