“You are the Weakest Link”: Why Magda Szubanski took on the iconic quiz show

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• “Had it been the way it was before, I wouldn’t have done it”

More than 20 years after its television debut, Weakest Link is returning to Australian screens Tuesday, May 25th on Nine.

Taking on the role of no-nonsense quizmaster is Magda Szubanski. Overseeing the chaos, she will put contestants through their paces as they compete, backstab, and embarrass themselves in hope of winning a cash prize of up to $250,000.

Mediaweek spoke to Szubanski ahead of the Weakest Link premiere about what to expect from the new version of the iconic show.

Bringing Weakest Link back

Szubanski says that she didn’t want to bring the hostility that can be associated with the show.

“From my perspective, they’ve done the show in America and it’s been really successful with Jane Lynch. That was what convinced me to do it, seeing her doing it. It’s just such a classic, you know that line is so famous. It’s apparently the most recognised line in the quiz show pantheon – You are the Weakest Link, goodbye

“What I loved about what Jane Lynch and what the Americans did was that they just took the foot off the pedal in terms of the meanness, it’s more cheeky, playful, tongue in cheek and very self-aware. Had it been the way it was before, I wouldn’t have done it because I just don’t think that’s the right tone with the bruising time that we’ve been through, and the world at the moment. It’s just recognising the times we’re in.”

With so many versions of Weakest Link, Szubanski says that there is one main thing that makes the local version stand out.

“It’s made in 46 territories or something like that, so it’s bound to reflect the personalities and the culture. Australians, we’re all nice to each other, we’re apologising for voting each other off. I love that. I think as much as anything, seeing what Australians do with this is really interesting.”

Jane Lynch on NBC’s Weakest Link. Credit: Chris Haston/NBC.

Working With Contestants

With people lining up to be grilled, Szubanski says that working with the contestants was one of her favourite parts of the show.

“I am a people lover I have to say. I really do love people and coming out of Covid and being in a room with people, it’s like my two favourite things, hanging out with people and quiz questions, learning lots of stuff, and then getting to have a bit of a tease and a bit of a stir as well.

“And they’re game for it – sometimes they were a little too game, I’m thinking ‘what is going on with you people?’ – they’re coming in there wanting me to be mean to them. I don’t know what that says about Australian nature, you can draw your own conclusions.”

Drawing Inspiration

Despite the number of different versions of the show that are out there, Szubanski says that she deliberately avoided watching them so that she could make this show her own.

My thing is to not watch what anyone else is doing and to not be influenced. I’ve always been like that, because it’s too easy to catch someone else’s cadence. I watched one episode of Jane Lynch and a tiny bit of the others on this show, because I was like ‘no, I want to really do my own thing with it’. So it’s very much coming from that tradition of Weakest Link, rather than anything external.”

There are, however, some other influences that Szubanski draws on.

“You might see some of my old characters pop in, or not pop in as such, but just references to them. We’ve loosened it up a bit so that I can have a play and bring some of my strengths to it and have it be reflective of me. You don’t want to straitjacket yourself too much and the BBC producers and Channel Nine were very keen that I do that. So it’s definitely much more reflective of me and my style. 

“I put my own stamp on it, I’m pissing all over it!”

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Having a regular gig is a win for anyone coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Szubanski says that she is grateful for the opportunities Weakest Link has given her. 

“For me, it’s great because it’s a fun thing to do, it’s a good regular gig which anyone in this industry is really happy to get. It’s so uncertain, especially in this industry at the moment.

“This employs a whole bunch of people. It’s great, and it’s great for me to have that sufficient work that allows me to do all the other stuff like writing and working on the trauma project, which is a great passion of mine. Using creative arts to help people who have gone through bushfires, disasters, that sort of thing, with an entity called Regeneration that Egg Boy – Will Connolly – and I raised money for and started with a bunch of trauma experts. That takes a lot of time, and of course, it’s all completely unpaid, but I wouldn’t want to be paid for it anyway. It’s great, it just fits into our lives really perfectly, so it’s good.”

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