Many of this week's finalists in the wildly popular television talent show Mastermind are showing signs of distress under the pressure their new-found celebrity status has brought. Some psychologists are calling for a rethink, warning that these shy, retiring people are ill-equipped to cope with the fame game.
There is particular concern for the well-being of tweed-suited 48-year-old librarian Brian Griffiths because of the intense roller-coaster of love and hatred that has greeted his progress in the competition so far.
Some of the studio audience in Manchester sniggered openly at his weak, stuttering voice when he first sat in the black chair and said that his chosen specialised subject was 'The Novels of Charles Dickens'. This soon turned to hysterical applause as Griffiths reeled off 17 correct answers in a row and won his heat by the highest margin ever seen on the show.
“I’ll admit I enjoyed it at first,” Griffiths confessed. “I rarely get women asking me to autograph their body parts in Horsham Central Library. But it's past a joke now, they are camping outside my house and screaming abuse at my wife morning, noon and night.”
Jason Barron, who at 28 is by far the youngest of the contestants, has also given rise to concern. He won many viewers' hearts for his cheeky banter with John Humphrys and his courage in blinking back tears after forgetting the name of the Duke of Wellington’s horse clearly struck a chord with viewers who have experienced tragedy in their own lives.
Barron delivered a faultless semi-final performance, scoring 25, but was hissed because his subject, 'The Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815', was perceived as too similar to his first round subject 'The French Revolution'. Facebook campaigns have been raised against him and there have even been death threats.
Not all of the contestants, of course, are being so badly impacted. Geoffrey Wills, a 50-year-old systems analyst from Bristol who scraped into the final with a total score of 19 and does not seriously hope to win it, said that he intends to enjoy every single moment of the process.
“Everyone knows why we go on Mastermind and what comes with the territory,” said Wills. “I know perfectly well that these gorgeous 20-year old groupies I meet in clubs don’t want me for who I am but because I can tell them all they need to know about 'Reptiles of the Amazon Basin'. I’m going to ride this sucker as long as I can, baby!”