Taskmaster’s New Year Treat

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Tuesday: Taskmaster’s New Year Treat (Channel 4, 9pm)

To anyone without even a passable knowledge of Taskmaster, eggs, plastic ducks (of all sizes) and balloons are common-or-garden household objects.

But as those who have been lucky – if that’s the right word – enough to have taken part in one of the 16 series of this brilliantly inventive show to date know all-too well, they can be fiendish, slippery devils.

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What started out as an idea for the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 has become a national institution, not least for the huge boost it gave to people during lockdown.

Steve Backshall, Zoe Ball, Greg Davies, Deborah Meadon, Alex Horne, Kojey Radical and Lenny RushSteve Backshall, Zoe Ball, Greg Davies, Deborah Meadon, Alex Horne, Kojey Radical and Lenny Rush
Steve Backshall, Zoe Ball, Greg Davies, Deborah Meadon, Alex Horne, Kojey Radical and Lenny Rush

As well as growing far beyond the UK’s shores (the Danish version is up to seven series, while Norway has hit eight), it has also spawned a host of spin-offs.

Ex-participant Ed Gamble, whose rendition of the Taskmaster theme tune (dressed as a baby in a hedge) became an instant earworm, presents one of two podcasts dedicated to the show, while fellow alumna Jenny Eclair co-hosts the other.

Rose Matafeo and Mike Wozniak are the hosts of the upcoming Junior Taskmaster, while Gamble is scheduled to also present Foodmaster, a version centred on (you guessed it) food.

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On top of that, there is a mountain of merch associated with the show, from books and boardgames to a virtual reality game, set to be released this year.

You could be forgiven for thinking Taskmaster was in danger of getting too big for its boots, but not a bit of it.

The show has stuck to the ingredients that have made it a roaring success, including having Alex Horne – the brains behind the original idea – as the sidekick, rather than the Taskmaster himself.

He said his role is “to be sneaky and… run it from the sides in a really funny way”. Greg Davies, on the other hand, was ideal for the big chair, thanks to his authoritative manner.

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That said, Alex revealed that Greg is no dictator. “If someone doesn’t do something well we really enjoy it so he can be himself,” he said.

One of the best sidelines that has emerged from the show’s success is this seasonal spin-off, which is now in its fourth year.

As usual, ‘ordinary’ celebrities, rather than the usual line-up of comedians, get the chance to break the seal on several tasks and fight it out not for the Golden Bonce, but the Golden Brows.

Settle back and enjoy, then, as entrepreneur and star of Dragon’s Den Deborah Meaden, Mercury Prize and MOBO Award-nominated music artist Kojey Radical, BAFTA winning actor Lenny Rush, TV presenter, adventurer, author and wildlife expert Steve Backshall, and radio and television presenter Zoe Ball scoff poppadoms and show off their timing skills with cat feeders and cuckoo clocks. The mind boggles.

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Each one of the fearless five will be pulling out all the stops as they vie for those sweet, sweet points and scrapping for the Taskmaster’s fleeting praise, all the while avoiding acerbic judgement in a bid to get their hands on that silly statue and call themselves a Taskmaster’s New Year Treat Champion.