18 March, 2007

The Light Bulb That Failed: My Einstein Factor Experience

What was the only film captured high-ranking Nazis were allowed to watch during their internment at Mondorf immediately after World War II? I was itching for host Peter Berner to ask me just that when I appeared on ABC-TV’s The Einstein Factor a couple of years ago. The Einstein Factor is a quiz show that requires contestants to answer 15 questions on a nominated specialist subject and have their general knowledge similarly tested during multiple choice and beat the buzzer rounds.

My subject was the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, held during 1945-46. Revealing this generates some interesting responses from many people. The looks I get suggest there is a suspicion I might occasionally dress up in SS uniform for some domestic goose-stepping in the privacy of my own home. Not so, I hasten to assure you. But as I pompously explained to the producers during my February audition, the Nuremberg Trial represented an occasion where American action actually matched their rhetoric. One of the charges faced by the defendants was the waging of aggressive war, which if diligently followed up by the UN, major powers and the international legal community, could well have made war a crime ever after. Noble stuff, and worth contrasting with current US foreign policy.

Emailing the production team (check out www.abc.net.au/einsteinfactor/ ) will get you a contestant application form by return email. You fill out some details and nominate three possible specialist areas. Mine were: Nuremberg; Jefferson Airplane; & F Scott Fitzgerald. Nuremberg was my final choice because I thought the historical weight of it might make the producers lean towards giving me the nod to provide some difference to the large number of contestants who choose pop culture related topics.

I answered 25 general knowledge questions at the ABC’s Elsternwick studios while sitting at a table with the Brady Bunch; Harry Potter; Pink Floyd; & Birds of Australia and her External Territories. Getting 18 answers correct was some relief and then off to an interview with the charming producer and contestant co-ordinator. They had prepared some questions for me on my specialist subject, none of which I could answer intelligibly.

For example, when they asked me what happened on 18th July 1944 the appointment of Justice Robert H Jackson as American Chief Prosecutor eluded me. “Oh yes”, I stammered, “well Bob was quite a guy, a Supreme Court judge no less but not nearly as skilled in cross-examination as American Chief Judge Francis Biddle. See, they appointed a judge to prosecute, and a prosecutor to judge, amazing hey?” I could tell they were impressed by the way they looked straight at each other, their eyes rolling.

Frighteningly soon after, probably due to a clerical error, they rang to tell me I was on an episode to be taped in about four weeks. And to do some studying. In fact, they mentioned that twice in what was a very brief phone call.

You couldn’t say it wasn’t a nice spread for us in the contestant lounge on the night. Me, Ned Kelly & Liza Minelli were to appear on the first show taped that evening. I made small talk with the other contestants: asked the bloke why Ned was never charged with negligence over the 1969 Altamont concert and engaged in some gamesmanship with the woman, sowing the seed of doubt in her mind that maybe, just maybe, it really WAS Lisa with an s.

But I should have known that the very witty Peter Berner wasn’t about to play straight man to an amateur like me. I’d mentally prepared a number of zingers, like if he asked me why I chose Nuremberg I was going to tell him I didn’t actually choose it because, wait for it, I was JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS! My family and friends agree that would have got a big belly laugh, and I believe their stone-faced assurances. But they are divided over whether I should have gone with my planned Sergeant Schultz accent.

The other two contestants had already achieved near-perfect scores in their specialist areas when I sat down. After my 15 questions, I was a long way third with 900 points. The bonus round offered some hope: 200 points if the Brains Trust (lawyer & Australian Netball captain Liz Ellis; academic Dr Sue Turnbull; and comedian Anthony Moclair) could answer correctly a true or false question. After all, they’d already done the right thing by the other two, sending 200 easy points their way. They reasoned, they rationalized, they hypothesized, and then they got it wrong. Liz Ellis then asked me a very intelligent question which was in no way matched by my reply. Probably just as well they edited that bit out.

During the remaining rounds, I did well to maintain third spot, as Ned just pipped Liza. Handshakes all round, some more small talk between contestants and then off home. Larry, who’d sat in the audience desperately hoping no-one would connect the two of us, at least removed the paper bag from his head before we got in the car. Not as bad as Moe, who would later send ABC-TV an email requesting I be pixillated. The whole business had taken just over two hours, which compares very favourably with the eleven hours contestants on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire have to endure. I gave up smoking and started again three times during that shift!

Curly told all his friends dad was going to be on The Heinstein Factory and many watched it. Some even made a point of congratulating me and telling me how well they thought I’d done. Kids can be so cruel.

Oh, and the only film the Allies allowed those captured Nazi big shots to watch at Mondorf? Newsreel footage of the liberation of the concentration camps.


audrey said...

And good job too, because that was highly amusing! I especially like the part about Moe wanting to pixellate your face. Ah kids!

Lad Litter said...

Thanks Audrey! I'm greatly flattered by your getting up at 6:20am just to read my gibberish.