What happened when we tried – and failed – to do Taskmaster
Don’t be too harsh on those daft celebrities, says Frances Taylor. It turns out Taskmaster is even trickier and more humiliating than it looks on the telly
I was like you once. I watched Taskmaster from my sofa, munching on biscuits and scoffing at comedians’ sheer incompetence, laughing as Richard Osman lobbed a shopping trolley into a river and Romesh Ranganathan made this utterly useless attempt to throw a teabag into a mug.
And then I went to that infamous house. I completed (well, barely completed) two Tasks. A camera captured my stupidity as Alex Horne stood next to me, noting down my actions on his clipboard. And I’ve now learnt that the likes of Richard and Romesh actually deserve respect rather than ridicule.
I’ve also learnt that if you really want a folded piece of paper to induce fear, forget seeing ‘final notice’ or even ‘P45’ written on the front – a circle of red wax with ‘TM’ embossed on it will send adrenaline coursing through your veins like nothing else.
That intimidating envelope is the first thing I see when I walk into the surprisingly small plastic-coated room at the tiny house in west London. This is the very same room that has seen Jon Richardson reduced to stuffing pineapple into his shoes and Tim Key go at a watermelon like a rabid dog, so understandably, I’m quivering with trepidation.
It transpires that it’s just as well there’s plastic sheeting covering the walls because, unbeknown to me at this point, I’m about to commit a heinous and messy crime against popular culture.
I open the Task.
“Say the names of as many famous people as possible. Each famous person must have been born after the previous famous person.
“You have two minutes. Your time starts now.”
So here’s the thing: on a normal day, my recall is dreadful. I’m crap at pub quizzes and awful at guessing ages. But under pressure? It’s near non-existent. And now, with Alex hovering over me, a cameraman documenting this whole sorry affair and the seconds slipping away on the iPad to my left, my mind goes blank. It’s such a clichéd expression, but it’s the only vaguely accurate way to explain just what happens next.
Desperate to say something, anything, I blurt out Robert De Niro after only four seconds. The rising intonation in my voice gives it away – at that moment, still with 1:55 on the clock, I know I’ve knackered it.
I could’ve started with someone old – like, really old – such as Shakespeare or Plato or Adam off of Adam and Eve…but my opening gambit is a very much living 74-year-old actor.
Now, for somebody whose job it is to know the entertainment world inside out, spends their days writing about celebrities and who actually regularly meets famous people, you’d think this would be my dream task.
“This is my nightmare task,” I say to Alex, wasting precious seconds. “You literally couldn’t have given me a worse task to do than this."
It only goes downhill from there. I waste more time re-reading the Task and making sure it is what I think it is (confirming it’s descending ages rather than ascending ages and that I haven’t got completely the wrong idea) before naming a few more people from Hollywood and then moving on to British comedians. Only I can’t think of any of those, either.
Simply because he’s standing in front of me, I name Alex alongside De Niro and Tom Cruise in my diminutive list, which he seems rather flattered by. But, following the tone of the whole debacle, I almost as quickly then manage to insult him by assuming he is older than Tim Key. He is not.
It’s at this point I wish the envelope would have told me to do something far less humiliating, like fill an egg cup with my own sweat.
A bit more flailing around and a lot more feeling like a total numpty and it’s all over. The clock runs out, my fate is sealed, my head is in my hands.
I’ve named five (five!) famous people in two minutes, which works out at a staggering average of one every 24 seconds. Nope, I have no idea how that’s possible either.
“I need something less think-y and more do-y,” I tell Alex, almost as eloquently as I named those celebrities. And thankfully, I’m in better luck for my second and final task.
I open the front door to find a basketball, a basketball hoop and another envelope.
“Get this basketball through that hoop.
“You may not touch the basketball with your hands.
“You may not wear gloves or anything that could reasonably be construed to be gloves.
“Fastest wins. Your time starts now.”
After shouting an expletive, I run to the shed (yep, the shed) and again without thinking too much about just what the eff I’m doing, I grab a giant wooden hand and a squash racket. It’s only when I run back around to the front of the house that I realise that being 5’ 1” and with little to no hand-eye co-ordination, this isn’t going to end well without further assistance.
I’ve seen enough Taskmaster to know that semantics are key, and noting the “you” and “your hands” in the instructions, I tell Alex he might have to complete this Task for me if and when I struggle miserably. Sadly, he’s having none of it.
After another dash round to the shed, I return with a metal step. I position it under the hoop, use the wooden hand as a sort of plate and the squash racket to guide the basketball onto the hand, step up and straight in.
All the while I’m doing this, I’m at pains to point out to Alex as he scribbles notes that this bit of wood could not be construed as a glove, because although it might look like a hand, I was not actually inserting my hand into the wooden hand, and arguably a glove is only something that you can put your hand physically into.
This is probably at least part of the reason why I took 1 minute and 56 seconds to complete this Task and why, perhaps unsurpringly, I ended up coming last. Again.
Not that I knew this at the time. Straight afterwards, I believed (probably wrongly) that Alex seemed rather impressed with my efforts. I was then painfully smug and confident about the whole thing, leaving the house safe in the knowledge that despite completely messing up the first Task, I had pulled it back with my utter genius and speed in the second. That one, I thought, is literally in the back of the net.
It’s only the next day when Alex sends on the results and it’s revealed that not only did I come fifth out of five people in the whole naming celebrities thing, but I also placed last when it came to the basketball hoop. A 100% fail rate.
But I haven’t given up all hope of lowering that percentage just yet. The basketball one is a real-life actual Task which will be faced by celebrities Sally Phillips, Nish Kumar, Bob Mortimer, Aisling Bea and Mark Watson during this fifth series.
And if any of them take longer than 1:56 to get that ball in that hoop, I’m giving myself extra points and bumping myself up from last place. And there’s nothing the Taskmaster can do about it.
Taskmaster airs 9pm Wednesdays on Dave