I have now lived in Genève and Zürich. The former is home of the Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) — the Swiss French tv channels — and the latter has the headquarters of the Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) — the Swiss German equivalent. I’ve visited the RTS 3 times: during a field trip in elementary school, during a live and public broadcast of Garage — a Saturday morning show for teenagers and young adults — and finally in 2013 during a tour organized by the EPFL Alumni. When I moved to Zürich 2 years ago, I thought I could check out what the SRF studios look like. I asked my sister if she would be willing to join me to be part of the audience on a tv quiz called 1 gegen 100. We never settled for a date, so at one point I thought I could try to go all the way and actually participate in the show as a candidate.

The show

1 gegen 100 translates to 1 against 100. One candidate has to defeat his 100 opponents, a.k.a. the mob. All 101 players have to answer questions, given 3 possible choices. For every eliminated opponent, the candidate gets 1’000 CHF. If the candidate gets the wrong answer, he’s out and a new candidate is randomly selected among the opponents still in the game. If the candidate defeats the whole mob, he can go home with the money he collected.

Of course, it is hardly possible to be smarter or luckier than 100 people. That’s why the opponents only have 6 seconds to answer. Additionally, the candidate can get up to 4 jokers. The first 3 jokers are unlocked after the first question is answered correctly. A fourth joker can be acquired when at least 75 opponents are eliminated, by answering a musical quiz[1]. Using a joker means that the candidate doesn’t have to answer the question and automatically moves on in the game. However he doesn’t get any money for the eliminated opponents either. Worse, when playing a joker, the candidate actually loses half of his money — he basically buys the answer.

There’s more. During the whole game, the candidate can play one double joker, where every eliminated opponent brings in double the amount, i.e. 2’000 CHF. If the candidate has eliminated all his opponents, he can win an additional 25’000 CHF if he chooses to play the last question.

Here’s an example of a showdown:

At this point, the game can end with 3 different scenarios:

A full game usually lasts longer. This shorter example simply illustrates the game mechanics. You can see that the theoretical maximal amount you could win is 225’000 CHF[2]. The best score so far is 105’000 CHF, which is already pretty badass.

The casting

The range of subjects covered by the show’s questions is very broad, but quite Swiss centric. And by Swiss I mean Swiss German, as the Swiss Germans tend to forget about the other 40% of the country. I don’t consider myself to be particularly smart. I would say that I have a very average knowledge, in the literal sense. I guess I know more than most people about science and what is nowadays called “geek culture”. However I know nothing about things most people enjoy, like soccer, stars, contemporary music etc.

If you want to participate in the show, you have first to complete an online form. I don’t remember exactly what was asked, but I do recall that they asked for a lot of details like personal interests, a personal evaluation about my knowledge in various domains etc. If you match the production’s obscure and unknown criteria, you are invited to a casting with dozens of other people. Mine took place in May 2015 at the Swissôtel in Oerlikon. The staff takes a picture of you and then you sit down to take a test. You have to answer 100 questions in a limited time, the same kind of questions as the tv show’s. I was a bit surprised by the difficulty and variety of the questions, to the point that my first 20 answers were either educated guesses or just plain random. This puzzled me so much that before handing in my test, I counted how many questions I knew the answer to for sure. Twenty five. Ha! I felt so dumb that at the end of the test in the field titled Wichtige Bemerkungen[3] I scribbled

WHAT?! :) 75% ERRATEN :D

I actually wanted to write “GERATEN”, meaning “GUESSED”. In retrospect, this was a stupid move because in the 75 guessed answers, there is a good chance that about 25 were right (given 3 choices of answers by question), meaning a total score of 50/100. So, like I said, very average smart. Which happens to probably be exactly what the production is looking for. Too intelligent people would literally ruin the show and nobody would watch it, as while watching the show you don’t like to feel too stupid not knowing anything compared to the candidate. At the other end of the spectrum, too dumb people would be boring to watch as well. It’s funny though how at the beginning of the casting, the organizers repeatedly flatter the participants, telling them that they’re looking for smart people etc.

I wonder also if the questions are re-used for every casting. Probably not, because you can apply again after a 2 years moratorium. Or maybe the questions change every year. Or maybe the production uses the castings to rate the difficulty of the questions, depending on how many people answer correctly, and then they re-use them during the actual tv show, easier questions first. I’m really not sure about this either, because even though the very first question of the show is easier, I’m not convinced that all subsequent questions are ordered by difficulty. Sometimes it might look like they are, but that’s only because there is a whole series of questions on subjects you’re not comfortable with.

If somehow you qualify for the show, the production sends a Doodle for you to select the production schedule that suits you. I was invited for 2 production weekends in June 2015 and 2 in October 2015, then months later to 2 in April 2016 and 2 in November 2016. Although I was available for all but one, I was never selected. Why? I don’t know. What quota didn’t I fit into? Too young? Too old? Too smart after all? Nah, come on! Too dumb? Because of the remark on my casting test? Not Swiss enough? Too male?[4]

The recording

In March 2016 I got an email asking me if I could be a replacement candidate for any of the two April 2016 production weekends. This basically means that if any of the actual candidates is sick or can’t make it, I would jump in. On the morning of Saturday April 9th, I get a phone call. The production would like me to come a.s.a.p. to the studio for the recording of the second show of the day (the fourth show of the production weekend). Although at this point I really felt cheap, I was happy that I could finally see how this tv show is done.

Date & time Activity
Sat April 9, 14:00 Enter the studio, log in
14:15–16:00 Recording show 207
Sun April 10, 12:45 Meet at the studio entrance
13:15 Enter the studio, log in
13:30–15:15 Recording show 208
15:15–15:55 Break
16:00 Enter the studio, log in
16:00–18:00 Recording show 209

It turns out that if you miss part of a production weekend because you entered as a replacement candidate, you can participate in another production weekend! So in the end, I was one lucky bastard because I could potentially[5] play in 9 shows instead of 6.

Date & time Activity
Fri April 15, 13:00–13:30 Welcoming and briefin
13:30–14:15 Trial
14:15–14:45 Break
14:45 Enter the studio, log in
15:00–16:45 Recording show 210
16:45–17:45 Meal break
17:55–18:10 Break
18:15 Enter the studio, log in
18:30–20:15 Recording show 211
Sat April 16, 12:45 Meet at the studio entrance
13:15 Enter the studio, log in
13:30–15:15 Recording show 212
15:15–15:55 Break
16:00 Enter the studio, log in
16:00–18:00 Recording show 213
Sun April 17, 12:45 Meet at the studio entrance
13:15 Enter the studio, log in
13:30–15:15 Recording show 214
15:15–15:55 Break
16:00 Enter the studio, log in
16:00–18:00 Recording show 215
I’m not yet in the game
I’m not yet in the game

Overall it was a fun experience to see how the show is made. Here’s a random bunch of observations and impressions from the recording sessions:

Susanne chilling while Chris tries to keep us awake
Susanne chilling while Chris tries to keep us awake

The outcome

I’m not allowed to tell you how it turned out. Even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you. Here’s the airing schedule of the shows if you want to see how I did. You can watch the show on tv on Monday evenings at 20:05 or online at Play SRF. And don’t conclude that I didn’t win just because I’m providing you with all 9 shows :P

The view from the opponents’ wall
The view from the opponents’ wall

My goal was to see how a tv show is done. So that’s definitely fulfilled. I was kind of hoping never to be selected as a candidate, because then you stand in front of 100 people. Granted, it’s not a live show, but I hate talking in public, even if you’re there to, maybe, win money. Besides, I honestly don’t know what I would do with the money. Probably nothing, just save it.

I was also hoping to be a bit better than average. Quite a challenge if you consider my score during the casting. I have an additional handicap compared to the majority of the other people on the show: my German skills are way worse. German might be my mother tongue, but I’ve lived 33 years in the French speaking part of Switzerland and did all my education in French. For example, the very first question we got after I’ve joined the game as one of the 100 opponents was the following. Do you know the answer?

Wie wird ein relativ simpler Witz häufig bezeichnet?

Come back here in a couple of months for a summary of how my tv appearance went.

  1. the same rule as for any question applies: if the answer is wrong, the candidate is out. He cannot however play a joker on this question. So, depending on his musical knowledge, this can be risky. ↩︎

  2. all opponents are eliminated in a single question where the candidate used the double joker and cracks the bonus: 2 x 100 x 1’000 CHF + 25’000 CHF. Yes, very very very unlikely. ↩︎

  3. = important remarks ↩︎

  4. I know for a fact that they try to have 50% of women participants ↩︎

  5. “potentially” because maybe I won the jackpot and went home earlier? No spoilers, sorry! Well, I more or less spoiled that I didn’t win during the first production weekend, didn’t I. But maybe during the second? ;) :P ↩︎

  6. yes, really! Me talking to people! ↩︎