In The Hot Seat

Everyone has that one friend who always says how well they’d do on a game show.

That’s not me.

My general knowledge definitely isn’t my pride and joy, and the pressures of being on camera and in front of a live audience has been known to get me on the very real verge of self-combustion.

But after seeing a friend win $200,000 on Millionaire: Hot Seat, I thought: ‘Hey, I could really go $200,000 right about now’, and just went for it.

I instantly went online and filled out the application, which involved a very quick and quite easy five questions, as well as your general name, age, education etc questions. It was all done and sent off within five minutes, and I didn’t really think much more of it.

About a month later I was reminded of it when I received an email reply telling me to come on down for an audition at the University of Melbourne, which turned out to be less of an audition and more of a qualifying test of my question-answering ability, which I promptly failed.

In a full lecture auditorium, thirty questions in the traditional Millionaire format were put on screen, and we all had to answer them on a scrap piece of paper. They involved a drastic mix of stupidly easy questions and absurdly hard ones, and by the end of it, I was already assuming my short-term Millionaire dream was well and truly over.

And I was half right.

We found out that the cut-off limit to move onto the next stage of auditions was 20 answers out of 30, and in my typical ‘close but not good enough’ tradition, I got 19 of those darn things right. Filled with a mixture of amusement and embarrassment, I slowly trudged out of the auditorium in my own special version of a walk of shame.

But in an M Night Shyamalan-esque twist, I was quickly pulled aside by a staff member, and told to stick around for a ‘survey’. After seeing all the others that were also plucked out of the depths of despair, it became obvious that the survey didn’t actually exist.

After being by far the odd one out in a room filled with middle-aged and older individuals, I was now surrounded by other youngsters, and a handful of adorable oldies. We were the unique ones, the different ones, at least by Millionaire’s standards.

I was finally being rewarded for giving in to my game-show greed at a relatively young age.

We were whisked away to a smaller room and told they we had a second chance, and then instructed fill out a multitude of papers with the expected questions: ‘what are your hobbies?’, ‘‘what’s your most interesting story?’, ‘do you know any famous people’, and, of course, ‘what would you do if you won a millionaire dollars?’.

This was the first time that I’d actually even considered this question, and I genuinely had absolutely no idea what to answer. I still can’t remember what I actually wrote down, and I don’t know the answer to this day, but apparently it involved fixing a fence in my backyard so alpacas stop invading.

We then did a quick interview to camera, telling one interesting story that Eddie could talk about on the show, and we were all done. Leaving this audition felt quite similar to the online one, I quickly returned to the real world and didn’t really think much more of it. It all felt like some sort of hilarious imaginary land that never really led to anywhere.

It was a much longer wait this time, but one day in a tute at uni I got a call from the show organiser, who happily informed me that I was scheduled to appear on the show in two weeks time, and a confusing mix of absolute fear and pure excitement filled my body.

The night before the shooting consisted of thoughts of ‘oh god why did I do this I’m so nervous I’ll probably sweat so much Eddie will slip over and hit his head and then I’ll be the sweaty guy that ruined Eddie’s career’, and of trying to repress and notion at all of actually winning any money at all.

I was instructed to bring three different outfits, which was a definite struggle, and to wash my hair within 48 hours (also a struggle). I decided to do a bit of studying beforehand, mostly to settle the nerves, with the odds of actually looking at something that gets asks about as likely me getting on Deal Or No Deal. I looked at Australia’s Wikipedia page, because no-one wants to be that guy that gets a basic history question wrong about his country, as well as the ologies, a list of phobias, and past Australian and American leaders. Ultimately it did more to distract me than actually prepare me for the next day, but this was probably just as useful.

I steeled myself all day that I’d be happy if I just got one question right, any question at all, so I could have that claim to fame forever. But as with most things in life, deep down, you think of all the possibilities, the glorious ‘what ifs’.

When there’s the opportunity, however hilariously minuscule, to change your life in the space of half an hour, it’s sure as hell going to be the only thing on my mind. It’s not every day you have your chance, but there it was, and you can’t help but dream.

Where would my first holiday destination be? Should I cry on national TV? Will they let me hug Eddie? How will I get out of all these joke deals I’ve made with people to give them a cut of the winnings?

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With a 8am start time, the actual filming day was all a bit of a blur. After signing all the paperwork and going through the basics of how to answer questions and the like (you’d be surprised how much footage they have of people doing it wrong) we were put through a mock-up version of the filming, with a fake Eddie to boot.

Apparently the hardest part of the filming is right at the beginning, where the camera focuses on you for about 15 seconds and you have to awkwardly smile and wave at it, although by the end of the day I’d probably say the hardest bit is answering the questions.

Mercifully, I was in the first group to be filmed, and didn’t have to stew in my overwhelming nerves for too long. After my first experience with make-up and having most of my carefully planned outfits rejected, I was finally on set as Eddie McGuire strode happily in.

I got onto the hot seat for the $1,000 question. I’d be training myself for this moment, thinking about what I’d say, how I’d look, make sure to laugh at Eddie’s jokes. And the moment finally came. “It’s time for an ad break.” Well shit.

After the painful break, it was finally time to get going, and the first question was relatively simply. “Where on your body to you get a bunion?”. I could relax a little. This was an easy one.

At least I thought it was.

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It really is true, what they say about second guessing yourself with the pressure. Although I was immediately positive that you get them on your feet, a thousand thoughts crept rudely into my mind, playing with my confidence and suddenly there was only a few seconds left. Thankfully, I locked in B, and got the question right. Cool, there it is, that’s all I want to do right? But it doesn’t work like that.

Watching back, I honestly don’t remember saying that I’d never had a bunion on national TV, but hey there it is.

It’s at this point that advised everyone I know to stop watching, that was the highpoint, the peak of my short-lived television career. And it was about the glamorous world of bunions.

The next question was about a company that I’m still not quite sure exists, so I quickly jumped in with my new-found ability to pass, and got the hell out of there. After watching a lot of the people I’d met throughout the day drop out or pass as well, I got back in the hot seat with only three questions left.

I quickly sank back into the surprisingly uncomfortable hot seat. Eddie smiles at me like we’re longtime friends. The lights dim. I quickly tried to work out what the odds were of me completely guessing three questions right. I couldn’t do it. Hopefully it wasn’t a maths question.

“What is the name for a reddish-brown horse?”

Whelp.

Horses are definitely not my strong suit. I rode one once for a primary school birthday party and had a minor skin reaction and nearly fell off twice so I’m not really all that endeared to the animals. And now I hate them.

I had absolutely no clear. I couldn’t even answer whether they were all, in fact, names for horses. But hey, it’s still a one in four chance right?

After some brilliant deduction, where I actually knocked an option out because I didn’t like the sound of it (Piebald does sound pretty stupid), I rushed it and locked in C, Pinto. In reality, I thought it kinda sounded like red wine which worked in with reddish-brown, but on TV I was much less eloquent, merely saying that I liked the sound of that one.

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Eddie was merciful and quickly told me it was wrong, I stood up, shook his hand, walked off to the side of the studio, and it was all over. It was a confounding mix of relief, and a dawning sense of disappointment, a waste of what was, in all likelihood, a once in a lifetime chance.

But I’m still glad I did it. I got to meet Eddie, confirmed that I cannot spontaneously combust from sheer nerves, and it’s a damn good conversation starter.

I think the biggest thing that I took out of the whole experience was a newfound sense of courage and impulse, to try out new things and just see where they lead, and that it’s not always bad to take myself so far outside of my comfort zone that I can’t see my happy place (a couch, TV snacks, and Police Ten 7).

And an intense dislike for horses.

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The Issue With Single-Issue Parties

The farcical micro-party preferencing system will undermine the ability and purpose of the Australian Senate, with an influx of irrelevant single-issue parties looking on course to win seats.

The Senate is granted wide-ranging power in the Australian political makeup, serving as a review and critique of the lower house, and possessing the means to block certain legislation, but for it to be effective, it requires a diverse range of voices. These voices need to be able to discuss the array of issues that it will inevitably encounter, not just one, but it’s looking increasingly likely that the Australian Sports Party, and the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts will each win a seat in the Senate, single-issue candidates with little background and even fewer policies.

Wayne Dropulich, a gridiron playing engineer, looks set to win a Senate seat in Western Australia for the Australian Sports Party. The party’s ideology is, unsurprisingly, focused on advocating sports, and little else. Their website reveals no insight into how they would act in the Senate, or any other beliefs or values on wider policies.

At least the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party include a quick byline on their role, saying it “will primarily be to review proposed legislation, which is passed in the lower house”, but apart from that textbook definition of the Senate’s basic role, and a few other broad statements on this, there’s very little else of substance.

These candidates are now looking increasingly likely to be holding an important chunk of power, and will be voting on issues ranging from the carbon tax, mining tax, and a possible intervention in Syria. It’s hard to imagine how these party’s will act as the reliable ‘checker’ of government legislation on these issues, when they are so squarely focused on their own specific areas.

It may unfortunately also lead to an increase in shady, underground deals and alliances, with these parties accepting bills in order to further their own specific interests. We just have no way to tell how they will act on these prevalent issues in the national interest.

These single-issue parties are a blight on the Senate, wasting the crucial opportunity for diverse, minor parties holding some semblance of power in Australian politics, parties that need to effectively and transparently evaluate legislation on a wide-range of topics.

But who voted for these highly specific minor parties? Well, by the looks of the ABC and AEC’s figures, not many people actually did. The rise of these single-issue parties is due in part to the excessive amount of candidates on the Senate ballot, and the accompanying murky underworld of micro-party preferencing.

The Australian Sports Party will win a seat with only 0.22% of the primary, first-preference vote in Western Australia, while the Labor member received 12% and will not. Can we really call a victory with 0.22% of the vote an accurate representation of the state’s wishes? And is it truly democratic if the victory came down to back-room deals and preferences that handed others votes to the Party?
A similar situation has been seen in Victoria, with the Motoring Enthusiasts likely to receive a seat while only receiving 0.52% of the initial allocation, well behind the likes of The Sex Party, Family First, The Wikileaks Party, and the Palmer United Party.

In NSW, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm’s name appeared first on the expansive ballot, and this, along with his party’s similar name to the LNP, may result in the very much pro-gun, former veterinarian gaining a seat in the Senate. Leyonhjelm has done nothing to shy away from the reasons of his voting results, duping himself the “senator for the donkeys”.

This process of micro-party preferencing is verging on non-sensical. It’s counter-intuitive and doesn’t properly represent the votes of the Australian people. The Senate’s purpose is to amend, negotiate and balance bills and legislation, and it’s hard to imagine how this will be achieved by parties whose major, and seemingly sole, focus is on cars and sports, hardly the most commonly discussed issues in Parliament.

It’s time to fix this system of voting so that our elected Senators, who are imbued with such important powers and responsibilities, accurately reflect the overall vote and allow the Senate to function as the check on the House Of Representatives’ power as it is intended to be.

Filtering The Truth

The Coalition’s Internet filter policy wasn’t badly worded, it was just badly lied about.

A mere 41 hours out from polling, a UK-esque default Internet filter policy, forcing user to opt-out, was introduced by the Coalition, hidden amongst a AU$10 million online safety policy published online.

This story could’ve probably been written about the issue of trying to sneak a policy like this in less than two days out from the election, or the sheer ridiculousness and pointlessness of this style of internet censorship, but it only got worse.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared on Triple J’s Hack program yesterday evening, and both confirmed and defended this filter, labeling it as being “like what the British are going to provide”, and clearing stating that is the “default”; “you can switch it off, then that’s your call”.

A few hours later, Turnbull was desperately back-tracking. “Policy released today wrongly indicated we supported an opt-out system of internet filtering,” he tweeted. “This is not our policy and has never been.”

But why then was Turnbull professing the strengths of this policy just a few hours ago?

Turnbull continued, and claimed that “the policy which was issued today was poorly worded and incorrectly indicated that the Coalition supported an ‘opt-out’ system of internet filtering for both mobile and fixed line services”.

Turnbull defended his statements on Hack by saying: “I read [the] policy shortly before going on [Triple J]. I did my best to make sense of it, until I could ensure it was authoritatively corrected”.

Well, the Shadow Communications Minister probably shouldn’t be going on air and discussing very important policy issues that he hasn’t yet made sense of, but the real problem here is with the claim that the policy was “badly worded”.

The original policy was quickly erased from the Coalition’s website, but it read: “We will introduce nationally agreed default safety standards for smartphones and other devices, and internet access services..[it will] involve mobile phone operators installing adult content filters on phones which will be switched on as the default unless the customer proves he or she is at least 18 years of age.” And in terms of home wi-fi, “will be switched on as the default unless the customer specifies otherwise”.

That is not badly worded. In fact, that is very precisely and clearly worded, and it outlines a specific plan for an opt-out internet filter to be implemented be a possible Coalition Government.

But according to both Turnbull and Tony Abbott, it misrepresented what the Party stands for, and bad wording is to blame.

The situation only got worse, with Coalition MP Paul Fletcher, the man in charge of policy surrounding child safety online, confirming the opt-out style earlier in the day, in an interview with ZDNet’s Josh Taylor, whose brilliant reporting broke this story.

“The key thing is it is an opt-out,” Fletcher confirmed.

There’s not much confusion there. The man behind the very policy seemed assured of what it would involved, but this was apparently not cleared by Turnbull or Abbott, although they both admitted to having read the policy before it was published.

The Coalition’s actions yesterday weren’t to just correct a badly worded policy, but to attempt to conceal either some serious disunity within the party, or a drastically abrupt backflip after much public outcry.

Either way, it’s not a good look for a Party whose major selling point has been “trust” throughout this entire election, and is definitely not giving the voters who will probably be electing them much credit at all.

Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos

“Take a look at your beloved candidates. They’re nothing but hideous space reptiles.”

Although it’s a Homer Simpson quote, it could just as easily be related to the Australian election.

It’s from the classic Halloween episode where the aliens, Kang and Kudos, kidnap two politicians and take on their appearance. Nobody really notices anything too different or suspects anything, and even when they are revealed, the public are powerless to stop one of them being elected.

Despite this being an excellent satire of the American situation, it can also just as brilliantly relate to our current situation in Australian politics. I’m not saying someone should try to yank our two leader’s heads to see if a giant alien is hiding underneath, but I’m also not saying that this is a ridiculous idea.

There are a number of remarkable similarities between the alien’s actions and those of Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd in the last couple of weeks. They make a series of bizarre, incomprehensible public statements, and a number of hilarious/depressing gaffes (suppository, anyone?), and although the two probably won’t be caught holding hands in public any time soon, you just never know at the moment.

Kodos so eloquently sums up the modern-day election campaign by saying: “All they want to hear are bland pleasantries embellished by an occasional saxophone solo or infant kiss”. Replace saxophone solo with a visit to a factory or school, and infant kiss, with awkward kiss to the back of a poor lady’s head, and you’ve got a precisely accurate summation of the Australian election.

In a campaign speech, one of the aliens gives the inspiring proclamation of “We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling towards freedom”. This could easily sub in for either leader’s election speeches, with both focusing bemusingly on ‘A New Way’, while constantly emphasising past mistakes and returning to old policies.

The alien claims that the “politics of failure have failed…we need to make them work again”, echoing the sentiments of Rudd’s announcement against negativity a few weeks again, while continuing to provide a negative campaign.

Homer eventually reveals the candidates for what they are, stating that they are “phonies” and “alien replicons from beyond the moon”, and let’s be honest, who hasn’t, at some point in time, wondered whether Rudd or Abbott is in fact an alien imposter from an outside universe?

Kang accurately surmises that the people are unable to do anything about it because “it’s a two-party system; you have to vote for one us”, a depressingly apt way to also sum up the Australian system. After being questioned about a third-party, the aliens implore them to “go ahead, throw away your vote”, a statement even more relevant to our situation following the Coalition’s preferencing which is seemingly an attempt to ‘Rains Of Castamere’ the Greens out of Parliament (if you haven’t seen Game Of Thrones yet don’t Google that one).

There are no real, significant differences between our two major parties, nothing big enough to allow debate to be primarily focused on policy. Because of this, our election campaigns have become a battleground of personality and rhetoric, of media appearances and sham ‘debates’.

The episode concludes with Kang being elected and immediately enslaving the population, and Homer says “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos”, a sentiment that many of us may be employing following the upcoming election.

Mistaken For Strangers

‘Mistaken For Strangers’, billed as a music documentary about The National, is neither about The National, nor even really a music doco. And that’s why it’s brilliant.

‘Mistaken For Strangers’ is truly about the camera operator and directer Tom Berninger, and his complicated relationship with his brother Matt, the leader singer from the band. He provides a humorous, self-deprecative and ultimately moving portrayal of being the young brother in the shadows of a highly successful sibling, and wonderfully shot live footage from The National’s expansive world tour of 2010 provides a lovely backdrop and foundation for the true story of the film.

It is certainly not your typical band doco. Hardly anything is revealed about the band, their origins, and the production of this years Trouble Will Find Me. The other band members are utilised mostly for their opinions of Matt and his relationships, and Tom Berninger gradually becomes the focus of the movie.

‘Mistaken For Strangers’ is a quirky, eccentric, and borderline self-indulgent reflection of life on the road as an outsider, but Berninger manages to achieve this while still remaining relatable and likable, as well as portraying the band in a wholly positive light.

The tale begins when Matt invites his 9-years-younger brother along to the world tour as a roadie. Tom decides to bring along a small camera, and eventually, and predictably, becomes much more focused on creating this film than his real duties on the tour, something that leads to many heated, and undeniably entertaining, arguments between the brothers.

Tom constantly references to Matt’s success and fame, at times bitterly, and others just bemusingly, and can only a muster a series of highly amusing questions to the other band members, including “do you ever get sleepy?”, “do you take your wallet with you on stage?”, and “which of you can play faster?” (directed at the Dessner twins).

Matt Berninger comes across as patient and light-hearted, although at times he’s shown to, understandably, lose his temper at his brother, and funnily does this after cereal was discovered in the hotel bathroom.

Ultimately, you don’t need to be a fan of The National to enjoy this film for the nuances and relatable themes, and you’ll definitely be much more inclined to the band after viewing it. It’s an unconventional, constantly engaging, intimate reflection on living in the shadows of a successful older brother, and the difficulties involved in relationships like this.

The Fake Debate

What we witnessed last night was not a debate.

It would have been more apt to name it ‘two politicians giving separate press conferences while standing close to each other’, but that doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

A worthwhile debate requires interaction and arguments between the two leaders, but we didn’t get any of that. What we got was a dull, bleak charade full of rhetoric with no real substance.

On the few occasions when Rudd or Abbot interrupted the other, or attempted to counter their points, they were quickly shot down, and then continued to rehash the same tired rhetoric that’s been prevalent across the first week of what will be a very long campaign.

The Australian people deserve better than this to accurately make up their mind and participate in the democratic system, and if there are any more of these ‘debates’ in a similar vein, it will be a wasted and tiresome display.

Both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott barely veered from their own very set scripts, and often strayed far away from the question, choosing instead to address their opponents perceived failings.

Nothing was achieved in this ‘debate’ that couldn’t have equally been produced from two separate press conferences, or just a simple press release. We didn’t see either leader assert themselves over the other, or venture off script to rebut the others point.

But the fact that the debate failed at its very basic level to provide a thought-provoking discussion between our two prospective prime ministers is not either politicians fault, or the moderator. It’s the basic rules that accompany it that prevented any real debate to take place. With very restricted time limits on each leader, little to no chance for rebuttal, and strict rules against interrupting or directly addressing the opponent, there was never going to be any productive discussion.

It’s almost impossible to imagine that this ‘debate’ would have even slightly swayed any undecided voters, and isn’t that the exact point of these events taking place? We didn’t discover any real strengths or weaknesses from either leader, and the status-quo was religiously upheld by both.

The only moment that could possibly inspire swing voters was Rudd’s announcement of a conscious vote on same-sex marriage within 100 days of his possible re-election, but even this was announced before the ‘debate’, and could have easily just been put out in a press release.

The next ‘debate’ must give our leaders a chance to actually have a real, interactive discussion between each other, to give the voters a real insight to how the handle the pressure of a live, open debate, and how they can actually communicate their policies without the aid of ingrained slogans and obviously prepared answers to predictable questions.

The forthcoming debates must be reconsidered in this light, or they might as well be replaced by simultaneous media releases from each leader, and we deserve much more than that.

Wine Glasses, Gaffes, And Scaring Children: Election Week #1

The first week of the election buildup featured pretty much exactly what you’d expect: mistakes, petty insults, and little substance.

In a week where Australian politics got its very own versions of much maligned American politicians Sarah Palin and Anthony Weiner, it was a farcical and slightly comical beginning to what will be a very long election.

When the weeks starts with the revelation that a chairman of an Ethics (yes, ethics) Committee sent his mistress pictures of “his penis plonked in a glass of red wine”, it’s probably going to be a bad week. Yep, Coalition MP Peter Dowling’s attempts to one-up Weiner were revealed, and he promptly stepped aside, but we’ll have to live with that mental image for the rest of our lives.

Carrying on with the ‘let’s embarrass Australia internationally’ theme, Jaymes Diaz’s catastrophic interview went viral and made the headlines in the US. LNP’s Diaz claimed that the party has a “six-point plan” to ‘stop the boats’, but after being asked a total of eight times to reveal these, he could not. Diaz stumbled through the painfully cringeworthy interview before finally being saved by a disapproving minder, and slowly backing away from the interviewer, looking dazed and lost.

This typified how the campaign so far has been solely focused on catchy slogans and the go-to line of ‘stop the boats’, without any real substance from either Party.

You’d think that a candidate being unable to detail any of his Party’s key policies would be the biggest gaffe of the week, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong.

Enter Stephanie Banister, the figure-head for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Banister showed a predictably awful lack of basic common knowledge in the interview with Channel Seven, which included the phrase “I don’t oppose Islam as a country”, reference to the Koran as “haram” and claims that the national disability insurance scheme was “working at the moment”. It doesn’t begin for another three years. In another embarrassment for the country, this interview also went viral, and has led to many accurate comparisons with the one and only Sarah Palin.

Not surprisingly, Banister is also facing criminal charges after allegedly placing anti-Muslim stickers on supermarket products, which is probably what got her into the One Nation Party in the first place. Mercifully, she has now resigned.

On the topic of actual policies, the week was rather sparse. The focus, as usual, was on economic issues, with each side announcing one big spending policy. Labor announced an extra $450 million for out of school care places, while the Coalition stated that it would cut company tax by 1.5%.

Meanwhile Kevin Rudd visited a lot of schools and Tony Abbott visited a lot of factories.

Will it get any better tomorrow? It’s debatable.