Dadford man wins Countdown's Champion of Champions title

What do hedarim, modulate and japeries all have in common?

By Neil Shefferd
Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 11:49 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:45 pm
Zarte Siempre on the Countdown Champion of Champions final
Zarte Siempre on the Countdown Champion of Champions final

They were all words used by Zarte Siempre on his way to winning the Countdown Champion of Champions title in an episode that was broadcast yesterday afternoon (Tuesday).

Zarte, 28, who lives in Dadford, first appeared on the show in 2013 and after a run of five straight victories he lost to the year's eventual runner-up Dylan Taylor.

The former Royal Latin School pupil, who is in a wheelchair following a fall from around 60 feet ten years ago which damaged his spinal cord and burnt his vertebrae, was invited to return to the show by the producers in 2018 and reached the final after a run of ten straight victories.

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Zarte Siempre on the Countdown Champion of Champions final

He then beat Philip Aston by 128 points to 118 to win last year's Grand Final.

Following his success on last year's show, Zarte was invited to compete in this year's Champion of Champions tournament.

After three straight wins in this event, which included racking up an all-time record Countdown score of 150 points in his quarter-final Zarte reached the Champion of Champions final where he played Bradley Horrocks, runner-up in 2017.

Zarte said: "I started playing Countdown games using online tools and people encouraged you to have a go at entering for the TV series.

"I entered and passed the audition process and had a good run on the show.

"Historically the production team let contestants back on and a few years later I had a message from the producers out of the blue saying that I had a bit of bad luck the first time and they would like me to have a second go."

This time Zarte went one better becoming a champion in 2018 of the show's 78th series.

The final was particularly dramatic going into the final conundrum with the scores level at 118 points each.

Zarte correctly identified the conundrum as glucoside to win the show by the series by the narrowest of margins.

As well as winning the Champion of Champions and amassing the highest ever score in the show's history Zarte can also claim to be the joint most televised contestant ever alongside Conor Travers (20).

He said: "I think my record score will go one day but it is really cool at the moment knowing that record is mine.

"I am good friends with my opponent from that show and that makes the achievement all the more special.

"My achievements don't tend to sink in until after I've watched the episodes back when they are transmitted."

Whenever this writer watches Countdown, he struggles to get more than six letter words, so what is Zarte's strategy when playing the game?

He said: "A lot of people who participate have parts of their game that are better than mine but also parts where they are a bit weak.

"I try and practice the letters and numbers equally so that when I go into matches I have a good all-round game with no weaknesses.

"I am also fortunate in that I don't get nervous when I am on the televised episodes - the first couple took a little bit of getting used to but generally I'm very relaxed and don't get phased by the studio lights and the music.

"I try and imagine that I am watching it at home and just be myself.

"My other technique is always keeping my pen moving - if you stare and don't write anything it can be overwhelming because of the short time limit.

"I tend to write down short words I see initially and then try and make longer words by adding the other letters."

Zarte says the word he declared that he feels most proud of is 'seismical' - which means something that is of enormous proportions or has highly significant consequences.

He said: "There are some very good players who don't care about the meanings of the words they declare - I love words so I am interested.

"Sometimes there are words I declare that I am not sure the meaning of but if I am in a situation where I have two words of equal length I will always go with the one I am most confident with."

Zarte's Champion of Champions triumph was filmed back in October but he enjoyed more fame yesterday (Tuesday) once the episode aired.

Zarte wrote on Twitter that he had been asked by someone for a signed photo of himself so he could give it to their 70-year-old mother-in-law.

He added: "My parents are very shy people and could not understand why I put myself forward.

"They are very pleased at how well I've done on the programme over the years."

Zarte has had many Countdown highlights over the years with one notable moment being during an early appearance when he declared the word areola (the ring of pigmented skin surrounding a nipple) during a letters game.

This incident (which you can watch a video of above) caused such hilarity on the programme that it went on to feature on an episode of It'll be Alright on the Night.

Zarte, who currently works as a marketing manager at BEA Solutions also runs the Milton Keynes branch of Focal Countdown, an unofficial Countdown tournament circuit which takes place annually in Wolverton.

Earlier this month, Zarte launched the first in what he hopes will be a series of YouTube programmes called Access Some Areas, where he and fellow Countdown contestant Jen Steadman travel to cities around the UK examining how easy it is to get around for wheelchair users.

In the first programme the pair visited Canterbury in Kent.

For those who didn't see Zarte's Champion of Champions appearance his scoring words were - Hedarim, Hostile, Modulate, Captives, Fubsier, Japeries, Tailors, Aeronaut and Diadem.

Zarte also got the correct total in each of the numbers rounds - 566, 275, 569, 939 and won the conundrum which he correctly identified as Bonhomous.