Watching… Babushka

Babushka is ITV’s brand new game show hosted by Rylan Clark-Neal, the format of which harks back to Deal or No Deal. The premise of the show is that each of the 10 named Babushkas (from Natalia to Katya) is represented by a Matryoshka doll contains varying amounts of money ranging from £500 to £10,000. A team of two answer true or false questions to be able to open 8 of the 10 Babushkas. As teams open the dolls, they can risk what they have earned currently to see if there is a smaller doll inside which is worth more money.

Before I review the show, the show has gotten a lot of bad press from the media with the misleading headlines of ‘The Chase is AXED’ leading to many fans of The Chase forcing Rylan off of Twitter. While I do love The Chase and think it’s a fantastic show and format, let’s give Rylan and his Babushkas a chance!

I explain the rules above but there are many more intricacies to the show. If the team do not get the question right, then they lose all the money that has been banked up to that point (feeling a bit like The Weakest Link). There are 3 ‘helps’ called Peek, Switch and X-Ray; Peek allows the team to have a peek inside the next doll and see what it contains; Switch allows the team to change the question category; X-Ray is only available if teams have banked £5,000 after 4 Babushkas and allows the team to see everything inside one of the dolls on their last turn.

On the money ladder, 2 dolls contains £0, £500, £1,000 and £2,000 each and 1 doll contains £5,000 and £10,000 each. If the team open any doll with £0, then they also lose any money that has been banked. Then after they’ve opened their 8 dolls, they have the chance to double their money if they can find the golden Babushka inside a white or a black doll. If they don’t find it, they leave with nothing, echoing the all or nothing quality of The Million Pound Drop.

Obviously with this being the first show, getting used to all of these rules will take a bit of time, much like Deal or No Deal. And much like Deal or No Deal, most of the tension from the show comes from opening the boxes/dolls and seeing what they contain. Both shows contain the risk element of deciding whether to carrying on opening boxes/dolls but with the money ladder in Babushka, if all the £0, £500 and £2,000 have gone, getting past the £1,000 means a guaranteed £5,000.

Although the aim of the game is to clearly completely avoid the empty dolls, getting the empty dolls on the first two turns is not a bad thing as it does mean that all the dolls from that point onward contain money. But the rules mean that it is VERY easy to lose all your banked money: if you open an empty doll in the main game and double or nothing game and get a question wrong, your bank gets emptied.

This adds huge difficulty to the game and herein lies the trade-off; the questions are much more trivial (and even if you don’t know the answer, you have a 50/50 shot) and less demanding than the likes of The Chase, Tipping Point and Fifteen to One but it’s very hard to win big money. The double or nothing game is a huge risk that few people will take unless they have big balls or have just £500 in the bank.

There are positives to come out of Babushka; it’s fun, the whole concept of taking a Russian doll and making it into a gameshow gimmick is wild. And the number of euphemisms it gives us is more than enough: “let’s have a peek inside Natalia” (*snorts*), “let’s open up Katya” (*giggles*). Rylan is a really good host and the fact that an impulse press of the buzzer to open the doll does add tension.

However I do wish that Babushka would have a stronger end game. Most gameshows are all about building up a prize fund which you need to earn to win but Babushka rewards very little skill and good luck. I did say that this isn’t meant to challenge the most intelligent of minds yet a lot of good luck and risk taking could see you taking away £44,000 whereas in The Chase, if the Chaser has a good day, even the best of teams who are strong and capable could lose on 23 steps in The Final Chase.

It also drags. 10 questions in 60 minutes averages out at 1 question every 6 minutes whereas The Chase could see around 100 questions in the 60 minutes, averaging at 1 question every 36 seconds. This could certainly have taken 30 minutes and they could have teams run over into the next show. The hour felt very long and there was just a bit too much chatter.

The format itself could also be improved. Instead of losing all the money if a doll is empty or a question is wrongly answered, it could be done as follows:

  • 20 dolls containing 5 x £0, 4 x £250, 4 x £500, 3 x £1,000, 2 x £2,500, 1 x £5,000, 1 x £10,000 as in the current format.
  • 5 contestants work as a team to build up a prize fund, taking it in turns to answer 3 multiple choice questions each.
  • The order of play is decided by a quickfire buzzer round, the first contestant to answer 2 questions correct decides everyone’s order of play
  • If they get a question right, they choose to open a doll as in the current format and if it’s empty, no money is added; if they get the question wrong, they don’t open any dolls.
  • After 15 questions, they play to win a share of the prize fund. The player who earned the most money decided in which order contestants open the dolls
  • 10 final dolls containing 5 x 0%, 1 x 5%, 1 x 10%, 1 x 10%, 1 x 25%, 1 x 50% (as in the current format) representing a share of the prize fund.
  • Contestants open the dolls as in the main game for their final winnings.

These modifications to the format would certainly speed up the show and it’s certainly feasible in the 60 minutes. It allows for an increase in the difficulty of the questions while keeping that risk element at the heart of Babushka. This format also adds a moral element to the game; who deserves to be the player who decides the order of the final game, is it the player who has earned the most money or do you want yourself to gain control? The main game sees contestants working as a team before turning on their team to try to win big themselves. Much like in The Chase, will the team member who earned the least try to steal some of the prize fund in the final game by taking control? The list above could very much modify Babushka into a new format which could certainly take off.

I might continue to watch Babushka but I might have to switch off if the team talks too much. I had this on in the background while I was sorting things out and I didn’t ever feel the need to sit down and watch it properly.

What did you think of Babushka? Are you already counting down to The Chase’s return in June? What do you think of my ideas to change up Babushka, would you watch that show? Let me know!

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Read my latest recipe post: Rainbow Vegetable Puff Pastry Tart


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