Going for Gold

Taskmaster. Image shows from L to R: Ardal O'Hanlon, Bridget Christie, Chris Ramsey, Judi Love, Sophie Duker

Taskmaster is a compelling competition - but could it be sport?

We write this after another season of the greatest sporting contest on earth has come to a dramatic conclusion. And we're not talking about Champions League football, rugby, netball, French Open tennis, the Monaco Grand Prix or that controversial new golf bash in St Albans. No, this being British Comedy Guide, we are of course talking about Taskmaster, which served up the most gripping competition since the tug of war bit from Squid Game.

Big spoiler coming up: the eventual champ was Sophie Duker, after a titanic series-long duel with early front-runner Chris Ramsey, who looked set to romp away with it after the first few shows. But Taskmaster is a marathon, not a sprint. And definitely not a Snickers.

But is it sport? Well, one way to answer that is 'can you bet on it?' as it's not really a sport if you can't. And like the best sporting contests, we'll find out that result in the second half. In the meantime you can bet on lots of other sporting things instead, as nowadays there's a world of options at your fingertips - if you like a flutter Smarkets offer the lowest commission & best odds - and everyone has a different way of doing it. Would you back a favourite or take a punt on a relative newcomer?

Actually Taskmaster is particularly good at thrusting people into the limelight, in an Emma Raducanu kinda way. On the day of the TM final, Duker - or her savvy management, anyway - announced her debut nationwide tour. Which is sort of like a victory lap after winning a big running event at the Olympics, but around the whole country. Taskmaster competitors don't do anything by halves.

Taskmaster. Image shows from L to R: Ardal O'Hanlon, Bridget Christie, Chris Ramsey, Judi Love, Sophie Duker

Back to that big question though, and sadly, no, in its current incarnation Taskmaster just isn't cricket... or golf, or football, or other sports. The show isn't actually shown live, and the fact that loads of people - including a studio audience, now they're allowed in again after several Covid-affected series - presumably know the result already means that it isn't a big bettable event like your cup finals, horse races or heavyweight boxing bouts. But for regular viewers, oblivious to what happened until the show is broadcast, it's compulsive viewing.

Don't believe us? Just look at this season's penultimate edition where Judi Love - the only contestant yet to have won an episode - made a disastrous tactical error in the final onstage task, blew a strong lead and looked genuinely distraught - as did everybody else. It was proper sporting drama.

And the world around Taskmaster is beginning to look increasingly international-sporty too. There's a podcast, hosted by previous winner Ed Gamble, which offers proper punditry and post-task analysis with the winners and not-winners. And now they've even beaten the Premier League to it by launching a dedicated Taskmaster streaming platform, due to the UK edition's growing global popularity. It's the sort of thing footy pundits like Simon Jordan have been urging the Prem to do for years. Honestly, Alex Horne is the new Barry Hearn.

You could almost compare it to the big US wrestling shows, which tend to use the term 'sports entertainment' to describe their bizarre spectacles. But Taskmaster is arguably more of a sport, given that TV wrestling tends to be scripted, whereas these contestants are clearly doing that stuff for real, often against the clock, even if it is finding ducks in a lab or throwing them into Horne's bike basket.

And sometimes a magnificent new sport is invented within the show. Take Chris Ramsey's sausage-grabbing game, surely one of the most compelling competitive events seen on television this year. Perhaps comparing it to one sport is a bit unfair then. Taskmaster is more like the Olympics. That's about the size of it.

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