Shaun Wallace failed O Level English five times, but that hasn’t stopped him becoming a barrister, a ‘Mastermind’champion, and a legend on the popular quiz show ‘The Chase’. Our own quizmaster Chris Cogdale caught up with him on his way through Wairarapa last Sunday, with Brendan Lochead from ‘Believe It Or Not’ quizzes, to find out what makes ‘The Dark Destroyer’ tick.
Coggie [CC]: Shaun you were here earlier this year. Why have you come back?
Shaun [SW]: Pleasure to meet you Coggie! I’ve come back to host the 20th anniversary of the Sky New Zealand Pub Quiz Championship, so it’s a privilege just to do that. It’s one of the main reasons why I’m here, and to actually continue my tour publicising my autobiography [Chasing the Dream] and to meet with the wonderful people of New Zealand because without them the show wouldn’t be a success. It’s my way of saying thank you to the public.
CC: How have you found the quality of the quizzing here?
SW: I’m very impressed with the quizzing, especially the quiz last night [Saturday, November 16]. I set a question, a winning question – a tiebreaker question for who was going to win the NZ Club Quiz Championship and I was very, very impressed with the answers to the set of questions.
CC: What was the tiebreaker question?
SW: In which year was Muhammad Ali born?
CC: He won the Olympic gold in 1960 in Rome and he was 18, so I would say he was born in 1942.
SW: Absolutely – January 17. One of the questions I set was – Rocky Marciano was born on September 1, 1923 and he died in 1969 on what date? And three teams got it right.
CC: It wasn’t his birthday was it?
SW: No – the day before his 64th birthday.
CC: How did you get to go on ‘The Chase’?
SW: What happened was that – I don’t know or not if you have a programme called ‘Eggheads’. Well, in 2008 they were looking for a new ‘egghead’ and I came out of retirement to become an ‘egghead’ and I went all the way to the grand final and lost. Anyway, that is one of the reasons I wrote in my autobiography ‘every cloud must have a silver lining’. ITV asked me to take part in what they considered to be an exciting new game show, so I went along to the audition and here I am 10 years later.
CC: And you love it still?
SW: Yes, it’s the best part time gig in the world
CC: What’s the highest score you’ve chased down?
SW: My highest score I’ve chased down is 23. I think ‘The Beast’ [Mark Labbett] chased down 26, didn’t he? His record’s 26, Anne’s [‘The Governess’] is 25, Paul’s [The Sinnerman’] is 26, and Jenny [‘The Vixen’] is 24.
CC: What about the lowest score you failed to chase?
SW: Ummm, 11… and I think it’s the lowest overall.
CC: That goes down as folklore doesn’t it?
SW: It certainly does. Chasing a lower score can sometimes be deceptive. If you get questions wrong and you get pushed back and time goes, and that’s exactly what happened.
CC: How do you reckon our own version of ‘The Chase’ would go in New Zealand?
SW: I think it would go very very well, but if the powers-that-be in New Zealand were actually to take on ‘The Chase’ franchise what they need to do is not get the English chasers over here but get New Zealand chasers. I know there are some very good quizzers over here, I’ve seen it first-hand, and all it takes on TV is to have the confidence and ability to match your knowledge. I’m definitely convinced you could find at least three or four chasers who could do the job over here.
CC: I know having watched the show for a long time, the lack of knowledge frustrates me. Does that frustrate you?
SW: No, because it makes my job easier. You’ve got to realise that being in a studio under bright lights, if you’re not used to it, can be intimidating. Sometimes you can forget to even answer your own name correctly, and the mere fact that some contestants get really frustrated if they get a question wrong it plays on their mind. You can’t allow a wrong question to affect your performance. If you get it wrong, you got it wrong, just wait for the next question.
CC: How much time do you put into study and research?
SW: I spend about two hours a day and I normally research on contemporary things, so I’m up to date. It’s pointless revising stuff that you already know. Music charts, latest award honours, music news. I normally record shows like ‘Mastermind’ and ‘University Challenge’ and sit there and test myself. I’m not interested in the questions I get right, I’m interested in the questions I get wrong, that’s what I have to remember.
CC: What amazes me is how you know the dates of all the English monarchs? [He knew them when he was nine years old]
SW: It’s what I’m interested in, and history is my first love and always will be. All the best quizzers in the world, the reason why they’re so good, their history is good. History tells a story of a beginning. The history of science, the history of music, the history of literature, every subject has a beginning, has a history.
CC: What’s your favourite type of question, if you’re setting a quiz?
SW: I set a question that is not too easy and not too difficult and is something that you can work out. So, I’m going to set you a question now. Do you like football?
CC: Yes, I do follow football … a different club than you do.
SW: This is my question to you. Which former England footballer is the son-in-law of Tony Adams?
CC: [Thinking with blank look– I know this and it isn’t the former Arsenal/England Tony Adams – in fact not a footballer at all] I can’t recall.
SW: David Beckham.
CC: Oh okay – Victoria Adams [Posh Spice] of course. What makes a bad quiz question?
SW: Quizzes are supposed to be fun, where people can answer questions and they want to know that their answer’s right. They want to feel clever. The worst quiz question in the world is one that’s so difficult, only the question master knows the answer, due to the fact he has the answers in front of him, and who wants that type of question. And that’s the big mistake of amateur quiz masters, is that they go out and say that’s a good question because no one will get it right. I want quizzes to be informative and entertaining and enjoyable. Those are three important requisites for a quiz.
CC: Where did you come up with your catchphrase?
SW: When we did the very first show of ‘The Chase’, Mark lost the first one. I won the second one, playing against a very strong team. I caught a 20 with two seconds to go. I answered five questions in 20 seconds, and I was so confident with the last answer, the studio erupted because we showed it’s the right formula. And Bradley [Walsh] asked “what do you think Shaun?”
CC: Shaun, thanks for your time. Maybe next time you’re out, we can get you here to do something
SW: Definitely Coggie … it’s just another day at the office.