Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Review: Two Tribes

The front of Richard Osman's head.
Everyone's Pointless friend Richard is all grown up with a show of his own. He's taken off the stabilizers (read: Alexander Armstrong) and bought himself a brand new bicycle. It's a little bland, and certainly no 18-speed racer, but Two Tribes still goes at a bit of a lick and offers a perfectly watchable half hour of quizzing fun. (I don't know where this bicycle metaphor came from but I'm going on holiday tomorrow so I've decided it's fine.)

Like most shows, Two Tribes has its own simple shtick. Each round sees contestants placed into tribes (i.e. teams) based on their yes or no responses to personality-based questions. One round might see karaoke lovers against those who can't stand it, while the next could mix them up based on sunbathing preferences. Beyond this you're watching a fairly straight question-and-answer show, with each round's winning team progressing while the losers fight it out among themselves for survival. Once whittled down to two the tribalism is dropped altogether for a final head to head where the winner, in a curious twist, gets not cash but £1,000 in vouchers (such as for travel, 'gadgets', or sofas). The individual games aren't particularly inspiring; the only newish trick is that when working as a team individual contestants can pass on a question in the hope a team-mate knows it. Otherwise you're watching straight buzzer races or, in the case of the final, a 'chess clock quiz' where a player's timer ticks down until they successfully answer a question. (If you think that last one sounds familiar, there are several possible reasons why.)

First impressions, then, are that though not the most original this is still a perfectly serviceable show. It's a half hour format in a half hour slot (take note, The 21st Question), and even the more 'grumpy old quizzers' out there should be satisfied with the number of questions they get through. Beyond that, though, the basic Two Tribes premise adds very little.

The back of Richard Osman's head.
The obvious selling point of the format is to encourage the viewer to root for one of the teams in each round. For this to work, however, you need to look for things a bit more divisive than whether or not people think they can dance. The third show provided the first hints of this idea, when the contestants were split based on whether they were royalists (and Richard made a few attempts to remind us that we were supposed to follow suit), but the subsequent banter had an inevitable air of tension. A general uneasiness between contestant and present pervades the show, with questions about whether someone lies about their age, or if they've ever been dumped creating an atmosphere rather at odds with a friendly teatime quiz aesthetic. (One chap who found himself in the "I'd make a good Prime Minister" tribe, cheerfully announced he'd stop anyone from using the NHS who hadn't paid into it; if I wanted that sort of ill-thought out political debate I'd watch Prime Minister's Questions, not "that new Richard Osman thing that's on before Eggheads".)

Two Tribes consequently finds itself in a slightly awkward position. On the one hand their USP is to create teams we might actually care about, but on the other the topics that are most likely to invite viewer engagement are necessarily the divisive, controversial issues that have no real place at 6pm on BBC Two. This reduces its function to that of 'banter butter'; greasing the wheels of getting to know the contestants by using their personality prompts as a starting point. To its credit, the show works quite well in that regard, but this feels more of a clever side-effect than a format-selling feature.

When it comes to quizzes there are good formats, and there are good shows, and for me Two Tribes is more of the latter than the former. There's a healthy number of questions, which though not the hardest are well-compiled, and the contestant chatter is spread out and well-motivated by the game's structure. Everything else is at best fine, and there's very little that actively detracts from the viewing experience. One minor exception is Osman's hosting which, having previously served as Alexander Armstrong's straight man, can be a touch uncomfortable. His wry sense of humour is often directed at contestants unsure of how to react, and there's no charismatic co-host to step into the subsequent awkward silence.

Otherwise, Two Tribes works well enough to warrant a half hour of your day, with its pace and light-heartedness providing a refreshing change in the current quizzing landscape. Though by no means a classic, it's certainly not 'bad', and at the moment that alone can set a new quiz apart.


  1. Thanks for this, totally nailed it. Have a good time away!

    1. Thanks! It was exhausting, but fun (the time away, that is, not writing this).