On arrival at the studio reception, I got chatting with the new contestants, and didn't feel particularly great about my chances today. First up was a young lad who had arrived back from a lengthy tour of South America just two days before filming, having adjusted his schedule to get back for Countdown. I figured that my journey of 140 miles paled into insignificance now, and that he must be serious about his chances of doing well. Also on the list for the morning was a young English tutor from Loughborough - again, assumptions made about his abilities for Countdown, and my new-found confidence was lurching a little.
Game 4 was a turgid affair, where I gained an early lead, and tried to stretch away with chancy words (ok, made up words then) that were disallowed - in fact I had three zeroed word rounds in this game, as well as a zeroed numbers round. So, with four zeroes on the card, my score of 76 was actually a little more respectable than it appeared on face value - I could easily have picked up another 18 points with safe words.
After the game, a review of the leaderboard suggested that I only needed to score around 50 points in the next game, without even needing to win it, to move up into the #8 seed position and secure a quarter final place. That brought a whole new world of potential problems to near reality, and would give me a logistical headache with our travel plans for Glasgow on Wednesday.
The schedule of play for the finals was two QFs to be played on Tuesday afternoon - #1 v #8, and #2 v #7, and then the other two on Wednesday morning, with the semi's and final to follow through Wednesday afternoon, ending at 6pm. I figured that if I landed in the #8 or #7 seed position, I would stay over in Manchester on Monday night, play the QF on Tuesday afternoon, then drive home. Rebecca and I would then leave early on Wednesday morning to either drive to Manchester for the semi final, or straight on up to Glasgow, dependent on performance in the QF. The nightmare scenario would be if I worked my way up to #6 seed and have to play QF on Wednesday morning, but as the #6 spot was occupied by an octochamp, I had some way to go before I could worry about that.
So - there was a plan, and I could relax a little and focus back on Game 5, which came and went with no real issues, although I did feel that I played a little better than game 4, and I was now 5/8ths of the way to octochampdom, and had confirmed my QF berth. English teacher up next for game 6 - would that be the end?
Game 6 would prove to be one of my better games with several maxes scored, an opponent pulverised, and no zeroes for a change! A score of 99 and I was gutted not to get the conundrum to finally break the 100 point barrier. Six games won, a place in the quarter finals secure, and octochampdom looking like a realistic target.
Game 7 was against a lady who's husband was Mark Davies, an octochamp and #2 seed finalist in the previous series. In the green room I didn't get the sense that she carried the same confidence that Mark clearly had, and despite a decent game, that proved to be the case. I was disappointed that 'vaseline' was disallowed due to it being a proper noun, particularly when I found out afterward that it was indeed legitimate as it could be spelled with a small v - that caused some interesting debate on the Countdown forum.
I now found myself one game away from being an octochamp and knowing I had a finals place to come, and started to look at the scoring - at this point I realised just how poorly I had scored compared to the other finalists. Clearly I had run pretty well with the opposition I'd come up against, and had not needed to play massively well to secure victories - this left me adrift as a low scorer on the leaderboard, and if I were to overtake Jordan Barker as #6 seed, I would need to score 130 in my 8th game - highly unlikely given the absence of any 100+ scores thus far. However, taking the positive spin for a moment - being the #7 seed would mean my QF would be on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, which would make things far easier when considering Glasgow, unless I managed to win the QF of course! My biggest fear was a very low scoring 8th win could leave me as the lowest scoring octochamp of all time - something to be avoided, and certainly helped to focus the mind ahead of game 8.
With a touch or irony given my conversation with Nick at the end of game 1, my 8th game would be against a professional poker player - Dan Bland. This was far and away my best game, with 37 points in the numbers rounds, and my lowest letters round scoring 6 (aside from a zero when I tried to stretch to a 7 with 'fumiers'). A successful conundrum round put my score over 100 for the first time - chuffed with that, and also relieved to be confirmed in the #7 seed position for the QFs.
- Game 4 vs Sam Steele
- Game 5 vs Gary Cohen
- Game 6 vs Jamie Smith
- Game 7 vs Ann-Marie Davies
- Game 8 vs Dan Bland
Up next, a Quarter Final against #2 seed Gerry Tynan, to be aired on Thursday 4th June. This will undoubtedly be my biggest test to date - Gerry scored 100+ in 6 of his 8 wins, with 91 and 99 in the other 2. Underdog doesn't come close to describing it!
More to follow.....