The Cube

Saturday, August 29, 2009 by

ITV1“The games they play are very simple – but when they play them inside the Cube… everything changes.”

Phillip Schofield’s summation, there, of ITV1′s umpteenth Saturday night, tension-ratcheting game show, which debuted last week. It’s a trope returned to constantly throughout the 60-minute run-time, either by Phil, or over-wrought ‘Voice of the Cube’ Colin MacFarlane (“How many times have you thrown a ball, Nicky? But in the Cube, and for £20,000, have you got what it takes?”).

And, clearly this is an issue. The production team build a perspex cube, tell Schofield to demonise the thing, the camera pervs all over it like its high-tech porn… and then, once inside its environs, people play games with red ping pong balls.

Tonight, it’s geezer-ish personal trainer Nicky Sanford who’s first up for the challenge. He’s a game show producer’s dream: ebullient, chatty, happy to vocalise every passing thought. And he’s a proper bloke too. We know this, because, when he bounds on to set, Phillip greets him as “mate”. In fact, throughout, our host seems positively smitten with Nicky, as though he’s happy to be hanging with the tough kids. Even when the South London boy talks over his “This is one of the pivotal moments of your life” speech, Phil can’t help but roar with laughter.

Phil manages to catch the sweeping camera's eye

Nice graphics, Phil!

Nice graphics, Phil!

“Well it looks simple, dunnit?” opines Nicky, sizing up ‘Drift’. “Just blow the ball in the bucket. You’ve got to get the amount of blow right”. There’s certainly a lot of blow billowing around this show. The cameras crank into slo-mo at pivotal points – watch Nicky smash a pain of glass with a ball – while post-production graphics of great portent descend into the playing area to update everyone on cash won and challenges to meet. I’d love to know what Phillip and his contestants are really looking at during these points. In fact, this whole layer of movie-style pep distracts. Every time ‘The Body’ materialises inside the Cube, you’re left thinking, “I wonder what was really going on in the studio at that point”.

For the 10 years this website has been online (and, let’s face it, a long time before then), TV has always been looking for soap opera in other formats. Granted, not so much sport, anymore, but reality and game shows still try and seed this element into their narrative. “So, what would £10,000 do to your life, then?” asks Phillip, cuing in a spot of dull, dewy-eyed getting-to-know-you chat with Nicky.

Blow hard

Blow hard

The Body... matters

The Body... matters

But, in The Cube‘s favour, it doesn’t dwell long here, and instead obsesses – quite pleasingly – over stats. “It takes,” counsels Phillip, “on average 3,8 lives to do this”. This is the sort of stuff we want. The game-playing elements. The big decisions: “You have £20,000. The minute you say you’re going for it, then that’s it. £50,000 or nothing”.

Plus, you can’t deny it – Phillip Schofield knows television. A throwaway remark from Nicky that it might be easier to tackle ‘Barrier’ sans his jeans prompts Phil to declare: “I’m going to say something Nicky that I cannot believe… it’s for £50,000, if you want, you may remove your trousers”. You can imagine how Justin Lee Collins (who hosted a pilot version of this, rejected by C4) would have crucified that moment.

Tonight’s episode, of course, is all about the, now debagged, fitness instructor. When he swaggers off with his winnings, support manager Fay enters at around two-thirds of the way through the show. “I’m going to take the ice out of the Cube and get the viewers watching the tube,” she raps hopelessly. Not for long, though, Fay. With the show all but over, it’s clear you’re never going to ascend far up the cash ladder. Like last week’s second contestant, she predictably leaves with comparatively little.

So what to make of The Cube? Things look different in there, certainly. But not different enough for some basic throwing, catching or balancing games to merit the weight of the full Who Wants to be a Millionaire? production values.

“Every time someone goes in it’s a different story!” squeaks Phillip. “What would your story be?”


11 Responses to “The Cube”

  1. Jack Kibble-White on August 29th, 2009 10:31 pm

    For now, I really like The Cube, the best new game show since Who Dares Wins, or perhaps even Deal or No Deal. I do think they should drop the “journey” bit from the script at the beginning, and I also think the second half of the show would merit from a Millionaire style roll over (ie. contestant’s games can last over more than one show). I really like the swooshiness of it, and think Philip is a great presenter.

  2. gormless dave on September 1st, 2009 8:43 am

    I actually know Nicky a little – he’s quite a local character in Waterloo and a genuinely friendly and down to earth bloke. I am pleased for him and his young family that he won this amount of money.

  3. MartS on September 1st, 2009 1:35 pm

    So that’s where the big perspex cube from the Channel Five quiz, 19 Keys went to!
    Actually, I like this show. It’s got just enough pace, and I found myself saying aloud “he did it” after Nicky finally managed the £50,000 challenge last Saturday (saying things out aloud at the tv is normally only reserved for quiz shows).

    Though I liked the use of super slo-mo’s to build up tension during the challenges, I found the cutting in of The Matrix style time-sliceing panning brought nothing to the table in terms of the additional suspence or excitement.

  4. kevin on September 5th, 2009 9:55 pm

    How do you apply to be a contestant on the cube game show?

  5. Michelle on September 17th, 2009 2:25 pm

    Yes, I too would like to know how you can be a contestant on The Cube. Is there a site for applications? Michelle

  6. Off The Telly on September 21st, 2009 9:10 am

    Clearly, it’s worth saying that Off The Telly has no connection with The Cube – so we can’t help anyone at all with advice as to how to get on the show.

  7. John Phillips on September 21st, 2009 5:00 pm

    With BEat The Star, and now The Cube, ITV is now home to some of the barmiest games in TV history. BTS gave us competitive sausage slicing and nail banging; Beat The Star gives us such delights as ping-pong-ball-blowing, and the truly genius challenge of walking in a straight line.

    And yet both shows really thrive on their banality. There’s something very exciting about watching people do something unbelievably boring!

  8. N3CR0 on September 28th, 2009 11:38 am

    Application site to be on the cube.. i just sent my form in, ^^

  9. Jack Kibble-White on September 28th, 2009 7:45 pm

    A few weeks in and The Cube still works for me, but the weighting of the gamble could do with another look. If someone procrastinates before committing to taking on the £10k game when they’ve got four lives remaining, you know straight away that say they come to the £20k game with only two lives left they are definitely going to walk away, perhaps the middle games of the Cube should get slightly easy to tempt people into playing?

  10. Nick Gates on September 30th, 2009 6:43 pm

    They already are, aren’t they? There doesn’t appear to be any real rhyme or reason as to which game goes where, I doubt anyone is going to risk £10k with two lives left, that’s just the nature of large amounts of money. But people have certainly been giving the impression they’ve been very tempted to go on, which suggests they aren’t doing too bad a job.

  11. Nick Gates on September 30th, 2009 6:45 pm

    For the record, I was convinced nobody would walk away with six figures and they should probably cap it at £50k and be done with it. But I was wrong as it turns out.