Thursday, April 29, 2010

Times of Oman Open Quiz 2010

The 14th edition of the Times of Oman Open Quiz unfolded on Friday 23rd April 2010, following the prelims on 20th. Departing from the practice of the past few years, this time the quiz was set much later in April than usual. And the gap between the prelims & finals was widened to 2 days. So the finals ended up being on a Friday rather than Thursday. Various inconveniences included the weather being much warmer, and the following day being a school day for the bulk of the audience. Suspect both these changes were dictated by the IPL schedule. 20th & 23rd were the only dates without T20 matches clashing.

Nevertheless the show was a fantastic success with Pickbrain proving the ever effective anchor, and the fluctuating fortunes of the teams right up to the end, keeping everyone on the edge. In the end we managed to finish winners for a 4th consecutive time, nudging 'Questionable Characters' to 2nd for a 2nd consecutive year. 'Quizzically Challenged', on stage for the 1st time, put in an assured performance, ending 3rd. The two school teams in the finals - Sri Lankan & ISG were both very impressive. Both lost out on a top 3 position mainly due to the negatives accumulated.
QMs typically fall at one of two extremes on scales of entertainment value and learning quotient. The entertainers - those who pander to the audience, asking populist questions, that half the audience can easily answer. They are also more likely to use buzzer rounds, and introduce great variance in points per answer.  They can talk a dime to the dozen, and ensure that there is not a moment's silence the entire evening. Most of the big name QMs would fall into this category. At the other end are the quizzer QMs. They are typically quizzers 1st, and quizmasters next. Questions would tend to be filled with layers of detail and obscure fact and would normally fly over the heads of most of the audience. And usually, over most of the participants as well. But one comes back from such an event having learned a lot more.

Pickbrain, amazingly, has managed to combine both ends, more successfully than anyone I've seen. While he is a fantastic entertainer that can keep crowds of ~5000 captivated, he also manages to ask quite a few mind provoking questions. It is not at all easy to do this. While I'd personally prefer that he makes the questions even tougher, I also realize that if he makes it any less topical or more difficult, he'd start to lose both the audience and some participants.

In addition to getting the mix right, it also helps that he is extremely down to earth, is very approachable, has a good sense of humour, knows a bit about the questions he asks and is comfortable with himself. He tries to put the focus on the teams rather than himself, and projects even the easiest of answers as works of genius. Moreover he is quite open to suggestions, from both the teams and the crowd. Case in point - he lengthened this edition of the finals after getting feedback that last time's was too short. The no. of questions went up from 30 to 42. Main reason for shortening was to include the school pre-finals before the open.

The prelims were, as has been the norm with the TOO open, quite high scoring. The cut-off was 21 on tie-breaker with the top score being 24/26. There were probably half a dozen teams on 20, and perhaps the same number on 19. The disadvantage of having an easy prelims is you can't afford to make  many mistakes. The difference between the top team, and ones that did not make it can be as low as 3 points. Many good team thus end missing the finals due to this low margin for error. 'Jet Set Go' were among the notable victims this year. The flip side is that many teams go back feeling they missed by just a whisker, there were many easy questions where they nearly wrote the correct answer, and resolve to come back the next year more prepared. A stronger prelim would discourage many teams from attempting again. I'd personally prefer a low scoring prelim with clear daylight between the qualifiers and also-rans.

23rd evening started with the school pre-finals. 3 teams stood out. Sri Lankan School were very impressive , ending up winners. ISG team showed last year's results were not fluke, and that they have improved further. ISM All Over Again flattered to deceive - all over again:( And Indian School School Sohar & ABA also chipped in with a few decent answers.

The finals started off in a bad way for us. The 1st question of the quiz was to us, and we were as baffled as most of the audience. To add salt, the question was answered by one of the school  teams, ISG. After 14 (33%) of the questions were asked we were yet to open account. One of my friends later remarked to me that he was feeling very embarrassed for us at that stage. And thought it was all over for us. Our thoughts at that moment were 'Lets try to not finish last.' We finally managed to score off the last 2 questions of the 2nd round.

The scores read out at the end of the 2nd & 4th rounds both showed 'Questionable Characters' with comfortable leads. This was not a big surprise, as they were expected (at least by me) to win this year. A very strong team with all members pulling their weight. They were particularly impressive in the 4th round at the end of which they had a 26 point lead over us. By then our position had improved enough for us to change our aim from avoiding wooden spoon, to going for silver.

This was not a foregone result, since all teams were delivering punches, and showing that they were not there to make the numbers. The 2 school teams - Sri Lankan & ISG - showed they were not at all intimidated  by the occasion. Both were done in by their suicidal affinity for the buzzer. ISG more so.

The turnaround for us came in the 5th and penultimate round - the link round. Or 'Lateral Thinking' round, as Giri likes to call it. We managed to score enough to come within a point of the leaders. We scored on the 1st question of the last round and took the lead. Then ISG took over. They literally monopolized the buzzer for the next few questions, effectively keeping all other teams stuck to their respective scores. They cam within a point of 3rd place. Their earlier accumulation of negatives proved to be their undoing.

in the Times of Oman
Mostly Clueless, again
Never a dull moment
Lapping it up

Will there be a new winner?

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