Monkey impressionist is IT's strongest link

Twelve years of IT knowledge was unlikely to help Ben Baskaran when he faced the formidable Anne Robinson on TV gameshow The...

Twelve years of IT knowledge was unlikely to help Ben Baskaran when he faced the formidable Anne Robinson on TV gameshow The Weakest Link, writes Nathalie Towner.

But Baskaran, who was recently promoted to assistant director for immigration at the UK Immigration Service from his role running the organisation's IT systems, is not one to back down easily. It would take more than Robinson's steely glare to turn a former head of systems support at the Prison Service into a gibbering wreck.

Baskaran applied to the show after seeing the phone number for applicants flagged up on TV. "All my friends said I should do it," he explains. "My wife says my head is full of rubbish."

After filling out the application form he was called for an audition at the Shepherd's Bush studios.

The potential candidates were not given an easy ride.

"I had to pretend to be an animal, so I chose to be a monkey," says Baskaran. "They probably wanted to see how extroverted we were - all one bloke did was stand in the corner and say 'woof woof'."

Despite Baskaran's monkey impressions, his chances were looking slim after he got all the answers wrong in a practice round. Luckily he made a stunning comeback in the second round, getting all the answers right.

He was invited to appear on the show, but work came first, and he had to turn down the opportunity in favour of attending a training course.

Fortunately, he was given a second chance, and on 21 December Baskaran was back at the studios. A quick appraisal of the other contestants showed the team to be normal enough, but how would they perform?

"All I wanted to do was get past round one," says Baskaran. But he kept giving the right answers and was the strongest link four times.

Unusually, there was not a single vote against him during the whole contest. "When there were just four of us left I realised I actually stood a chance of winning," he says.

When they were down to the last three contestants Baskaran decided it was time to get tough and do a bit of tactical voting. "The other two were equally good but I voted off Colin because he was in his fifties and the other candidate was only 21," he says. "I thought this would give me a better chance if any questions came up relating to incidents before he was born."

It was to be a nail-biting finish. Baskaran and the other contestant were tied after five questions in the elimination round. Everything depended on whether Baskaran's rival got the next question right. Victory was in sight.

"The final question that my opponent got was 'Who was the founder of scientology?'" says Baskaran.

His earlier tactical move paid off as his opponent got it wrong. "I knew the answer because of my age - it was L Ron Hubbard," he says.

The grand sum of £2,440 was all his. The programme was broadcast on 18 January, but fame has not altered Baskaran's life - in fact, he has not been stopped in the street once.

But we must ask, what was Robinson really like?

"She came over to have a chat with me and the other finalist when the game was over," says Baskaran. "She is actually very pleasant."

How disappointing.

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