Why do we like hard quizzes?

Published September 11, 2012

Lots of great TV has returned to our screens recently: The Great British Bake Off, Doctor Who, Only Connect, etc. There is still more to come, I believe, but actually it is Only Connect that caught my attention, making me ponder why exactly it is that we enjoy quizzes that are too hard for us?

With Only Connect, I wondered if it was simply that the format is completely engaging. The answers are not always impossible (granted sometimes they are unfathomable but not always!) but it is the style of question that is unique to the connecting format. That could be true, and I know that personally I’m in love with Ms Coren which also makes it a must-view show.

The same cannot be said for University Challenge, however, and I have been equally engaged with that. Not for a while, I will admit, as I only have so many hours in the day and prioritise other TV over Jeremy Paxman and his students, but even so. There was a time when I would watch religiously every week, scoring how many points I got each round and comparing with friends. The format here is nothing more than preposterously difficult questions, but it’s still fascinating. The presenter is nothing like as lovely as Victoria, so it’s not that.

That led me on to the idea that sometimes we like to better ourselves, and learn things from difficult programmes. I was happy with this answer for a while, before I realised that I can’t think of a single thing I have learnt from either of the two aforementioned programmes. I might be able to scrape something together from the recesses of my mind that I saw on QI - but that isn’t quite in the same genre. QI is a fascinating animal in itself - difficult, but mostly because it is tricksy, and clearly there for the joy of learning, rather than proving yourself smarter than everyone else.

Ultimately, I have no conclusion, other than the obvious. We watch these programmes because when we do get a question right, it is far more joyous than when answering an ITV competition “question.” And it’s even better when you can compete amongst your household, even if it’s only for getting just one or two points each evening.

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