For anyone not in the know, Mastermind is a BBC television quiz, in which you compete to win a crystal bowl (but also the prestige of winning Mastermind). You have two rounds. The first is on a topic you pick (your specialist subject) and this round lasts 2 minutes, the second is a general knowledge round, lasting 2.5 minutes.
Fun fact: The creator of Mastermind drew his inspiration from personal experience of being interrogated by the Gestapo during World War II.
It certainly felt like an interrogation with a huge camera and light in your face.
I have a lot of friends who are far more clever than I and have asked about the process of being on Mastermind, and so I thought I would write a post on it. Who knows? Maybe it will be you in the black chair opposite John Humphrys soon!
Your Specialist Subject
At the time I decided/was coerced into applying, I was watching a Dan Snow documentary about the Royal Navy. I say watching, I was forcing my poor mother to listen to hundreds of Nelson facts, whilst she tried to listen to Dan Snow. Then came the suggestion of going on 'something like Mastermind' (I think she said this to shut me up, probably!) and so I sent off my application on a whim.
My specialist subject, unsurprising for all of my family and friends, was The Life and Career of Lord Nelson. This had only been chosen on Mastermind once before, about 15 years ago, and so there was a significant gap and I was able to proceed!
You also have to have 2 backup specialist subjects, as if you get past the quarter finals (those initially shown on television) you cannot use the same subject. My backups were Queen (the band) and the Emperor Nero. A good mix there. As it happened I didn't get past the quarter finals, but it was an experience nonetheless.
The Stages of Applying
2. You get a phone call if you make it past the initial application, where you will be tested on your general knowledge over the phone. I think there were about 20 questions, on a wide variety of topics.
3. After the phone call, and if successful, you are invited to meet a panel of 3 people from the BBC. I think this depends on where you're living, as for me it was at the BBC studios in Bristol. They test your general knowledge, ask a bit about you, ask why you chose your topic, request the names of 3 books on your topic from which they can choose questions (again, if you are successful) and then one obscure fact about your specialist subject topic that not many people would know.
Mine was that Horatio Nelson had a dog called Nileus.
You need to wear dark smart casual clothing. No visible logos and your hair and makeup are done before you go out. We were taken to a 'green room' for a quick run through the rules, to check all details for the captions were correct and to check they had the next specialist subject written correctly (I'd hope so).
The other contestants I was on with were Mark, who had Tintin as his specialist subject, Robert, who had been on Mastermind previously and had The African Big 5 (game animals) as his topic this time, and Fr. Simon, a Vicar from Plymouth, who had Viz Magazine as his specialist subject, amusingly.
One thing I didn't realise is that whilst your question round is one go and you don't get to re-film, they make you cut and take a few shots at walking out to the chair if they aren't happy with it. In between rounds John Humphrys has a chat with you and he is hands down one of the nicest people I've had the fortune to meet. Really friendly and tries to take away any nervousness! In my case, unsuccessfully.
Of course, it took me 3 attempts to successfully walk out and sit on a chair, so well done, Jamieson.
I was 22, it was an experience and it looks great on the CV so I can't really complain.
Would I do it again? Possibly. Now I've sat in that chair once I'd obviously be a pro...
What would you choose as your specialist subject if you had to go on Mastermind?