Pro Quizzer Interviews: Eggheads – Lisa Thiel

Lisa Thiel - Eggheads - BBC Two

Lisa Thiel – Eggheads – BBC Two

In 2014 Lisa Thiel from Leeds, became the latest addition to the line up of Eggheads on the popular daily BBC Two programme. She has previous appeared on The Weakest Link, The Chase and the Eggheads spin off series “Revenge of the Egghead“.

In the first of our Pro Quizzer Interviews, we spoke to Lisa about her experience in becoming an Egghead, how she prepares herself for quizzes and her thoughts on cheating in pub quizzes.  Here is what she had to say:

So, Lisa thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by SpeedQuizzing, first of all I’d like to ask, how long have you been a keen quizzer and what is it about quizzing that get’s you going?

I’ve always loved to read things and remember them, but I think I really became aware that quizzes existed as a form of entertainment when I was about 9 or 10, when I started competing in inter-school quiz leagues – so that’s about 25 years’ quizzing! As I’m hopeless at all forms of sport, I think I took up quizzing mainly so I’d get picked first for teams occasionally.

What I love about quizzing is the fact it’s basically a showcase for facts that are irrelevant or downright bizarre in modern life. In a world where everything’s geared towards saving time, reducing resources and becoming more efficient, isn’t it wonderful that we still pursue a pastime that thrives on being as arcane and obscure as possible?

Does your family share the same enthusiasm for quizzes as you do, how do they deal with your excellent trivia knowledge if for example playing a board game at home?

My family are much more normal than me! They’ll play Trivial Pursuit at Christmas and enjoy the odd pub quiz, but you won’t find them obsessively trying to learn every flag of every country in the world, or remember the countries that use a krone, a kroner or a krona. They look on my love of quiz facts as an irritating foible – my mother has been known to turn off a film she’s watching to stop me quoting trivia about it. They try to stop me winning Christmas quizzes by forcing me to play on my own, while they all play in teams, when the Trivial Pursuit comes out after the turkey (it doesn’t really work…)

Lisa joined the Eggheads in 2014

Lisa joined the Eggheads in 2014

Was it daunting becoming one of the Eggheads? What was it like meeting the rest of them for the first time and realising you were going to become part of that team?

I’d watched Eggheads since it started, and the thought of claiming a place alongside these people – for whom I had the utmost respect – was petrifying. I was also prepared for there to be a certain amount of ‘who does she think she is?’ – after all, they knew nothing about me at all, and I didn’t have the quiz-winning pedigree of any of the others. So it was actually a bit of a shock to find that every single one of the other Eggheads was prepared to be unfailingly supportive, encouraging and kind to the new girl.

The first time I met the team en masse was in the hotel bar ahead of a pre-filming dinner. Dave turned round from the bar, held out his hand and said ‘hiya, Dave Rainford, lovely to meet you’. I stood there going ‘imagine you telling me your name, I’m the unknown here!’ Barry, who lives in Leeds like me, had also been brilliant before filming by inviting me round to his house to get the lowdown on what to expect during filming. Even CJ gave me a hug before the first show and told me everything was going to be fine!

Despite what some of the challengers may have worked out already, what would you regard as your worst Eggheads subject, or would you rather not show a weakness?

My biggest weakness isn’t really subject-based – it’s probably giving up on a question before I’ve really thought it through and used all the information at my disposal. There’s often little clues within a question, or an approach to the information you’ve got, that will give you the answer even when you don’t know it ‘cold’. Pat, whom you might expect to know everything cold, is the past master of taking his time and working through even simple questions to check his response before answering, so I’m taking tips from his approach. The great joy of being a regular, rather than a contestant, is that we get to come back for more shows, so you’ve got the chance to keep trying these tricks til you get results.

Is it difficult to revise for a subject that you have little interest in, how do you motivate yourself to learn more on a subject you have a lesser interest in?

I actually find it easier to motivate myself on subjects I don’t know as much about, in terms of the desire to fill in gaps in my knowledge. The hard thing with less familiar subjects is often the approach – what facts will serve you best, and how should you learn them? The Internet allows you to test yourself on the same subject through a variety of different quiz formats, which I’ve found quite a helpful tactic.

How much time a week now do you spend keeping your knowledge topped up?

Not as much as I’d like. I’m one of the few ‘quiz professionals’ who has a full-time job, and I’ve also got a two-year-old to look after, so my hours of revision are limited. Some weeks it’s as much as I can do to check who’s been voted out of Strictly Come Dancing.

When you’re not quizzing or filming on Eggheads what other sort of activities do you like doing?

Regular Eggheads viewers will know I love to sing – I used to sing in a function band and performed regularly in amateur stage productions, but it’s more difficult for me to find time in the evenings now, so I confine myself to ‘shower concerts’ and the odd trill on the show these days. I’m a big foodie, and love cooking and visiting restaurants of all kinds. I bought my new house mainly because it had enough kitchen shelf space for my cookbook collection!

If you were to go on Mastermind, what would your chosen subject be?

The Rutshire novels of Jilly Cooper. Maybe one day…

How was it you found your way into professional quizzing originally?

It was a complete accident. I’d applied to be a contestant on Revenge of the Egghead, which was a spin-off of Eggheads starring CJ by the same production company, 12 Yard. I appeared on the show and managed to win some money alongside two excellent team-mates. The next day, I was doing my weekly shop when I got a phone call from a bloke who said ‘I’m the managing director of 12 Yard, would you like to be an Egghead?’ – to which my tragic reply was ‘I’m just at the checkout, can I call you back?’

The head office for SpeedQuizzing is based in York and I read that you are from Leeds originally. Going off what some of our hosts say, quizzing can be really different depending on your location. How is the quizzing scene in Leeds and do you find the level of competition differs from place to place?

I’m sadly not able to go to quizzes anywhere these days very often, but I know Barry plays in at least three different quiz leagues in and around Leeds so I’m guessing the elite scene is thriving!

Assuming you have attended many pub quizzes in the past, do you think there is a significant problem with cheating in quizzes now? How would you like to see this to be tackled?

I’ve always thought the idea of cheating in a pub quiz is a bit weird. I mean, if you’re going to bother attending a quiz, surely it’s because you’re interested in trying to answer the questions, not in writing down the answers by rote? Plus, for the most part, pub quiz prizes aren’t exactly offering the kind of rewards that would make it worthwhile trying to cheat for a living! That said, I’m a huge fan of attempts to make quizzing ‘Google-proof’, not least because it generally leads to much more interesting kinds of questions. I’ve seen (and set) questions involving making connections between a number of facts, naming tunes from an excerpt of sheet music, and even trying to name cereal brands from a small unlabelled sample.

Is it difficult to find a pub quiz that is challenging enough for you as well?

Pub quizzes for me are a form of relaxation, so I’m not necessarily looking for one that’s going to have me scratching my head ’til it bleeds. The challenge for me these days comes from revision and trying to expand my own knowledge base.

Understanding that you probably get asked a lot of trivia questions, was there a favourite particular question that you just like to ask other people? I know as a host, I have a few that I memorise as I do get asked myself. (Don’t tell me the answer, I will try and answer without cheating, obviously).

I love it when a question comes up and Kevin/Pat/Barry goes ‘oh that’s such a quiz chestnut’ – it’s nice to think that there are some questions so bizarre that question writers just want to keep using them. A recent favourite was ‘In which sport would you perform a Rudolph?’

Who do you think is the cleverest Egghead out of the group? And is there anyone who thinks that they are the cleverest but probably isn’t?

It sort of depends what you mean by ‘clever’. There’s a difference between a person’s level of intellect and how good they are at absorbing and retaining quiz information. Although, to be fair, I think Kevin or Pat would qualify on both counts; it’s their ability to study in a highly academic and concentrated way that makes them the exceptional quizzers they are. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t think any of the Eggheads overstate their level of ability!

Finally, if you could be in a quiz up against one particular person, maybe someone you really look up to, who would it be and why (and would you win)?

A lot of people come on Eggheads because they want to play against Kevin, and who am I to disagree with such an ambition? He’s not only one of the best quizzers in the world, he’s also a lovely, gentlemanly and very funny man. I’d like the quiz to be about food and drink, just to stack the odds in my favour a bit – but I’m still not convinced I’d win…

Many thanks to Lisa for taking the time out to complete our interview, we much appreciate it.  To see Lisa in action, tune into Eggheads, BBC Two on weekdays at 6pm. 

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