If you think being a contestant on The Chase is hard, try applying to be a Chaser.
It’s certainly been a long time coming for Jenny Ryan. The Bolton-born quiz supremo was first put forward for the job in early 2014 by one of her quiz league teammates: Anne Hegerty.
The Governess asked Jenny whether she could give her name to producers because The Chase was looking for a new face. Now, a year and a half on and a gruelling audition process later, The Vixen made her debut earlier this month.
Jenny, who has previously appeared on 15 to 1, The Weakest Link and Only Connect, is now a fully-fledged Chaser alongside Anne, Shaun Wallace, Mark Labbett and Paul Sinha and presenter Bradley Walsh.
BT TV spoke exclusively to Jenny about why she's responsible for the questions on The Chase being so hard, and why she's not taking any nasty comments to heart...
How have you found being a Chaser so far?
“It’s been a lot of fun. This is the point which it’s got very daunting. It wasn’t so bad recording episodes and trying to get into the swing of things, but now it’s out in the open and you get to see people’s reactions it’s a little bit scary!”
Did you have any other options for names before you decided on 'The Vixen'?
“Well actually the first person I had a good chat with about nicknames was Bradley, and he said that he saw me being something predatory – something to do with animals – and he actually asked me: ‘How old do you have to be to be a cougar?’. I said: ‘I’m too young to be a cougar! I can’t be a cougar!’ And he said: ‘OK, something else then!’, so I think he came up with the general idea of something animal-y, but I had to veto cougar!”
How much practice did you have for being a Chaser?
“I was watching episodes on YouTube or on ITV Player and they thankfully sent me some previously used questions so I was having real Chase questions fired at me by family members. So that’s been the best practice really.”
Am I right in saying that you worked as a question writer for the first ever episode of The Chase?
“Yeah! One of my previous incarnations is as a question writer, so I’d worked on shows like The Weakest Link and a couple of very short-lived ITV series. There was one called It’s Not What You Know with Chris Tarrant, and one called Spin Star which Bradley presented. And when they brought me in for the first ever episode of The Chase, they still hadn’t figured out the format so I was helping them to play test it and then come up with the right standard of questions. So it’s my fault they can be really tough!”
From being involved from the beginning, when they were choosing Chasers initially, did you not want to be a Chaser from the start?
“I would have loved to have done it, but they did really have their heart set on Mark and Shaun from the outset. There was no contest that it wasn’t going to be those two and they weren’t going to take anyone else on. But I thought ‘I’d like to do this job – if only I hadn’t got the job of the question writer I would have come and auditioned!’”
Were you worried about signing up to the show because of the attention online and the fans’ reactions?
“It’s a dream job, but that’s one factor that I’ve had to get used to. It was never all going to be positive, and there are always going to be haters, people who don’t like change and people who take it as a personal affront that you’ve turned up on their favourite show.
“And I’m not immediately a scary person on the show, so people have taken a little bit of exception to me being not very fierce. But that’s not who I am. The thing I was most worried about was Twitter, because I see how brutal people can be when they have got the protection of a username and a computer screen.
“But actually as it happens, most people have been nice. And the people who have been nasty I’ve not taken it so much to heart because I can see that they still wouldn’t be happy if I came out and I was Cameron Diaz with the brain of Einstein.”
You’ve had a lot of positive comments about your looks. Was that unexpected?
“Yeah, I was expecting most of the comments about my appearance to be about me being fat, because I’m not a skinny girl by any means. But I wasn’t expecting there to be that sort of wave of ‘Wow – the new Chaser’s hot!’. It’s the opposite to what I was worried about, but it’s quite concerning in this day and age that it’s all about how I look.
“At the same time I’ve had really lovely comments from people about how impressed they are with how smart I am, what a great addition I am to the team and about my personality. So it is swings and roundabouts. It’s a better boost to my ego that people are commenting positively on my appearance than negatively.”
Out of the five of you, who is the most formidable and hardest to beat?
“[Laughs] Ooh, again it will depend on the day. I wouldn’t like to face Mark when he’s in his most aggressive form because he is very competitive. I’ve known him since before he was a Chaser and he’s always been very competitive, sure of himself and determined to win.”
How do you think Bradley would do on the show?
“I think he would do better than even he would expect. I think he plays up being one of the team and not knowing things and sometimes he does play dumb, but he really does know stuff and there’s a lot of stuff that he knows more about than I do! He’s very good on things like classical music, so I think he’d do quite well!”
The Chase airs weekdays on ITV at 5pm.
Photo credit: ITV