Your RDA of Irony

My Career in Gameshows

After my success on Jeopardy, my more sociopathic acquaintances (all of them futures traders) thought that I should become a gameshow buccaneer, plundering one television show after another.  There was one immediate obstacle to that strategy: it was illegal.  According to the standards of television broadcasters, a contestant can’t be on more than three different games within a five year period.   So the possibilities for loot were limited. 

Then, there was the fact that I didn’t want to be on most of those gameshows.  Am I really the “Price Is Right” type?  Eugene, how much would you pay to ransom Richard the Lion-Heart from an Austrian prison?   20,000 washer-dryer combinations?  Higher or lower? 

And even with a remote chance of running off with Vanna White, I had no interest in “Wheel of Fortune.” The phrases are never more challenging than “My Weekly Reader'”.  Wouldn’t it more fun if the puzzles were:  “Wh-l- r–d-ng “J-d- th- -bsc-r-“, – g-t – p-p-rc-t -nd -t t-rn-d s-pt-c.”   And the prizes are dreadful; you always coerced into taking a gift certificate from either IHOP or Zimbabwe. 

“Who Wants  To Be a Millionaire” did appeal to me–or at least my greed.  The first questions are incredibly easy:  Paris, France is the capital of what country?  Of course, when the questions are worth six figures, then you are asked the square root of Alan Greenspan’s social security number.  I could try deciphering some kabbalistic hint or just guess, so I was willing to be a contestant.  Unfortunately, I always seem to audition on days when the middle-aged male quota had already been reached.  I didn’t even have vicarious luck as a phone-a-friend.  Five contestants reserved my omniscient services but only one ever called me.

However, I have just discovered a game show that wildly appeals to the teenage nerd within me.  The show is called “Time Commanders”, and it pits humans against computer in a rematch of the great battles of history.  If I ever wanted to save the Persian army at Marathon, here was my chance.  Did I think that I could defeat Hannibal at Cannae, or protect England from William the Conqueror?  “Time Commanders” was daring me!

If you are unfamiliar with the show, there are two good reasons.  One is that it is a British series–and apparently lacks the trisexual time travelers to get on BBC  America.  However, you can see past games on You-Tube.  The goal is to undo history.  A team of four players–divided into generals and lieutenants–take on the losing side and, competing against the computer, see if they can do better than the actual commanders.

For example, four Anglican vicars undertook the Roman invasion of Germania in A.D. 9.  Would they do better than Varus, the idiot grandnephew-in-law of Augustus.  Would their three legions also be wiped out, and the vicars’ severed heads sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury?  (Well, the reenactment wouldn’t be quite that vivid.)  Believe it or not, the vicars actually won the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.  Of course, they were a little less surprised than Varus was.

The Romans also triumphed over Hannibal at Cannae; four policemen from Bedfordshire did better than two Roman consuls.  In other matches, the combined might of Sparta and four female Rugby players still were defeated by Thebes at the battle of Leuctra.  Irish musicians thwarted the Roman invasion of Armenia.  A team of Welsh mental health workers triumphed over the Normans at Hastings, leaving us  spraching Anglische and reducing Mrs. Liz  Mountbatten to a landlady in Rouen.  Time Commanders is a great game of what if. 

Oh I should mention the second reason that you hadn’t heard of it.  The show lasted only two seasons and has been off the air since 2005.  So I am only five years late for the audition.

Well, I guess there’s still Millionaire.  In just a few more years, I’ll be a more appealing demographic than middle-aged.

  1. I hear “Let’s Make a Deal” is back. You could dress up as Justinian. After switching from Door #1 to Door #3 when a goat turned up behind Door #2, you could explain the “Monty Hall Paradox.” (

    • Pam Beddard says:

      You are not alone. It’s always beaten us that Time Commanders didn’t last longer, unless it was to allow its dry-witted anchor, Eddie Mair to leave the field of battle to triumph in other arena – e.g. the ego-bursting BBC Radio 4 evening news show, PM, or the best possible start to a Sunday morning: Broadcasting House. Still, I regret missing the chance to lead the Iceni into battle against the 14th Legion (having first parked the children, old folk and injured somewhere safe and out of sight).

      • Eugene Finerman says:

        Pam or would you prefer Beddardicea,

        I am curious as to what were the prizes, other than the thrill of rewriting history. Did the victorious vicars of the Teutoburg Forest get a free trip to Germania? Would you have gotten an all-expense paid trip to Watling Street?

        Had the show lasted a few more seasons, the battles of the 18th century could have been replayed. You may be aware of the armed Whig uprising in several British colonies. Just capture the entire rebel army on Long Island in 1776, and you can keep your penal colonies closer than Australia.


    • Eugene Finerman says:

      But Rick,

      I wanted the goat. Karen would like the angora and I could use the all-natural lawn-mower.


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