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The Weakest Link | Interview with Romesh Ranganathan

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Can you explain The Weakest Link to viewers who may not have seen it before?

The Weakest Link is a quiz show where people work together then turn on each other, so they all answer questions as a team and then at the end of each round they decide who the runt of the litter has been and get rid of them, and that person is then The Weakest Link. So, it’s a real combination of everyone collaborating and then the group turning on one person and destroying them, that’s basically how it works.

This is the first time you’ve presented a quiz show, how do you feel about taking on such an iconic one?

It is the first time I’ve presented a quiz show, and if I am being absolutely honest it was never on my list of things I thought I was going to be doing, but then when The Weakest Link came up and I looked at it, I thought it is a great format and you can have fun with it, so it felt like if I was going to do one, this would be the one to do. It is such an iconic show, and such a bulletproof, and addictive quiz format, it felt like a no brainer! It is probably the most excited my wife has been about a show I’ve done, she doesn’t watch much of what I do but when I told her they were thinking about me for this, she was so excited, she almost questioned whether I was the right booking to be honest!

So it’s a bit of a blessing and a curse, on the one hand it is a really loved format, but on the other hand I’m slightly bricking it because people do really love it! You can write the negative reviews in your head ‘It turns out The Weakest Link is… Romesh Ranganathan!’ or something like that, it terrifies me, I can just see it, I like to catastrophise.

Did you used to watch the original series and what did you like about it?

I did used to watch the original series and I what I liked about it, was it was so funny. When you see somebody who is so bad, and you just know watching, that the other people are going to turn on them. Also, the fact the contestants get the mickey taken out of them, there are lots of elements that are fun to watch. It’s very play-along-able in terms of answering the questions but also who you would vote for as The Weakest Link if you were playing it. I think Anne was great at it, she really was, and she is a big reason why the show was so massive but that was a long time ago. What she did was brilliant but tonally my version will be different, and I’ll be doing it my own way. 

So how do you plan to make this new incarnation your own?

When Anne hosted it was very much her flavour to it, but if someone answers something ridiculously, or is clearly The Weakest Link, I am definitely going to point that out and have fun with that, but I will do it in my own style. I’ll be bringing a comic element to it in terms of how I interact with the contestants, going through the scripts and adding comedy to that. It’s just me hosting the show, I am a comedian by nature so that is what I am going to be bringing to it.

Can you tell us anymore about the celebrities throughout the series?

I’d say as a comedian I’ll always look forward to seeing comedians come on but actually, when they do come on, they give me more hassle than the non-comedian contestants do. For example, we had Ed Gamble on, and he was constantly heckling me and asking me how I thought I was doing, and trying to undermine my confidence. So comedians are good, but they are more difficult to wrangle than others.

The Weakest Link is a show where if you humiliate yourself that’s a short-term thing because you’re probably going to get voted out at the next round, but occasionally you don’t get voted out and you get found out later on and that happened to Jamie Laing who basically made it far enough for him to get more questions, and I don’t think he enjoyed getting more questions.

When you start off it’s one in eight, but as it gets whittled down, suddenly you get a higher frequency of questions, so the phrase we kept using to each other was “the show’s exposing”. I don’t have a competitive bone in my body and a lot of people who have come to do the show have said the same thing, but when I say “Lets play The Weakest Link, start the clock”, the lights change and it’s on you, there’s something about that, that gives you an adrenaline spike. It’s great TV because it means even easy questions can be fumbled because you are just panicking so much.

You get a real mixed bag in how people behave when they get voted off, some people feel embarrassed and Nikki Fox decided she was going to throw out as much fire as she could on her way out basically, she was furious that she got voted off and she wanted everyone to know about it, it was great!

Who is in the first episode of The Weakest Link and what can you tell us about it?

The first episode is a Strictly Come Dancing special, so we have dancers and contestants so people like Clara Amfo, Dr Ranj, Ore Oduba. Anton and Janette are there! We have real mix of people, and it is a proper Strictly themed special. All I can say is the beginning of the episode they outperformed everyone including their own expectations of how they were going to do. I would say there was panic in the gallery, they were doing so well.

Are there any new format changes you can tell us about?

Well, I can tell you that in order to bank now, you have to press a button and say ‘bank’, and we have picture questions, where a picture will appear on their podiums and I ask them about it which mixes it up a little bit. It’s amazing to discover how, when put under the pressure of The Weakest Link, people can’t identify very simple things in a picture, I found it very surprising. For example, we had one person shown a picture from the musical Cats, and I asked them “What musical is this?” and they said “Lion King”. Now, I think Cats is famous for everybody in that musical being a cat, so all you have to do is look at that picture! It’s like the question could have been “What is this a picture of?” and it would have been the correct answer to “What musical is this?” because everyone was just dressed as cats. Well, it turns out this person doesn’t know what a lion looks like, if they think that’s a lion… when they see a lion, they’re about to have the time of their lives.

Were there any celebrities that were better or worse than you thought they would be?

Well, I don’t want to spoil anything or name any names, and I don’t want to be unfair to people but there are certain people who you think “I can’t imagine you have general certain knowledge” and they do! And equally there are certain people who carry themselves with a level of intelligence and a level of being well read, and if they just get hit by a certain area enough times, people have blackspots in their knowledge. For example, Jay Rayner without saying how far he got, food critic, I know him quite well, really smart guy, really well read… pop culture, God help him! So, whenever a pop culture question came up you could see his shoulders slump and him think “I’ve got to get through this, and hopefully I’ll do well enough on the other questions to carry me through” so yeah there’s loads of surprises when it comes to whose good and who isn’t, definitely.

Can you tease any standout moments or highlights from the series?

There was a question about an animal that a celebrity had named their kid after, and Clair Norris from EastEnders said “A pig”, so not “pig” which would have been horrendous enough, but “A pig”.

So you have your child and you call them ‘A pig’, so I said to her “What made you think of ‘A pig’ as a name?” and she said “It’s not that bad, Peppa Pig is called that”, and I had to explain to her that it isn’t a coincidence that Peppa Pig is called Peppa Pig and she also happens to be a pig, also, her name’s Peppa! So that stood out for me.

Jamie Laing, from the celeb world, Made In Chelsea they all call their kids weird sh*t don’t they, and he was asked about Winston Churchill’s wife, named after a fruit and he said ‘Lemon’. So, he thought that person was called Lemon Churchill so that was a standout moment too.

If you could go on any quiz show as a contestant, what would it be and why?

I wouldn’t go on any quiz shows as a contestant because I’ve got too many hidden gaps in my general knowledge so I would just be unmasked as a complete idiot, so I whilst I am happy to ridicule others for not knowing the answers, I’m not happy to have that done to myself.

What would be your best and worst topic for a quiz question?

My best topic would be Hip Hop between the years 1992 and 1999, and my worst topic would be anything that isn’t Hip Hop between the years 1992 and 1999.

Finally, why should viewers tune in?

Everybody that works on this show is a fan of the original Weakest Link and the format, and the actual structure of the quiz is amazing, so if you like that, you’re going to love our version of The Weakest Link and similarly we’re doing it in a way that’s different enough to be new, but has enough of the old show to make you happy if you like the quiz format. We all love the format, and it has rewarded us with some really big moments, so if you are a fan of dramatic quizzes with a lot of fun, I guarantee you will not be disappointed by watching this series.

What can you tell me about the Christmas episode of The Weakest Link?

We had some panto characters in there, it looks incredible and the outfits they’ve put on and obviously everybody knows The Weakest Link walk of shame, and what I can confirm is it’s great in fancy dress, it’s really good! We had Gemma Collins, Biggins, Olly Smith was dressed as an elf and looked like he could have been an elf. It’s a really fun episode that one!

How will you be celebrating Christmas this year?

We’ve just moved house, and been trying to for a long time, so I think we are going to have to have everyone to ours. I say ‘have to’ we’d love to have everyone to ours, but the truth is we’ve been politically manoeuvred into a situation where we have to have everyone over.

What will you be watching in your household this Christmas?

I can guarantee you what we’ll be watching is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which is a Ranganathan family tradition, we watch that every year without fail. We’ll mainly watch Christmas movies in our house, Jingle All The Way, Four Christmas, Die Hard, Gremlins. All the Christmas bangers!

What’s your favourite Christmas song and why?

My favourite Christmas song is All I Want For Christmas Is You because there is no other choice, anybody that suggests anything else is a d*ckhead. 

What have your kids asked for from Santa?

They’ve all asked for video games actually, I’ve got a little bit of a problem in that they keep stealing my stuff. I had a Nintendo Switch and they nicked it, so then I got another one, and they nicked that one as well. So they’re obsessed with video games basically, but that’s fine though as it’s stuff I get to use as well.

Any Christmas traditions or anecdotes that you are happy to share?

Our kids’ grandparents, and everyone will buy them loads of presents and one year they were opening them and I found it absolutely unacceptable at the speed that they were moving through the presents without giving each one due credit, I sort of found it slightly disgusting and I wanted them to be more grateful. So now in our house we stagger the presents, they open a present and they have to spend a certain amount of time interacting and being grateful for that present, then we let them move on and open the next one, and sometimes they’ll get so many it takes them right the way through to the end of boxing day which is great for us. 

What do your kids get you for Christmas?

Well apparently I’m really difficult to buy for, so they’ll get me something that’s really wasteful, well not wasteful, but for example last year they bought me a LEGO version of myself which was really impressive except for the fact it had a mobile phone in its hand which I felt was a damning indictment of my parenting, and it was sort of just staring at this phone so I thought it was a nice present but also they are having a bit of a dig.

What are your favourite parts of the Christmas season?

We go to the panto every year, we go to the local one in Crawley. A couple of years ago they got me to do the magic mirror, they were doing Cinderella. Basically, I just had to record it once and it would drop down and I’d be part of the show. I got really excited about my kids watching it and we didn’t tell them, so we just went one year, to go and watch it. We waited for the magic mirror to drop, it dropped, I appeared on screen and honestly, I cannot explain how little a reaction they gave. It was unbelievable, I was buzzing, and they just went, “Oh, you’re the magic mirror”. What an absolute waste of time.