Image: BBC/Parasol Media Limited/Rory Lindsay

Why ‘Only Connect’ is the best quiz show on TV

“How have you filled the gap since we’ve been away? I know other quizzes don’t quite cut it.” The show always opens with Victoria Coren Mitchell’s signature quips and her humorous and engaging delivery. And she is right – no, they don’t quite cut it.  

Cult quiz show Only Connect, now in its seventeenth series, stands out from the other “serious” TV quiz shows because of its abundance of personality. It manages to combine the charm of popular quiz shows such as Pointless and The Chase while also challenging both its viewers and contestants alike with a difficulty level closer to that of University Challenge. 

The show celebrates and embraces oddity; it’s a home for the fanatics and weirdos

It’s not only a test of general knowledge – logic and pattern recognition is also tested. Contestants must identify what links seemingly random things, from numerical and linguistic patterns to more specific knowledge, and it is often fiendishly difficult. The second round asks contestants to name what comes fourth in a sequence, and the third being the connecting wall, consisting of 16 words needing to be solved into four categories, with many red herrings included.  

By far the best round, which always has me sat on the edge of my seat, is the quickfire missing vowels round. Within seconds contestants must buzz in and give the answer to what at first looks like jumbled letters, filling in the vowels to make a word or phrase. Its faster pace is exciting, plus shouting out the answer at the TV in lightning speed is also incredibly addictive and satisfying. 

But most importantly, Only Connect does not take itself too seriously. Each contestant is introduced with a strange fact about themselves – one on the more normal end of the spectrum was in the series opener from Maggie Huang, “a cardiothoracic surgeon who was once bitten by a house sparrow”. The show celebrates and embraces oddity – it’s a home for the fanatics and weirdos. Perhaps that is why I feel so drawn to this show. The team names are based on common interests or careers: some of my personal favourite teams have been ‘The Motorheads’, ‘Suits’, ‘Time Ladies’, and the team which my family have to deal with me bringing up far too often, ‘The Brews’. It’s a sanctuary where those in the corner of the canteen, shunned by the rest of the school, can come and show off their knowledge without ridicule – well, maybe some from Coren Mitchell.  

Coren Mitchell really makes Only Connect – she is possibly more eccentric than the contestants on the show, and is always quick-witted and funny

The show is also very entertaining. It stands out among other difficult quiz shows, such as University Challenge or Eggheads, which can come across as incredibly stuffy and stuck up. Coren Mitchell really makes Only Connect – she is possibly more eccentric than the contestants on the show, and is always quick-witted and funny. If an answer is the name of the song, Coren Mitchell will make the contestants sing it, resulting in the embarrassment of the contestants who are made to sing on national TV. The show also has its own in-jokes, with Coren Mitchell’s obsession with and frequent mentioning of Michael Portillo, or jokes about the question writers Jack Waley-Cohen and David McGaughey. These in-jokes also bring a sense of comfort and familiarity to the show. 

With the latest series having just began, I am so ready to reimmerse myself into this weird and wonderful world of quizzing. The show may have me scratching my head half the time, and responding to the answers with “ah, of course” as if I were remotely close to the correct answer, but I so love this show and its rewarding of the bizarre. It’s like no other quiz show on TV, and is by far the best.  

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