How to win UK quiz show, The Chase
What the data tells us about your chances of winning going into the final chase
The Chase is a British quiz show that’s been running on itv since 2009 and it is delightful. A group of four contestants play against one of a team of professional quiz champions (“the chaser”), each of them getting a considerable head start and still often losing.
If you’ve never watched it before, the structure of the show is as follows: The first round is the cash builder, where contestants get a minute to answer questions to amass cash — each correct question adds £1000 to their tally. Then, in round two, they go “head to head” with the chaser, answering multiple choice questions. They can elect to play for the amount they built during round one and get a “head start” over the chaser — they need to answer five questions correctly before the chaser answers seven questions correctly. Or, they can go for a higher amount and need to answer six correctly or a lower amount (which is sometimes negative) and only need to answer four correctly. If successful, they go to the final chase, where all the remaining contestants play for an equal share of the money they’ve collectively accumulated. The remaining team members have to answer as many questions as they can in two minutes, with an additional head start of one point per remaining contestants (so, if three make it through to the final chase, they get three bonus points). The chaser then has to beat their score, with the added hurdle that if they get a question wrong, it goes to the contestants, and if the contestants get it right, it pushes back the chaser’s total tally back by one. The show is hosted by Bradley Walsh, who may well be the most charming Briton alive.
The question is, how do you win? From years of viewing, it seems to me that the best strategy is simply to know tons of stuff. The show asks a lot of questions about English soap operas, UK motorways, British and Irish boy bands, monarchs, Shakespeare play titles and basic plots, boomer pop culture, and other fairly predictable topics. Failing that though, I’ve done some stats, based on those collected at The Chase Fandom Wiki, which includes data from all seasons except 9, 12, and 13. Provided that you make it to the final chase, I think this will help!
The first thing to know is that around 26% of teams win, which is not bad odds! Although the odds of winning varies from season to season, it holds pretty steady.
The teams that win, on average, have a score of 19.5. Losing teams tend to have respectable scores, but perform significantly worse, finishing at an average score of 15.85. So, easy then, right? Get a score of 20 and you’ll win! Well, only kind of.
Every team that has scored 10 or less in the final chase has not won, unsurprisingly (3 is the lowest score in my dataset). But anything can happen, it would seem, if you score beyond that. Behold! Blue is the proportion of teams that have won at a given final score, and orange is the proportion of teams that lost at a given final score.
As you can see, a higher score doesn’t actually make you more likely to win?? One team has won after scoring 11 points, 0 at 12, 1 at 13 (which means proportionally fewer teams have won with a score of 13 than 11 because 13 is a more common score). 34 out of 107 teams have won with a score of 17 (32%), but only 25 out of 107 (or 23%) teams have won after scoring 18! Weirdly, a higher percentage of teams who’ve scored 25 have won than teams that have scored 26 as well. Scoring 20 only gives you 50% odds of winning. All in all, you probably want to score 24 or more on the final chase to set yourself up to win, but there aren’t any guarantees.
Having watched The Chase a fair bit though, this is not particularly surprising. Some final chase question sets are just harder than others. If the chaser gets easy questions, you’ll obviously will have needed to have gotten more points than if they get really tricky questions. But maybe there’s other factors that can help you win too, for instance, which chaser you get.
If you’re a contestant on The Chase, you probably want Shaun Wallace as your chaser. He loses 34% of the time, higher than average of 26%. After him, your next best bet seems to be Paul Sinha, who loses 25% of the time. Anne Hegerty and Mark Labbett lose about 24% and 23% of the time, respectively. You probably don’t want to get Jenny Ryan who has lost less than 10% of the time according to my dataset (although that dataset only includes one season she’s actually been in, where she lost 4 out of 43 times). I don’t have any data on the newest chaser, Darragh Ennis.
Another factor is how many players are left in your team. If everyone wins their head-to-head round, all four players can answer questions in the two minutes allotted to them and they can confer with each other on pushbacks. They also get a bonus four points at the start, which is very valuable, it can be a big portion of a team’s final score. There seems to be a huge benefit to having all four players in the final chase, as you can see with my pie charts:
48% of teams who have all their players still remaining in the final chase have gone on to win. Your chances get progressively lower the fewer people you have. Team survival matters!
In situations where nobody wins their head-to-head round, the four contestants nominate someone among themselves to come back and do the final chase on their own. They play for £4000 to be divided equally among the team. Unsurprisingly, these contestants generally don’t do very well, but it’s still possible to win in this difficult situation. Out of the 29 times that has happened, 3 have gone on to win. That gives odds of 10%, which is actually the same as to your chances of winning if you’re the lone survivor.
It’s worth noting that the number of players in the final round is associated with higher scores too, as my lovely chart illustrates below. Four players will score an average of 20 points, which is what you need to have a 50% chance of winning.
It’s also less effort per person to get these 20 points: if you have four plays on your team, you get a four-point bonus, which means you only have to answer 16 questions correctly, which is 4 per person. Teams with three players score an average of 18 with three bonus points, which means that they answer 5 questions correctly per person, meaning they’re sort of performing better on a per person basis and yet have higher odds of losing. They need to answer 5 or 6 questions each to get to 20. Teams with two players score an average of 16 points with two bonus points, meaning they answer an even higher, 7 questions per person to meet the average. To get to 20, they need to answer 9 questions correctly each, which is pretty hard. One player “teams” score an average of 13 points with a one-point bonus, meaning they answer 12 questions correctly all on their own in order to likely lose! That said, usually one or two players dominate the team in the final chase, so it might not be a huge difference in individual knowledge or effort burdens — the best player on a 4-person team may get most of the questions anyway. But still, those bonus points really matter, and sharing the load takes a lot of pressure off.
This is a bit beside the point, but it’s interesting that if nobody wins their head-to-head round and the team nominates to bring someone back (a situation denoted as 0 number of players on the chart), they tend to score better (15, on average) than when only one player wins. Perhaps teams have better accuracy in deciding who is a better player than whether or not you actually win your head-to-head round.
Teams that win seem to have more money in the pot than teams that lose (£21,390 on average, compared to £16,840), but I’m actually not convinced that money accumulated in the head-to-head round is a big factor in your likelihood of winning. Firstly, how much money you have is likely a function of how many people are on your team, and we know you’re more likely to win when there’s more people. It’s also sometimes a function of your likelihood to take risks mixed with how lucky you are. From watching the show, it seems to me that people who go for higher amounts of money in the head-to-head don’t necessarily know more, they’re just more inclined to risk losing for the chance of taking more money. Likewise, sometimes quite good players take the lower amount because they’re super-risk-averse (or cowardly, depending on your outlook).
In the head-to-head, it’s hard to say whether it’s a good idea to take the middle amount or to go higher or lower. I don’t have any data on your likelihood of losing the head-to-head depending on what option you take. If your goal is to win, obviously everyone should go for the lower amount — having all four players in the final chase seems like the most important factor. But then you probably end up playing for a very small amount of cash, which is no fun and would make for very boring television.
In conclusion, how you win this show is to have everyone in your team in for the final chase, to answer as many questions as possible (go for a points tally of 24+, but half the time, 20 is enough), and to have Shaun Wallace as your chaser.