What is it like being a contestant on one of the longest-running game shows on British television? Summarising her experience as “fun, rewarding and inspirational”, Susan Murray- a teacher at Gumley House School, shares her experience being on Mastermind in October 2018 in which she came second.

What encouraged you to go onto a TV quiz, and onto Mastermind in particular?

"I’ve always had a passion for quizzing since junior school; I led my team to victory in the end of term quiz in year 6! I watch TV quizzes, such as The Chase and take part in pub quizzes with friends and neighbours.

The decision to go on Mastermind was a spur of the moment thing. After completing a form on the BBC website, I got a call from one of the production team members and had to answer ten questions over the phone. Then I did a Skype interview and they offered me a place on the show. All that remained was to choose a specialist subject. "

What is it about the films of Frank Capra that made you choose it as your specialist subject?

"The producers want subjects that are interesting to the audience, perhaps a little quirky and preferably not done previously. Originally, I wanted to do the films of Jean Gabin, a famous French actor. However, that idea was rejected – possibly it was a bit too obscure! So, I chose Capra: he’s not one of the world’s most famous directors but made one film (It’s a Wonderful Life) that everyone knows. I admire the values he expresses in his films, plus the fact that they make you laugh and cry and are visually imaginative and stunning."

How did you prepare for Mastermind?

"I researched Capra's life and films thoroughly, from buying books to searching online. I also watched/re-watched as many of his films as I could. There was a lot of material available, as his career ran from the silent film era up to 1961. I viewed entering like taking an exam and used some of the revision techniques I recommend to students: for example, a clock face timeline of his films, mind maps and Q&A cards.

Technique and strategy were also important. I watched episodes of Mastermind on YouTube and realised an important part of scoring was answering quickly and not passing on any questions (the number of passes is counted against you). So, I practised answering questions quickly and decided to give a random answer to any question I didn’t know rather than pass. When I said the first UK astronaut was John Smith. I knew it was wrong – I couldn’t remember Tim Peake’s name – but I didn’t want to pass on the question!"

What was the best and most challenging thing about the whole experience?

"I enjoyed going up to Media City in Manchester with my family as guests. The whole filming process was interesting. Meeting John Humphries and sitting in the iconic chair was amazing but I was so nervous as the moment came to go on and the lights dimmed. We had to walk down a catwalk to the set and I was worried about tripping in the darkness. I was told I looked calm on the show, but I was shaking inside!

I wondered if I’d been a bit over-ambitious in my subject. One guy had The Golden Gate Bridge as his subject and there are only so many questions you can ask about a bridge! Some of my questions were quite long and complex compared to some of the other contestants’. Also, the question setters concentrated on the popular 1930s films and didn’t ask about Capra’s silent films, so I wished I’d spent more time watching those films and felt disappointed at the end of round one when I was in last position.

However, I clawed my way back in the General Knowledge round and enjoyed speeding though the questions. I moved from being last to second position, with a high score and no passes, so I was pleased with that! I was asked to be the reserve in the semi-final – although I didn’t appear, as no-one dropped out."

As a teacher, how different was this opportunity to your usual professional environment?

"I’ve been working in education for four years. I’m always keen to try new things and found the TV production process fascinating – very different to the school environment. Mastermind has encouraged me to enter for other quizzes, such as Only Connect, The Chase and Pointless which are extremely popular shows and I haven’t been successful yet. I’ve done auditions for Only Connect and The Chase, but will persevere." What’s your advice to anyone thinking of going onto a quiz show?

"Do it! It’s an amazing experience, you meet interesting people, it’s fun and you could win some money!"

By Amber Silva