IT'S the ultimate clash of mathematical skill and literary knowledge that tests contestants to the very edge of their limits.
But despite Countdown celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, it still has a number of behind-the-scenes secrets unknown to most viewers decades on.
The game show was watched by more than four million people at its peak and launched the careers of Carol Vorderman, Rachel Riley and Susie Dent.
To get the inside scoop The Sun spoke to former contestant Gary Woodward, who has appeared on Countdown nine times, and a TV source.
Here, they surprising details about the Channel 4 hit – including how it often fakes scenes to disguise X-rated answers, presenter faux pas and technical errors.
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The show may look perfect by the time it reaches our screens, but there are several ways camera crews sneakily cover up mistakes.
TV worker Gary Woodward knows it all too well, having made 21 game show appearances and bagged £2,800 after going on everything from Pointless to The Weakest Link.
He first walked away from Countdown with a commemorative teapot after being eliminated in the semi-final in 1999.
Gary, from Peterborough, told The Sun: “When they don’t like a bit of recording they do it again to overlay that section during the edit.
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“This can be because the audio quality wasn’t perfect, if a presenter sneezed or made a mistake or cameras missed a cut.
"It’s easy to spot when they do this on Countdown.
“If the cameras cut back to the contestant while they are choosing a vowel or consonant, it’s normally because they have used a cover shot.”
Gary, who has also watched the show being filmed in recent years, claimed there were fewer pauses in the new shows as they have “rotating boards for the numbers and letters rounds” instead of having to use stage hands.
Rude word retakes
Contestants have to been reshot too – especially if they pick a rude word.
A former audience member, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Sun: “There were a couple of retakes and the funniest one was when a guy said ‘pisser’ in the anagrams round.
“It was a great six-letter word but they couldn’t use it. I think it's because they feared getting complaints.
“He still got the points but right at the end of filming they recorded him saying a more palatable six-letter word instead.”
VERY early episodes
Christmas episodes of Countdown often show the set decked with festive decorations – but viewers are unlikely to realise it’s filmed long before winter.
Our insider explained: “I went to a filming in September and they were doing all of the Christmas episodes. It was very odd to see because it was sunny outside.
“They probably filmed around four episodes during the day and between each one the presenters change their outfits.”
While you can apply to watch the show for free, there are a limited number of spaces and you’re not guaranteed to get in, according to our TV insider.
He said: “You are offered a spot but it’s not always certain that you will get in.
“I remember waiting in the queue and the people 10 places behind me were not able to get in.
“They always overestimate their numbers because they expect some people will not turn up and they don’t want there to be any empty seats.”
Gary admitted he only applied to be on Countdown “as a dare” from his mates, who promised to pay him £3 if he went through with it.
It followed him being obsessed with the show from the age of five when he tried to scribble down answers on a notepad back on the show's launch in 1982.
In Gary’s teens, he boasted to mates about “regularly getting answers correct” and they decided to test his nerve by getting him to try out.
After sending in a letter to apply, Gary claimed it “took a long time – around a year – before they wrote back” to invite him to an audition.
'Secret group' for winners
After having your time on the quiz show, the fun doesn’t necessarily have to stop there.
Gary claims certain contestants, who did well on Countdown, are invited to a secret Facebook group by other alumni.
There they take on even more word and maths challenges.
He said: “It’s like a big family, we share funny memes and do daily challenges as well as solving the tea time teasers together.
“The rule is: you can post your answer but you have to change it so that only the author of the post can see it, which avoids ruining it for other people.
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“They are a ridiculously friendly group but very geeky, as you would expect. They are the kinds of people who would eat a dictionary if you put it in front of them.
“You have to win a couple of times on Countdown to be inducted into the family but they are such a nice group. Although some people take it way more seriously than I do.”
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