It may not be the usual suspect here on Binge With Me, but there is a very good reason why my favourite game show, The Chase, has earned a mention this week and that’s because simply: It is SO good at what it does.
If you’ve ever flicked through TV channels before dinnertime it’s highly likely you’ve bumped into The Chase—a boyishly charming cockney man and nervous contestant stare up across a giant screen into the eyes of an unflappable and steely man, or woman, perched on an office chair high above them answering general knowledge questions at pace. Sound familiar?
The Chase is an extremely successful British quiz show hosted by ex-Coronation Street star Bradley Walsh, with 10 seasons airing since 2009. Having regular viewers in the millions, The Chase has been recreated in 10 other countries, including both the US and Australia, and a celebrity edition shown weekly in the UK.
The first step to understanding the appeal of the show is to grasp how it all works. The basic concept is that The Chase is a general knowledge quiz show, in which four contestants take it in turn to try and win a set sum of money by going head to head with a professional quizzer, “The Chaser,” and adding it to the team’s prize pool. The contestants who have been successful in bringing the money back to the team work together in the “Final Chase” and attempt to answer as many questions correctly as possible within a time limit. The Chaser then attempts to get the same number right in the same time limit, and if they are unsuccessful the contestants take an equal share of the money home.
On paper it can look quite complicated, but on the show everything occurs in a string of easy to follow segments. We begin with the first contestant stepping up to the podium for their “Cash-Builder,” in which they have one minute to answer as many questions as possible; for every question they get right £1000 is added to the team’s potential prize money.
After the minute is up, Bradley leads them to the bottom of a giant flashing ski-slope, at the top of which is a very special but empty chair. As the stage lights whirl around and we all wait with baited breath, Bradley runs everyone through the list of the infamous Chasers, before one of the quiz overlords will appear through the smokey door:
“Will it be ‘The Beast,’ Mark Lambett, [insert joke about his size and or/gluttony]?”
“Will it be ‘The Dark Destroyer”’Shaun Wallace, [insert joke about what a misery guts he is]?”
“What about ‘The Governess’ Anne Hegerty, [joke about her size or snobbiness]?”
“Or ‘The Sinnerman’ Paul Sinha, [joke about his sarcasm]?”
“Or finally will it be ‘The Vixen’ Jenny Ryan, [joke about her seductive ways]?”
Then, like magic, the silhouette of whichever Chaser is on the show that day emerges as the camera cuts back and forth from them to the contestant until they are fully visible and take their seat with unmissable swagger as the audience bursts into applause. It’s a little like WWE wrestlers striding into the arena, or the American Gladiators howling and beating their chests—except it’s a bunch of very intelligent, very nerdy (and less muscley) professional quizzers.
So once the Chaser is comfortable and makes a quip or two, the giant screen and the money the contestant has earned, come into play. The contestant will attempt to answer enough questions correctly to go take the money back to the team without the Chaser catching up to them. The Chaser (allegedly) then decides how much to offer the contestant to make their battle one question easier or one question harder. For example, if the contestant has earned £4,000 by getting four questions right in the cash builder, the Chaser might offer the contestant a measly £400 to get a one question head start, or a whopping £21,000 if the contestant takes a one question penalty.
Because it’s general knowledge, the risk is always high. You could be an absolute whiz up until this point, but if the six or so that come up in the Head-to-Head just happen to be things you don’t know, then you’re screwed. Even the Chasers have bad days, although on average they get very few questions wrong. At the end of the day, if you get caught by the Chaser you go home immediately with nothing, so weighing up that extra head-start versus the money you bring back to the team can often be a meaty dilemma. And to further add to the tension, if you managed to get the £21,000 back to the team, but someone else only brings back the £400, the cash is still split evenly between the players when they win, which could make for a very awkward train ride home.
After the contestant has a forced conversation with their team but decides to ignore their advice anyway, they and the Chaser then square off via multiple choice questions. After the question is asked both players have a brief amount of time to choose an answer. Though this segment is set up like a race, there appears to be no benefit for one player to answer more quickly than the other, other than to perhaps put the pressure on. It’s rare for someone to not answer at all in time. Each correct answer is a “step closer to home” for both players, and the distance between them only changes if one person gets it right and the other gets it wrong. If the contestant gets enough wrong that the Chaser gets right, they are knocked out completely from the show and win no money. Hence, “The Chase”.
The Final Chase
If the contestant gets home with their money, they are in “The Final Chase”. After their teammates go through the same process (though it’s much less exciting when we already know who the Chaser will be), it’s time for whoever survived their Head-to-Head to all face the Chaser together one last time and try to win that prize money. They are offered a set of questions, and without conferring, must buzz in to answer as many as possible within the time limit. However many they get right is the target for the Chaser to then answer in the same time limit with their single divine brain. Every time the Chaser gets something wrong or passes, however, the contestants are offered the same question. If they get it right the Chaser is “pushed back” and their target increases by one. If the Chaser runs out of time, the contestants win their money and hug each other with reserved delight.
That’s the long and short of the structure of the show. It’s very segmented, and for a general knowledge junkie like me, the volume of questions in quick succession is extremely satisfying. The Chase presents a really great balance of very niche and relatively easy questions within a huge span of categories. This format also means there are a LOT of barriers to break through in order for the contestants to win any money, and because of both the individual and cooperative elements, the outcomes are always difficult to predict. In general, this means that often the players win nothing, but personally, I think this makes it all the more satisfying and exciting when they do.
The characterisation of the Chasers is a fun element of the show, and amplifies it above a simple question and answer show, without going over the top and having garish caricatures. As a long time fan I have found myself warming to the Chasers more as people than stoic quizzers, and often they will show their human side to a player that deserves it. Some of the answers can lighten the mood as well, and occasionally a little innuendo is sprinkled among the answers, much to Bradley’s delight. In fact, even if you’ve never heard of The Chase, you may well have seen a clip of Bradely Walsh falling apart at a particular name in a multiple choice question.
Which brings me to Bradley himself. Of all the elements, Bradley’s cheeky grin and sincere enthusiasm for the contestants make the show. Having watched the US and Australian versions I do feel it lacks something magical without him.
If you love quiz shows like I do I’m sure you’ll agree that The Chase offers everything you could want, and though it might be a different kind of binge-watch, I can’t miss a single episode during the week. I vow to one day face the Chaser myself, but for now I’ll just continue to laugh at the idiots who make it on and feel oh-so clever at every silly question I happen to guess right.