Jennifer Byrne will host the new Australian version of the TV series Mastermind.
Jennifer Byrne will host the new Australian version of the TV series Mastermind.

Searching for Australia's new Mastermind

WHETHER it's Scrabble or Botticelli, game night is a serious event in the Byrne/Denton household.

"My dad inducted me and he was crash hot at them. When I was 30, I beat him at Scrabble for the first time," Jennifer Byrne says.

"Just like my father inducted me into games, when my husband Andrew (Denton) and my son Connor was young I started with him. He is 24 now and he can pretty effectively beat me at Scrabble.

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"Someone asked me do you play to win? Of course you play to win. It doesn't matter if you don't but if you don't play to win then you're saying it doesn't matter... play again and play better, to quote (Samuel) Beckett wrongly."

With her competitive streak and thirst for knowledge, the journalist and self-confessed quiz junkie is perfectly suited to helm the revival of Mastermind.

Returning to our screens after 34 years, the quiz show tests both general knowledge as well as specialist topics ranging from Australian parrots to the Harry Potter series.

"We want people to bring their armoury of knowledge with them for us to celebrate," Byrne says.

"I love the human drama of it and the extraordinary fact that someone spent years, decades acquiring their knowledge of their subject."

"For me there has been the revelation of discovering the intensity of it. We have an epic sized research team behind it. Because they (the contestants) are specialists the answers are very strict, and we have adjudicators on call on the night."

Byrne is keen to honour the original British series, which has been on air for more than four decades, while creating a uniquely Australian tone.

"We absolutely honour that original seriousness of purpose as manifested by the famous black chair and the music," she says. "But this is our Mastermind."

"But we have Australian contestants and some of the special subjects will be Australian also.

"There's a local character that moulds around the original concept.

So what would her specialist subject be?

"Well, horses or the novels of Ian McEwan or Peter James," she says. "The absolute truth is, as is true of many people who play games, I'm a naturally curious person but my knowledge is extremely wide and shallow. I know little about lots.

"I wouldn't give myself a chance in hell (on this show)."

Mastermind premieres on Monday at 6pm on SBS-TV.