February 23, 2015

Review: 1000 Heartbeats

This unique quizzer takes concepts from everywhere and blends them into one engaging, fulfilling hour of television.

ITV’s new quizzer has contestants answering trivia questions while trying to keep their heart rate as smooth and as steady as possible.

No, not The Chair.

It’s a new show that has 7 different games to win a large cash jackpot. You learn the rules of the game, then decide to play.

No, no. Not The Cube either.

It’s unique: there’s a live orchestra playing dynamic music live in studio.

It’s not Twenty-One.

I’m being cheeky. 1000 Heartbeats is, on the surface, an amalgam of the unique parts of all the aforementioned game shows. Each contestant is hooked up to a heart rate monitor (and hidden incredibly throughout the show). Each contestant also has 1,000 heartbeats to beat 7 different games of trivia or math problems. Heartbeats are taken away as they are beaten in the contestant’s body—if your heart’s racing at 144 BPM, then you’ll lose 144 heartbeats every minute, meaning you’ve got a little under 7 minutes of time, or one minute per game. The more calm you are, the more time you get. But no one’s calm on television.

The format was devised by Paul Farrer, whose musical work is celebrated through the game show industry. You may recognize some of his greatest hits:

Naturally, the music in this show is amazing. A live string quartet plays the theme music live in studio. A click track and drums are played in studio based on the contestant’s heartbeat, and the quartet plays live in tempo. Farrer is on stage conducting. The more tense you are, the more fast-paced the music is. It’s all done in real-time, according to Farrer:



It’s refreshing in a game show to see so much emphasis on the music. The 1000 Heartbeats String Quartet even has their own Twitter account. Good music can’t make or break a game show, but if a show puts this much emphasis on their music, it’s a good indication to how much care they’re spending on the production as a whole.


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The trivia formats presented in each game are derivative, but in this day and age, it’s hard not to be. The first round of play is a Dis or Dat style question: is a fact about one thing, or is it about another thing? I got whiffs of Krypton Factor, Perfection and Pressure Pad (also pretty derivative but still) in each game. I haven’t seen enough episodes to know if the games cycle in and out, but I admire how the games get harder and harder as the money grows, but not necessarily the material. You’ll struggle as a contestant if you hit a gap in your knowledge, but you can’t really blame the game so much; the difficulty ramps up nicely overall. There’s even some math problems strewn about. Each game requires you to get a set number of responses correct.

A nice mechanic is the step-off. Generally, incorrect responses penalize the player 25 heartbeats. You can also get a new question by stepping off the play area for 50 heartbeats. So, if you think you’d get more than two wrong by blind guessing, step off and get a new question. What’s also nice is that in terms of correct responses needed, your count doesn’t reset. Savvy players could use the down time to try some deep breathing.

Another great mechanic is the Cash-Out game. Players don’t just get to walk away with any banked money. If a contestant wants to end the game, they use their remaining heartbeats to answer 5 consecutive True or False questions. If they screw up at any point, then they have to start over and answer 5 in a row. If they succeed, they take home what they’ve banked. If they don’t, and they run out of heartbeats, they leave with nothing. It’s very much a unique part of the game, ties into the theme well and makes it really feel like the contestant earns their money.

Vernon Kay hosts this show and while his function is more often than not supplemental, moving along the action when necessary, he is his usual casual, charming self, and emotes appropriately. He comments to the contestant things I was thinking as they celebrated or struggled. No complaints there.

The only complaint I did have was that the timer, so to speak, starts while the questions are still being read. I’d like it to start afterwards, but it’s a minor nitpick. From the unique heartbeat mechanism to the live orchestration, 1000 Heartbeats is a great new format, a great new game show and worthy of a daily watching.