Well Seymour, we made it. After four episodes we’ve made it to the end of the year 2000, at least if we’re measuring years by Techno Games series now. There’s a veritable smorgasbord of action on offer today, with swimming, sprinting, cranes moving Lego bricks, and even football, giving us the first proper combination of robots and soccer that I have been truly craving.
Ulrika, Noel and Martin share a touching retrospective on the games we’ve just witnessed, and Noel expresses his joy at having witnessed all the spectacular fails that have occurred so far, particularly Bottle of Doom toppling over instead of jumping. I like Noel.
Sprinting: The Final
To begin this celebration of gold medal showers, we’ll be taking to the track to watch the final of the sprinting, or, as Ulrika herself puts it, “the walking”. Even she’s in on the joke, and she’s been bloody useless the entire week. It speaks volumes that the most entertaining moment of the whole event was Scuttle’s explosion of legs all over the track, and it’s a shame we won’t be seeing it compete for the gold. Instead, we’ve got the sprinting world record holder, Waddle, whose record stands at an unprecedented 3 minutes and 43 seconds, due to it being the only competitor to actually finish the course so far. And that tells you all you need to know about its opponent, Lemming, who made it about a fifth of the way down the track (at most) and was then timed out due to being intolerably slow.
Chris Rawlinson the noted athlete has returned to the studio, apparently against his will/better judgement, since he looks painfully disinterested in being there. He brings better insight with him today, saying that he listens to The Prodigy to calm his nerves, which is a bit like drinking coffee to get yourself to sleep. In a whole conversation about how nervous the contestants probably are, this is about all we learn, and I’m pretty sure, based on the opposition, the Waddle team are pretty confident about taking home the gold medal. This is only reaffirmed by the team themselves, and Ed pops up for the final time this series to tell the Lemming boys they should be embarrassed to have qualified. I really hope Ed comes back next series, he’s been a great voice of reason.
The klaxon sounds, and we are off to an absolute flyer. Waddle bursts out of the gate and strides into an early lead, and Lemming eventually gets going after the team fiddle about with it for a bit. It even turns itself sideways again, leaving one of the team members to flip it back in the right direction. By this time Waddle is but a blur on Lemming’s horizon, in that it’s socially distancing itself about two metres away from its counterpart. Bear in mind we must be about a minute into this gold medal sprinting race, one robot isn’t working and the other is barely a third of the way down the course. Fortunately, the editing team are once again on hand to put us out of our misery by showing Waddle cross the finishing line to claim the gold in 3 minutes and 49 seconds, so it didn’t even beat its record. That just about sums up this entire event. Lemming is once again timed out, but despite not even finishing either of its races, still claims the silver medal. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Chris claims that it was “Yorkshire grit” that won Waddle the gold, because that’s absolutely the only reason how it could have possibly won the event, and not the other robots being complete sh*te. The team join Ulrika and co. in the studio for celebratory shenanigans, where our Swedish host is fascinated by there being, wait for it, a GIRL on the team, and after remaining silent on the topic of diversity in the tech industry, Chris makes a dramatic exit from the show, being airlifted out of the studio by Skeletron in a dazzling display of smoke and pyrotechnics.
Sadly, this all happens off-camera, and instead we’re taken to the robot football event. Yes, at last, it’s the crossover event I couldn’t wait for just so that this website could maintain some degree of relevancy.
It’s off to Millwall we go, where Ed is ready and waiting (somehow I think he spends a lot of time over there), introducing us to the eagerly anticipated rematch between England and Germany that will finally banish the painful memories of Euro ‘96. The actual England team ended up doing this about a month after the show was broadcast at Euro 2000, but we should still try and enjoy this event regardless. There are four teams competing; two from England, one from Wales, and one from Germany. The three British teams will go head-to-head in a round robin format, and whoever wins will take on the Germans in the final. So if the Welsh team goes through, this whole grudge match thing will have basically been for nothing. And you can tell who the Germans are, since they’ve been awkwardly stuffed into their nation’s football shirts so that the British viewer can identity them as the enemy. Because we can’t go five minutes without a nice bit of nationalism.
We head down the tunnel with the Match of the Day music once again triumphantly blaring in the background, and we’re introduced the robots. Now, if you were expecting to see full-scale mechanised versions of David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo going at it in some sort of football version of Real Steel, I’m afraid this is much less exciting. Basically, each time has three computerized boxes that they program to try and score as many goals as possible. It’s basically table football with computers.
The two English teams are up against each other first, both from Plymouth; there’s Merlin R.F.C, not from the University of Plymouth, and Drakes R.F.C., who do in fact represent the local university. Barry must be delighted to be back in his natural habitat of football commentary, even if it’s not his ideal setup, and the referee with one of the worst haircuts I’ve ever seen gets us underway.
Already there’s controversy, as it turns out you’re not allowed to have a defender and goalkeeper in the penalty area at the same time, and Merlin get a penalty for it. Now, looking at the footage and the replay of the footage, it’s blindingly obvious that only the Drakes goalkeeper was in the penalty area when it was awarded. We wouldn’t even need to have to go to VAR about it these days, it was that obvious. Not even Barry bats an eyelid at the award of this. Merlin score the penalty, and are controversially put into the lead. It doesn’t matter though, since one of the Drakes bots runs the length of the pitch and almost immediately slots home for 1-1.
Merlin swiftly take the ball down the other end of the pitch, and despite there being an obvious penalty for literally all three Drakes bots inside their own penalty area, the referee plays an advantage, and the ball slowly trickles into the goal in a horrendous display of both defending and goalkeeping. Merlin promptly surrender their lead, however, conceding a penalty of their own and allowing Drakes to tie things up again at 2-2. The game isn’t done yet though, as Drakes concede yet another penalty through forcing all of their bots into the goalmouth, and Merlin score a winning penalty, much to the delight of the audience, giving them the first three points of the event.
Now, usually we’d move on to the next match, but for some reason the event has been interrupted to bring us another human “expert” opinion. Today the producers have dragged in poor Rio Ferdinand to bear witness to an exhibition match between the Welsh team and the German team, and they couldn’t have picked a worse day for it, since out of the six robots on display, two start going around in circles, one keeps driving into the wall, and the other three don’t actually work. But at least he and Ed see the funny side of things, and Rio can go home safe in the knowledge his job isn’t under any immediate threat from robot-kind.
We can finally move on to Newport vs. Drakes, and it’s not exactly the classic we were hoping for. After an age of what appears to be none of the robots working, Drakes win a penalty (there’s a shock), and ram the ball past the Newport goalkeeper to make it 1-0, and they’re well on their way to a much needed three points. And before you know it it’s 2-0, with the Newport defence doing their best impression of the 2020 Arsenal backline, and the goalkeeper watches on as the ball pathetically trickles in. It’s not looking good for the Welsh, especially when it becomes apparent their goalkeeper has broken down as they concede an appalling third goal. Drakes score a fourth goal to kill the game off and leave Newport with their tails between their legs.
However, what happens next renders the whole event completely pointless, as Drakes suffer “technical difficulties” and are forced to withdraw off-camera. Well, that’s disappointing, but what about the remaining game between Merlin and Newport? Nope, we’re not gonna see that, because Barry informs us that Merlin are going straight through to the final to play the Germans. Why? What about that game in hand, I hear you cry? Well, I can only assume that, based on the sh*tshow we just witnessed, it was the Newport team who had to withdraw, and we have subsequently been fooled by a slip of Barry’s tongue. Either way, I guess it’s onto the final between Merlin and the Germans.
Except, well, it isn’t. Because it turns out the German team have also suffered technical difficulties and have also been forced to withdraw, so that leaves Merlin the winners by default, after only playing one match. You’ve got to love English claims to success sometimes.
Swimming: The Final
Sadly, that’s the last of the action from the football (for now, at least), but we need to move on to the final of the swimming between Calypso, Cybershark, and Snappy. And if it’s anything like the final of the sprinting, based on previous performance, you can probably guess which way this event is going to go. We also get a bit of technical insight into the three machines, and the highlight of the whole segment has to be the Cybershark team turning up to their local pool, mechanical shark in hand for a test swim, and one of students (or the teacher) shouting “It’s floating!” upon putting it in the pool. There’s just something so inherently charming about these school teams turning up to their local pools to test out their contraptions in the company of the unwitting public.
Noel suggests that it’ll be a close race between Calypso and Cybershark, suggesting he hasn’t actually be paying attention to the races, and is just kind of thrilled that there’s a shark-based entry, because his surname is, in fact, Sharkey. This theory is quickly put to rest as the klaxon sounds to get the race underway, and Calypso tears away down the pool, asserting a comfortable lead over the two fish. Snappy is making slow and steady progress, while Cybershark doesn’t actually make it out of the starting gate, doing a fine job in consolidating its bronze medal status. Calypso easily takes the gold medal, finishing about half a second slower than it did in its heat, but they will care not one jot. Snappy takes silver off-camera, since the cameras are too preoccupied with showing us cool underwater shots of Calypso.
Before Ulrika leaves the Millennium Dome and never comes back, we’re presented with a montage of some of the “best” bits of the last week. Since there were somewhere between three and five robots that could actually function over the duration of the event, we’re treated to such classic moments as; Scuttle exploding, Skeeta not working, Kluk breaking itself, Flowerbot swimming into a wall, and Flea’s spectacular no-jump attempt in the long jump.
But wait a minute, there’s still eight minutes of the show left! What ever are they going to fill it with now that we’ve had an emotional farewell montage? Well, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that there’s still the small matter of the University Challenge between Oxford and Hertfordshire, and we’re finally going to get to see their devices that can perform the arduous task of picking up a Lego brick and putting it on top of another Lego brick.
Not-Philippa appears for one final time to send those mavericks that are the Behemoth boys from Hertfordshire off on their quest down a small track. Their machine looks, well, functional at best, but as it begins the task, it becomes quickly apparent that this thing was never destined to pick up bricks, knocking them aside like, well, an angry child would, before finally grabbing hold of one, albeit upside-down. Now all it has to do is drive in a straight line from one end of the railway track to the other, but sadly, as so often is the case with the Behemoth boys, their drive train fails, leaving Oxford with a glorious chance to prove themselves as the better university. As if it was ever a question to begin with. And wouldn’t you know it, they contraption works perfectly, coasting its way down the track and placing one brick onto another with consummate ease. The Behemoth boys, once again, fail to do my home county justice, and the Oxford boys get to back to their “prestigious” university with their egos intact.
So they mystery of who the better university is has been solved, but another mystery remains; who would win the special NESTA prize and a trip to NASA? Well, after sitting through five extra participation awards, including Kluk somehow being awarded the ‘Best Performance’ award after chucking a shot putt at itself, we discover that, much to no-one’s surprise, it’s Skeletron who wins the prize for best technological innovation, and the team who literally gave us Centurion in Robot Wars have gotten themselves a trip to NASA. I sure hope they enjoyed it,and I really hope they got to bring Skeletron with them and take some fun tourist photos.
And with that, Techno Games 2000 draws to a close, and, spoiler alert for 2001, that’s the last we’ll be seeing of Ulrika in the role of hosting duties. And another spoiler for 2001, things are going to actually start getting semi-decent from here on out, mostly because the roboteers actually know what it is they’re meant to be building this time around. I don’t know how much comedy there’ll be, but I can guarantee it’ll still be an absolute laugh.
Thanks to everyone who has read, liked and shared this nostalgic odyssey through the year 2000 with me, it’s meant a lot to see people enjoying my content. Coverage for 2001 starts on Monday next week, and will be posted daily, just as this series was. For now, I’ll leave you with the parting thought that Ulrika left us with; that perhaps, one day, Waddle will be considered in the same pioneering regard as Jesse Owens. No it won’t, Ulrika. It just won’t. Goodbye.