Championship of Champions XI
Championship of Champions XI ran from 6 to 24 January 2003, and was won by Graham Nash. It marked the debut of Countdown's pink-and-purple striped set, used until 2008. It was also the first Championship of Champions to be played using the 15 round format; all previous CoCs had used 9-round games and 14-round games for the finals.
Contestants in CoC XI were selected from all series between Series 42 and 48 inclusive, giving it the largest "catchment area" of all CoCs to date. With a mixture of 9-round and old 15-round champions competing, it was also the first one to have included players from multiple formats (later joined by CoC XIV).
With two higher-finishing contestants unable to make the studio dates, two losing quarter-finalists were invited to this CoC instead. Specifically, it was decided to invite back losing quarter-finalist Kevin McMahon instead of John Rainsden, who had defeated him in their Series 44 quarter final; however, Paul Ryan - a semi-finalist in Series 46 - was unable to make the studio dates, as was Stuart Wood, so Rainsden was also invited back. For no apparent reason, losing quarter finalist Loz Sands was also invited back in place of series runner-up Steve Sandalls, despite Steve eliminating her intheir quarterfinal and then subsequently finishing as series runner-up; this move was considered rather controversial by many fans of the series. The official reason for inviting Sands back was that she had apparently been a favourite with viewers in her series appearances, although some fans speculated that the real reason was because the only two female contestants who had qualified owing the original criteria were Geraldine Hylands and Grace Page, and there was concern that female fans of the series would lose interest in the event as a result.
The tournament started poorly with series champion Michael Calder being knocked out by quarter-finalist Loz Sands. The following game was one of the greatest in the history of Countdown, with Chris Wills scoring a come from behind win against David Williams, spotting the conundrum ETERNALLY in barely a second to win by two points. The next three first round matches all produced close scores, but Tom Hargreaves produced a very noteworthy performance against John Rainsden, beating the former runner-up by 52 points. Julian Fell produced a similar display against Octochamp Terence O'Farrell and won by 54 points. Graham Nash completed the first round matches with a 33 point win over David Ballheimer including the impressive MICROBES in the final letter rounds.
The quarter-finals also started slowly, with Chris Wills scoring a win over Loz Sands despite an invalid word coagulent ☓ in the first letters game. John Rawnsley beat semi-finalist Rupert Stokoe without ever looking like losing, despite faltering on the conundrum.
The following game was a classic which beat Wills and Williams highest joint total score. Both Ben Wilson and Tom Hargreaves spotted the nine FACETIOUS in the third round, and from then on Tom scored in every round to rack up 131 points. The second series champion was dispatched from the competition, as Ben Wilson lost his unbeaten record.
The game after that was even more dramatic. Julian Fell and Graham Nash faced off, both players having won 12 games out of 12. The game started with a poor letters selection, but in round 4 Nash tried formica ☓ which but Fell six points in the lead with CORIUM. Both players spotted a nine in round 8 – ORGANISED for Nash and GRANDIOSE for Fell. Fell declared eight in the next round to Nash's seven, but Fell's offering of gambiers ☓ was duly disallowed and Nash had a one point lead. Equal scoring continued for the rest of the game, and the players had a perfect score between them going into rounds 12 and 13 where both players, and Dictionary Corner missed ROUILLE and SPERMATID. The game was poised for a crucial conundrum 110 – 109 in Nash's favour, and Nash buzzed in in just more than a second with MENDMEDOC to beat Fell, the first and only time that Julian has lost a game of Countdown. Chris Wills on his website later described it as the "best ever game of Countdown".
In the semi-finals, Chris Wills disposed of Series 45 champion John Rawnsley, scoring 120 points. Wills scored in every round including the nine-letter DECAGONAL but it was Rawnsley that got the conundrum to deny Wills a personal best of 130.
The second semi-final was most notable for its disallowed words, as Graham Nash had two words disallowed and Tom Hargreaves had three. The decisive factor was the 7th round where Hargreaves risked rescaling ☓ to Nash's CLEARINGS which gave Nash a lead that would never be challenged in the game. Nash dispatched with the conundrum AVIANLOUT which set up a final between two players with 14 wins from 14 games.
The final turned out not to be a classic, thanks in large part to two impossible numbers games. Chris Wills initially took the lead with GAMBADE but was beaten in two letters rounds with PENSIVE and METALS as Wills risked an invalid six. The players scored in every round from there on, but neither player scored on the last numbers game where zero points was the maximum. The conundrum OVERSPADE was turned over, with Nash having a six point lead thanks to METALS. Dramatically the time ran out with neither player buzzing in, and Nash was triumphant 79 – 73. Thanks to his success, Nash was selected for the game show Grand Slam due to his unbeaten record at Countdown.
|Michael Calder (42) vs Loz Sands (46)||Loz Sands vs Chris Wills|| Chris Wills |
| Chris Wills |
|Chris Wills (47) vs David Williams (43)|
|Rupert Stokoe (47) vs Grace Page (48)||Rupert Stokoe vs John Rawnsley|
|John Rawnsley (45) vs Kevin McMahon (44)|
|Ben Wilson (46) vs Geraldine Hylands (45)||Ben Wilson vs Tom Hargreaves|| Tom Hargreaves |
|John Rainsden (44) vs Tom Hargreaves (47)|
|Julian Fell (48) vs Terence O'Farrell (42)||Julian Fell vs Graham Nash|
|David Ballheimer (42) vs Graham Nash (43)|
The numbers refer to the series in which each contestant originally played in the finals.
|#||Date||Type||Contestant 1||Score||Contestant 2||Guest||Lex||Max|
|3390||6/01/2003||CP||Michael Calder||60 – 77||Loz Sands||Martin Jarvis||Susie Dent||127|
|3391||7/01/2003||CP||Chris Wills||113 – 111||David Williams||Martin Jarvis||Susie Dent||131|
|3392||8/01/2003||CP||Rupert Stokoe||90 – 80||Grace Page||Martin Jarvis||Susie Dent||128|
|3393||9/01/2003||CP||John Rawnsley||99 – 97||Kevin McMahon||Martin Jarvis||Susie Dent||141|
|3394||10/01/2003||CP||Ben Wilson||94 – 91||Geraldine Hylands||Martin Jarvis||Susie Dent||122|
|3395||13/01/2003||CP||John Rainsden||65 – 117||Tom Hargreaves||Tim Rice||Susie Dent||132|
|3396||14/01/2003||CP||Julian Fell||118 – 64||Terence O'Farrell||Tim Rice||Susie Dent||130|
|3397||15/01/2003||CP||David Ballheimer||70 – 103||Graham Nash||Tim Rice||Susie Dent||119|
|3398||16/01/2003||CQF||Chris Wills||98 – 69||Loz Sands||Tim Rice||Susie Dent||132|
|3399||17/01/2003||CQF||Rupert Stokoe||70 – 89||John Rawnsley||Tim Rice||Susie Dent||120|
|3400||20/01/2003||CQF||Tom Hargreaves||131 – 98||Ben Wilson||Eric Knowles||Susie Dent||144|
|3401||21/01/2003||CQF||Graham Nash||120 – 109||Julian Fell||Eric Knowles||Susie Dent||137|
|3402||22/01/2003||CSF||Chris Wills||120 – 88||John Rawnsley||Eric Knowles||Susie Dent||132|
|3403||23/01/2003||CSF||Tom Hargreaves||83 – 104||Graham Nash||Eric Knowles||Susie Dent||132|
|3404||24/01/2003||CGF||Chris Wills||73 – 79||Graham Nash||Eric Knowles||Susie Dent||106|