The United Kingdom and Ireland have been quietly churning out a steady stream of high quality TV programs lately. If we’re in another golden era of TV, we owe a great deal to this lot. While sitcoms and dramas have attracted more overseas fans in recent years, the panel show remains the pinnacle genre for British TV. Like Big Fat Quiz and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Taskmaster moved from little known gem to a watercooler show with many Americans discovering it via YouTube during lockdown.
The basic format is so: five comedians/entertainers are tasked with completing small challenges around the Taskmaster property, a modest house and yard complete with a tool shed and caravan. They can use anything they find on the property unless explicitly prohibited by the individual task’s rules to complete it. The tasks are reminiscent of a party trick or summer camp activity, ranging from fitting a plush camel through the smallest gap, designing the most outstanding trick shot, building the largest tower out of cardboard boxes in the middle of the woods, to painting a rainbow in the correct color order inside a pitch black room. Some challenges are pretty straight forward while others function like a riddle.
Each episode features the cast and presenters Greg Davies and Alex Horne watching back the footage of each task in front of a studio audience with Davies (the Taskmaster) assigning points to each member based on their performance. The scoring is based on timing, creativity, and adherence to the brief. The most entertaining competitors are either deviously clever or hilariously inept. As the show comes to a close on its 12th cms
season this fall, we take a look back at the best contestants in Taskmaster history.
Our Bake Off queen, Mel Giedroyc is no stranger to the panel show industrial complex. She’s a bright light on every show she’s cast on, bringing the right amount of silliness and enthusiasm to the program. Like many contestants, watching an often clueless Giedroyc walk through her thought process out loud provides many of the episode’s most comical moments.
Memorable Task: Camouflage yourself.
Nish represents one of the show’s main archetypes: the eternally exasperated. More entertaining than cunning, Kumar is often delightfully bewildered by his obstacles and regularly squeals expletives, namely the hilariously childish yelp, “ah, piss and shit!” Part of the fun of Kumar is watching him react to his own pitiful performances in the studio, occasionally learning he overlooked a key component that would have saved him some rage.
Memorable Task: Light the candle in the caravan.
Most Americans will probably recognize Phillips from her role as the Prime Minister of Finland Minna Häkkinen on Veep. Rather quiet, she’s a very unassuming competitor that seemingly comes out of nowhere to wow the Taskmaster. She almost always is the last shown during rounds, a spot reserved for either the most brilliant or most woeful performance. Philips is the former, either flawlessly completing the task like it’s nothing or finding some uniquely sly solution. She inspires some truly significant imposter syndrome.
Memorable Task: Remove the table tennis ball from the pipe.
Gilbert is the king of “technically that counts.” Unlike Philips, Gilbert’s prowess on the show is frequently a subject of debate. He’s a sneaky bastard that breezes through challenges completely in his element. He never fails to surprise as one of the most unpredictable and resourceful competitors in the show’s history. Gilbert seems the most game of anyone on the cast and clearly relishes in finding unique ways to interpret the rules, which makes him so captivating to watch. His satsuma in a sock win was bullshit though, which brings us to our next bloke…
Memorable Task: Don’t blink.
Acaster is always a welcomed sight. His performances on Taskmaster are a mixed bag of aimless mess and point winning turns. The comedian is more endearing for his humor than his problem-solving, largely coming from his seeming contempt for the show he’s signed up for. Watching him go after Davies and other contestants, like Gilbert, has produced some of the show’s best moments.
Memorable Task: Bring the most confusing prize.
The Starstruck star is as charming and funny on Taskmaster as you’d expect. The New Zealander is a rather skillful performer who really shines on the more theatrical tasks. Like a good stand-up, she provides plenty of fun and witty banter with Davies and the rest of the team. It is impossible not to root for her.
Memorable Task: Make a part of your body look abnormally long.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.