by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 6/2001
Monday night. The music is over, the host faces the players and snarls, “One of you is about to leave with nothing. It’s time to vote off … ” (dramatic emphasis) ” … The Weakest Link!”
I love this show.
A ratings winner, Weakest Link is strategic, fast, psychological and ruthless.
The “Weakest Link” began in Britain last summer on BBC, and arrived here in April amid a deluge of NBC advertising and an email blitz.
Eight players battle each other in a trivia contest to see who is the “Strongest Link” in seven rounds of rapid-fire questions. Only one wins the money, because each round ends with a majority vote to jettison the “Weakest Link” among them out of the game. Each player who is voted out of the game leaves with nothing and takes the “walk of shame.”
But the players aren’t just battling each other and the clock, they battle intimidating host Anne Robinson, the self proclaimed “Judge Dread in an Armani trouser suit.”
Robinson, always clad in black, shows no mercy to the contestants. She has been called Cruella de Ville, a domineering school ma’am, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a prison commandant, and my personal favorite, “A James Bond movie villain who never gets her comeuppance.”
She has been voted the title of the Rudest Woman on Television by readers of TV Times.
She is hilarious.
No one is spared her wrath. She says to a teacher: “Would your students be ashamed to watch you this evening?” To the college student: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” To others: “Who is allergic to intelligence? Whose tongue is quicker than their mind? Whose traffic light is stuck on red? Who is running on empty? Who is the poster child for incompetence? ”
Even the player’s accomplishments are berated: “Well team, in that round you banked a pathetic, miserable, shameful $5000 dollars.”
Maybe it’s because I answer most of the questions correctly (and my wife shakes her head, wondering why I still can’t remember to not shrink her clothes in the dryer). Weakest Link is touted as a Survivor-style game show, but it’s also a comedy. Every now and then someone breaks through Robinson’s icy demeanor. Every once in a while there will be a hint of a smile, the playfulness in the eyes. In recent episodes she’s asked, “Team, do I have to beg you to take the money?” and “Whose excess baggage?” and a personal favorite, “Who’s the least likely candidate for human cloning?”
Robinson is a former British journalist who honed her Rottweiler approach through years of writing columns in British tabloid newspapers. She’s insulted so many people that she has received death threats. It’s rumored that she travels with an armed guard.
Much has been made in the press of Robinson’s early life, her relationship with her daughter and a previous marriage. The media wants to know: Can someone really be this mean? Is she really like this? Is it all an act?
I find I don’t really care. Weakest Link is like all the other “reality” TV shows — let’s not take them too seriously.
These reality shows have been around for years, beginning with Real World, and more recently, Big Brother. There are reality shows where people undergo hardships and survival tests (Survivor I and II, Boot Camp) or test their relationships (Chains of Love, Temptation Island) and then there are just the plain old stupid “Will do anything for money” reality shows, such as Fear Factor where host Joe Rogan instructs contestants to eat beetles and climb through dank sewers.
I suppose it’s all part of our morbid fascination with the hardships of others. The popularity of tabloids exposing intimate details and scandals can’t be denied. And all of these reality shows — at least at first — have been ratings winners.
But while Weakest Link has been lumped into the “reality” show genre/ilk, it really shouldn’t be taken as such. Sure, there’s the morbid curiously at seeing just how much verbal bashing a contestant will take from Evil Anne, and it’s fun to watch the dynamic between contestants as they form alliances and vote each other off. But it’s just too silly to be a reality show. Anne is so mean she’s a cartoon villain.
In a recent show Robinson asked, “Who is seriously beyond help? Get rid of them!” Maybe I am beyond help — I love this show. I think Anne Robinson is hilarious. Maybe it’s the fascination with watching others get insulted, maybe it’s testing my knowledge, the fast pace of the game, the tension and pressure, or maybe it’s seeing who will break through the icy shell of Anne Robinson. But it’s always fun. The show always delivers.
My wife often tells me I should be a contestant on the show, but I am sure it’s much easier to get all the questions right from the safety of my couch rather than under the bright lights and baleful glare of Robinson. I’ll stay home, thank you very much, because I fear I’ll fly all the way to California just to hear those faithful words: “Robert, with seven votes you ARE the Weakest Link, good-bye!”