It’s just not the holidays without Christmas cookies, Boxing Day football and The big quiz of the year– if you are British. The annual year-end special has been a staple on UK television since 2004. Hosted by Jimmy Carr, the giant pub trivia game pits three teams of two artists against each other to recap the biggest events of the year in pop culture with snark and silliness. Fortunately, Americans can bypass geoblocks and streaming licenses with YouTube and watch iteration of every year, including spinoffs. Big Fat Quiz of everything and the of the decade specials.
Like most panels, the series employs a Rolodex of competitors primarily made up of comedians – natch – TV presenters (a much more robust profession in the UK), and the sometimes bizarre choice of celebrities not known for their humor, like Sharon. Osbourne, chefs Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey, and Spice Girl Mel B, which are about as fun to watch as you might expect. Even the occasional American comedian makes an appearance, but they also struggle to match the signature energy of the show as they have no established connection with their overseas peers.
When scrolling through YouTube to review them or introducing someone to the show for the first time, there are a few names to look for that will guarantee a good if not a good one. Quiz. These are the MVPs of The big quiz.
Ayoade has appeared in almost every Quiz since its debut in 2010 and for good reason. The stoic and adapted The ITt crowd star looks like the kind of nerd who would run the tables at a knowledge game, but Ayoade is there for jokes first and (almost) jokes only. You can’t depend on his team to win, but you can depend on him to create the most highlights of the show with his classic British mix of super dry wit and absurdity. From training Mel B to preparing for a quiz to defaming Carr’s mother, YouTube is chock-full of “Best of Ayoade” compilations for her contributions. I don’t think fans would be against the comedian officially being a permanent candidate.
“I get paid to work on something! And David Michell wins those checks. The comedian’s smart, dry humor sets him up there with Ayoade as a Quiz must have. The Peep-Show star is one of the funniest comedic voices in the UK, whether employed in sitcoms, skits or panels. At Quiz, its slightly cranky tone straddles the barrier between disdain for the type of pop culture that makes up questions and serious engagement in a trivia game that just happens to be doubled as fodder for quick jokes. Mitchell keeps things light as he thwarts his silliest, childish opponents with his more down-to-earth jokes that make him a favorite on the show.
The raven-like wild child, Fielding is the ultimate team player if your team is looking to cause the most chaos in the series. The comedian is usually associated with Russell Brand or Richard Ayoade, and either one combines with Fielding to form the Bash Brothers of pub trivia. Fielding is primarily concerned with crafting jokes and even more with keeping Carr on his toes. He’s the class clown in a room full of clowns.
Similar in turn to another British gem, Tyrant, Mel Giedroyc is clearly still happy to be involved as she takes over with genuine enthusiasm and a full promise of commitment. Giedroyc’s personality is like a clear summer day because it lights up everything it is a part of. You can also rely on the old Pastry shop girl taking responsibility for one of the show’s classic gags of someone bringing a feast of goodies to share halfway through, including a brandy picnic for her and Romesh Raganathan and a bakery from sweet treats for Jack Whitehall and company. Both on purpose hilariously and just to be adorable herself, Giedroyc is a perfect game show contender.
Rather disappointing, the series does not have a good record when it comes to the casting of candidates. They are often the token woman of the year and are more likely to be an ill-equipped celebrity or presenter instead of the favorite comedian. Seriously, with only six panelists, how hard is it to have an equal split (answer: not hard at all, mate)? Millican, luckily, is one of the few regular actresses, and she’s a delight every time. She’s a solid teammate, especially with David Mitchell in 2016. Like Mitchell, she’s both a formidable competitor and a keen, productive joke prankster. She keeps the fun going while keeping the game alive.
Ross is the show’s old dog and veteran poop stirrer. The presenter and comedian is more determined to create moments with his co-stars than to write correct or hilarious answers. He knows and activates all the rhythms of classic quizzes: creating rivalries, playing with Carr and snack breaks. He keeps the game and entertainment trains on track as a showman and punching bag for everyone, and that’s exactly what the series needs.
A comedy program should be directed by comedians, but an exception will be made for Winkleman. The charm of the TV presenter comes from her enthusiasm à la Giedroyc and her undeniably affable nature. As Carr often notices, she has a terrible poker face, often screaming in intense eureka moments that surprise everyone. She clearly enjoys being on the show and that appreciation turns a good panelist into a great one. It’s always party time with Winkleman.
Rob Brydon, Romesh Ranganathan, Alan Carr, Joe Lycett
Olivia Cathcart is an actress and writer.