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George Ferzoco on Mastermind

14 February 2012

George Ferzoco, Research Fellow and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, will be a contestant on Mastermind on Friday, 17 February, at 8.30pm on BBC2.

George Ferzoco, Research Fellow and Teaching Fellow in the Department, will be a contestant on Mastermind on Friday, 17 February, at 8.30pm on BBC2.

Mastermind is probably the most famous of all UK quiz shows. Hosted by John Humphrys, it strikes fear into the hearts of contestants and viewers alike with its ominous opening music, its stark lighting and its black interrogation chair. 'The funny thing is, the contestants don't actually hear the scary music, and the chair is extremely comfortable!', says George about his experience. 'And the lighting is much more dramatic for the viewer than the contestant, thank goodness!'

Mastermind pits four contestants against each other. Each proceeds in turn to the dreaded black chair, where he or she must answer two minutes of questions on a declared specialist subject; afterward, each must withstand a two-and-a-half-minute barrage of general knowledge questions.

George's specialist subject is the life and films of Federico Fellini. 'I've always enjoyed Fellini: I hold him to be among the greatest of directors, and I can't think of anyone else who so captures the art of cinema as he does.'

Of the thousands of who applied to be on the show, George was one of only 96 who were selected to be a contestant this year. 'The selection process was not an easy one. After they received my application, they contacted me by phone and asked me, point blank, ten general knowledge questions. About a month later, I was informed I would be interviewed at the BBC Bristol studios, where they asked me twenty general knowledge questions and talked to me about my proposed special subject areas.'

How did George find out he was selected to be on the show? 'It was almost surreal. It was in late May, and I was working on medieval manuscripts in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. The reading room is glorious, a sumptuous place that is more an art gallery than a library. At a certain point, I looked at my computer and saw that an e-mail had arrived for me; it was from the producer of Mastermind, Jon Kelly, and he told me I'd been selected. I remember thinking that I would not be able to accept the invitation to be on the show, because during the weeks before and after the recording date I was planning to be in Rome, researching at the Vatican Secret Archive; luckily, I was able to find a convenient flight from Rome to Manchester, where the show was to be recorded.'

George thinks he was selected in good part because of his knowledge of religious matters. 'Studying and teaching in Bristol's Theology and Religious Studies Department not only makes one appreciate the depth of thought and feeling inherent in religious and anti-religious belief, but it also exposes one to a great quantity of facts relative to the world's religious traditions, and how those traditions in turn relate to their respective political and social environments.'

It has been since 1995 that George has taught, part time, in the department. 'I have always had the greatest respect for our students. They are intelligent, they are inquisitive, they are fun, and they understand the fulcral role of religion in today's world. My colleagues, too, are not only authorities in their respective fields but they also are great people, and the latter is as important as the former, in my opinion.'

Was John Humphrys -- who makes prime ministers squirm when he interrogates them -- a frightening figure? 'He was like each and every person I met at the BBC in relation to Mastermind: professional, polite, good-natured. Really, they were great.'

The episode was recorded seven months ago, but George has been sworn to secrecy about the outcome. 'I can only say that all the staff, from Mr Humphrys to the make-up artist (whose skills I really needed!), along with my fellow contestants, helped make it an unforgettable and positive experience; I'm so happy I had the chance to be a part of such an august British tradition as Mastermind.'

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