Opinion

In praise of the wonderfully refreshing Taskmaster contestant Sophie Willian

Watching the comedian's confused reaction to bizarre tasks is like seeing yourself represented on TV for the first time, says Lucy Sweet

NIck Mohammed, Sophie Willan and Steve Pemberton on S17 of Taskmaster

Sophie Willan with Nick Mohammed (left) and Steve Pemberton on S17 of Taskmaster. Image: Avalon / Channel 4

I do not enjoy organised activities – and that includes playing any kind of game or taking part in anything that a group of people has decreed is ‘fun’. Even the word ‘games’ makes me break out in hives and takes me back to rounders-related torture at school, where I consistently failed to hit the ball with the stick. (Or was it a bat?) If you never wanted to see me again, the best way to go about it would be to invite me to a day out at Go Ape, or a climbing wall, or an escape room. I’d block your number before you could say ‘Crystal Maze‘.

Depending on the circumstances and the people in the room, even board games and card games can also activate this primal terror. Of course, if I win anything, it’s sheer luck, because whenever anyone explains any rules, wind starts whistling through my ears and all I can hear is the theme tune to Steptoe and Son played mournfully on a trumpet. 

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For that reason, Taskmaster has always ever so slightly repelled me. Even though the whole point of it is to do ridiculous things and get laughed at, the part of my brain that rules the fear of Getting Something Wrong In Front Of Everyone lights up like a pinball machine. 

Every time I watch it, I can’t help imagining the horror of failing to throw a carrot over a caravan or fill an egg cup with my tears. What if I make a fool of myself in a slightly different way than the other people? What if Greg Davies only gives me one point and says something mean? I don’t think I’d ever be able to leave the house again. 

Sometimes, though, there’s a contestant that is the absolute embodiment of what I’d be like if I was held at gunpoint and forced to go on Taskmaster. At the moment, it’s comedian Sophie Willan. She doesn’t understand any of the rules. It’s so wonderfully refreshing, like seeing yourself represented on TV for the very first time. While the others are going for it, using their logical brains and trying to outdo each other, Sophie languishes at the bottom of the scoreboard looking permanently confused. 

When asked to ‘Create Tension’ she stood on one leg, put a small teacup on her head and hissed. When told to bring along something that was fun when it was turned upside down, she brought a steak and kidney pudding. But she spoke to my soul when she was trying to throw hoops over a gorilla floating down a river. After failing to land any hoops on the plastic primate, she had to walk across the river without getting her top half wet, but she immediately wobbled, fell over, got her foot stuck and started helplessly sinking into the riverbed. I could tell she was having a terrible time, but she was having a terrible time so slowly that nobody really noticed. 

Afterwards she was openly mocked, yet somehow managed not to burst into tears and is still happily going strong in last place. 

I guess, though, to be on Taskmaster, you need to be a specific kind of person. You have to be a famous-ish comedian with a thick skin, self-belief and a keen sense of humour about yourself. Otherwise it would just be a bunch of people reliving their childhood trauma and then crying on the phone to their agent, begging to be airlifted off the set. 

Of course, it’s not like I need to worry about ever being on the show, because my local lollipop man has a higher celebrity profile than me. But what if Alex Horne turned up in the middle of the night and asked me to say the word ‘metronome’ while eating a poppadom? The very idea makes me shudder. In fact, I think I’d rather go to Go Ape.

Taskmaster series 17 airs weekly from 9pm on Thursdays on Channel 4.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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