He’s a quizzing titan; a 6ft 6 monster of wit and knowledge who spends much of his time with a glowing blonde bombshell who occasionally presents him publicly with birthday cake.
No, this is not an autobiography.
I am, of course, referring to growing US quiz master and television star, Mark Labbett, more commonly referred to (affectionately by most; in sheer terror by others) as ‘The Beast.’
Mark is already well known over here as one of the original of the worldwide quizzing legends known as The Chasers, made famous in the hit teatime quiz show presented by Bradley Walsh, in which four contestants of mixed abilities and psychotic tendencies answer general knowledge questions to hold on to a bunch of cash that they can only win if the Chaser is not better than them. In which case, this usually means when the Chaser has gotten out of the wrong side of bed that morning.
Now, The Chase is a hit in the USA, already in its third series in a prime time slot that attracts millions of viewers. Much like Mark himself, it is a growing beast, promoted with humorous and adventurous commercials and even a gigantic billboard in Times Square. The show has come a long way, and Mark is the absolute centre of it.
Unlike its British Counterpart, The Chase USA relies solely on one Chaser and his reputation as a ruthless mastermind of quizzing complete with his intimidating frame to create a more ‘man versus monster’ format. Billed often as ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Mark is teamed up with amiable host Brooke Burns, whom he describes as an “utter pro.”
I recently caught up with the man behind the success as he continues his domination of both the quizzing and entertainment world in which he discussed just what sets The Chase USA and The Chase UK apart.
Commenting on the additional energy present in the USA studio, Mark reveals that there is an audience of 150, predominantly made up of unemployed actors trying to catch the attention of TV executives, which inevitably adds to the very evident buzzing atmosphere and tension of the show. The crowd whoops for the contestant, boos and growls at The Beast and cries out in shock at the mere mention of a sum of dollars. It’s contagious and you can see that the entire audience is enraptured by the battle of good guy versus evil. Mark described it entirely accurately as a “bear pit.”
“There are tons of subtle differences between the two shows which mean they have a different atmosphere,” Mark explains. “But perhaps the difference for me is that in the US it is my show. In the UK, I’m a bit player.”
A man with Mark’s presence and personality is made for such an environment, which he agrees sometimes involves a somewhat higher degree of performance as well as quizzing knowledge. So, with three other quizzers to compete against in the UK both in terms of statistics and for the limelight, it’s clear to see why the USA version is an attractive opportunity. Mark isn’t coy when asked if there is ever competition between himself and the three other UK chasers; Anne Hegerty, Shaun Wallace and Paul Sinha. “As for competitiveness between the chasers, yes there is, and we’ll leave it at that!” he declares.
It’s clear that Mark is fiercely proud of both shows, but he is even more proud of the integrity of the the integrity of the shows and of himself and his colleagues. When asked if he’d ever thrown a game for contestants he liked or a charity event, Mark’s message to any disbelievers out there is clear: “I’ve never thrown a question, let alone a show. I would happily swear a deposition to that and I am confident the other three chasers would be the same,” he says. “We use Beyond Dispute (an independent company which monitors the fairness of competitions and quiz shows) and many other safety features backstage.”
However there will always be the keyboard warriors, forum users and social media fans who doubt this. “You could take them backstage and show them every safety feature and you just know some of them would immediately post ‘Yeah but…’” I am tempted to agree that this is the nature of the beast, but do not want to split my interviewee’s sides before we have finished talking.
Continuing to speak about the US version of the show, Mark claims to have had no doubt that the show and its format would be a success overseas. And with a different slant on the questions given the inevitable favouring of US based questions on the show, The Beast has an even bigger challenge in his quest to destroy teams of contestants. In fact, Mark explains that even the selection of contestants in the US makes things more challenging for him. “The UK is an everyman show, so they literally go from 18-82, and they have four players where the US have three. So they can carry a more ‘interesting’ player in the UK show,” he explains. “The US is more Jeopardy!-esque with most players being serious quizzers in their 20s and 30s. Two of the best contestants were American and I would never have faced them in the British version.”
Both shows continue to perform well in the ratings and go from strength to strength and Mark admits that he is instantly recognisable in the UK and can’t go to a supermarket or pub without being recognised. So is the fame equally as big in America? “Over there it is slowly growing. Mainly it is expats or British holidaymakers who recognise me,” Mark tells me, before adding: “It is a much bigger show in the US. For GSN, it is their number one show and they back us to the hilt.”
With ratings continually climbing, I ask Mark if he envisages whether they will follow the UK version’s route in the USA and introduce a second chaser but he is adamant that this not the direction this show is going to be taking. Stating that he and Brooke are more like co-presenters, it becomes clear that the format of the USA show is working much too well to risk making any sweeping changes.
I can now don my ‘I survived an encounter with The Beast’ T Shirt and firmly thank Mark for his time for Pauseliveaction.
Non US residents can now see The Chase USA on Challenge TV at 8pm starting Monday 13th October 2014. For US residents, The Chase is currently showing on Tuesdays at 9pm ET/PT on GSN.
Let me know your thoughts on the show, its UK counterpart and The Beast himself using the comments box below and remember to follow me on Twitter for more news, reviews and interviews. https://twitter.com/Our_manPLA
If you enjoyed this interview, don’t forget to check out my interview with Mark’s colleague, Anne ‘The Governess’ Hegerty by clicking this link: https://pauseliveaction.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/the-chase-exclusive-interview-with-anne-the-governess-hegerty/
What’s it like to be a contestant on The Chase? Charlie Gardner tells all in our interview here: https://pauseliveaction.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-chase-interview-with-contestant-charlie-gardner/
Written By Our Man In The North.