What it’s like to be a Weakest Link contestant

The Weakest Link is returning for a one-off special this Friday. The BBC’s Lauren Turner went to the dress rehearsal to speak to Anne Robinson (and have a go at being a contestant herself).

Anne Robinson has a problem with being back on The Weakest Link set.

It’s not that she’s unhappy about hosting a one-off special for Children in Need this Friday – nor that a new series is being considered for next year.

“The problem is,” she explains in that no-nonsense, clipped tone. “We’ve borrowed the French set.

“It’s incredibly high. Much higher than ours was. I’ve got six-inch heels on so it’s bit of a climbing job getting on and off.

“I’ve got to get the floor manager to hold me because I’m so terrified, in high heels, of slipping. I think the French presenter always wore flat shoes.”

So why has she said “yes” to a celebrity special, starring the likes of Cannonball host Maya Jama, Cold Feet’s John Thomson, presenter and writer Giles Coren, This Morning presenter Rylan Clarke-Neal and Love Island’s Kem Cetinay?

“Because they asked me,” she smiles.

“We’ve all got a great nostalgia for this show. Almost everyone working on it was working on it through the years. I think everyone was really keen to come back and give it another go.”

Image caption The Weakest Link’s Children In Need special airs this Friday

Everything she says seems slightly tongue-in-cheek, and with a glint in her eye. The whole pantomime villain persona is definitely an act – but it’s done with humour and wit, rather than genuine meanness.

“You don’t want to drown kittens,” she explains. “What you’re always looking for is someone you can play with. You want someone who comes back to you.

“So it’s not really a question of being mean, it’s a question of having a laugh.

What’s it like to be a contestant?

Watching The Weakest Link from the comfort of your sofa, you might think it’s all a bit, well… easy.

The questions aren’t exactly University Challenge-level and that whole Anne Robinson “queen of mean” persona is just an act, right?

Er, wrong.

Just try telling yourself that when you’re standing at a podium under the blazing studio lights on the receiving end of a withering glare. Your mouth goes dry, your palms get sweaty, and it really doesn’t help matters if you’re wearing a pair of flashing Pudsey ears.

Image caption (That’s Lauren on the far right)

Luckily, the special edition of the show I was part of wasn’t going to be televised. Instead, it was me against four fellow journalists – “just for fun” – ahead of the celeb special for Children in Need this Friday.

Once stationed at our podiums, we practice our introductions (I really should have paid attention at this point) and are introduced to Brian, whose job, wonderfully, includes making sure our boards are the right way up when we flip them to reveal who we think should be voted off as the weakest link.

Before we know it, Anne walks up to us and filming begins.

She chides us for being on a “jolly” and squeezes in a few journalism jokes (yes they exist, honest) before getting down to business. I’m glad not to be first up but even so, when my question is asked, I start to panic – before realising it’s easier than I thought.

‘It’s a conspiracy!’

“In musical terms, a low note is known as what…?” she starts, as my mind goes blank. “Deep or shallow?”

Okay phew, I can do that one. My next question is about which show Paul O’Grady hosts, and I’m about to butt in with Blankety Blank before she adds “formerly presented by Cilla Black” and I answer Blind Date, relieved – as I can see there’s not much time left this round.

The clock stops and we’ve done amazingly well, with 12 answers correct in a row – but as someone banked early, twice, we actually haven’t reached the jackpot.

It’s harder than you think to choose someone to eliminate when no one has got a question wrong. I literally go for the first name I can see from where I’m standing (having also been advised it’s bad form to vote for the person next to you, as it doesn’t do much for neighbourly relationships!).

I realise I’ve made a mistake when I sneak a glimpse at the board next to me. Of course, I should have voted for the person who banked prematurely. Whoops!

Brian comes to check our boards are the right way up so the names don’t appear upside down when we reveal them, and then Anne returns. I’m more relieved than I should probably admit to see no one’s put my name down.

The person who, earlier, affixed my microphone pack is the first out, having garnered two votes for no apparent reason other than we had to choose someone.

We’re brought new boards (I totally thought they were wiped clean each round) and we’re back in action.

In the next round, we manage to bank precisely zero pounds, which Anne isn’t very happy about. Good job we’re not playing for real money.

The person I’d chosen in the first round actually gets two questions wrong this time so, even though I feel bad, I write her name down again. I’m actually horrified to see my name written down by my podium neighbour and try reminding myself that it’s just a game.

It’s not long before I find myself in her shoes, however, as I turn out to be the third person to leave – despite not getting a question wrong (it’s a conspiracy!).

I have a rather baffling conversation with Anne in which she quizzes me about Twitter etiquette, of all things, before I’m given those famous words – “Lauren, you are the weakest link, goodbye.”

Image caption Maya Jama and Rylan Clarke-Neal will appear on the one-off special

Asked how she would react to people crying on The Weakest Link, Anne says: “I’d get very irritated I think. I don’t want anyone crying. When I was on Fleet Street girls never cried. It’s not that sort of game.

“I always think crying is very suspect. Particularly among girls. Because some of them learn very young that if you cry, when you’re criticised, everyone says: ‘Don’t cry!’ and they forget what they were about to criticise them for.

“I think some people cry very easily and some don’t cry easily. So I’m not much taken with tears – they waste time.”

That said, who would she most like to appear on the show, if it does return?

“I’d quite like the Duke of Edinburgh, Donald Trump, the Prime Minister. Anyone funny really.”

(And unlikely to burst into tears, she might have added.)

Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

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