• David Astle with comedian Carlo Ritchie in ‘Celebrity Letters and Numbers’. (SBS)Source: SBS
A beloved Australian game show makes a welcome return… with a special tweak to its format.
Dann Lennard

30 Sep 2021 - 10:38 AM  UPDATED 4 Oct 2021 - 2:21 PM

Game shows tend to fall into two categories. There are the ones where celebrity panellists try to be as hilarious as possible and the game component is secondary. And that’s perfectly fine. But sometimes you just want a regular old quiz show that makes you think, “Hey! I know the answer to that!” before screaming it at your TV screen, then acting smug when the contestants get the question wrong. That’s what makes the Celebrity Letters and Numbers reboot of iconic Australian quiz show Letters And Numbers so exciting – it covers both bases.

The word and numeracy games that viewers fondly remember from the classic 2010–12 series are still there. However, members of the public have been replaced as contestants by such comic talents as Matt Okine, Susie Youssef, Jennifer Wong, Hamish Blake and Merrick Watts.

Each episode sees three competitors crack jokes while battling for bragging rights and the dubious grand prize of one book culled from a 1980s encyclopedia collection.

Handling the puzzles on the show are two very familiar faces, numbers expert Lily Serna and noted wordsmith David Astle, who is also joined by a different special guest every week in Dictionary Corner. Both are excited by the changes in Celebrity Letters and Numbers’ format and welcome what the comedians bring to the table.

“This season has a more relaxed feel to it compared to the previous seasons,” says Lily. “We have so many laughs together. I’m genuinely in awe of the way their brains work. Their ability to take information and respond with something to make people laugh in a lightning speed is nothing short of impressive.”

But she reassures long-time fans that what made the original series so entertaining remains a central part of the revamped Celebrity Letters and Numbers.

“It still feels like the same show because the puzzles are exactly the same. And David and I are still there as the guardians of the letters and the numbers, which grounds the show to its roots.”

David adds, “Celebrities are familiar with lights and cameras, but not so cosy with puzzle-solving under pressure, needing every ounce of charm to survive. Charm and desperation… it’s compelling TV.”

Both are thrilled at the opportunity to be working together again after nine years.

“Lily is brilliant; a numbers ninja,” says David. “She’s also a friend, despite our different brains, a mate I hardly get to see. The show was our overdue reunion.”

“Being on stage with him felt like no time has passed at all,” Lily adds of David.

The new host of Celebrity Letters and Numbers is comedian and Triple J presenter Michael Hing, someone David describes as having “plenty of smarts, wit and energy… and beautiful teeth. He’s cool but also nerdy, which makes him adorkable and perfect for the revamp. He makes each episode zing.”

“It’s so fun to work with Michael,” says Lily. “He’s the perfect bridge between the old and new formats. He’s hilarious and has great comedian-wrangling skills, but he also genuinely loves playing along with the games. He’s very good at them.”

The return of Celebrity Letters and Numbers coincides with the newest season of the long-running US game show Jeopardy! currently screening weeknights on SBS VICELAND. It’s initially a little sad to see the late Alex Trebek hosting the program, but that soon passes once the excitement begins and you start screaming answers at your TV (or, to be more accurate, screaming the questions at your TV).

For those unfamiliar with the format of Jeopardy!, three contestants select answers in various trivia categories with quirky titles like “Back To Basics”, “Authors’ Second Novels” and “I’m Allen” for increasing dollar amounts based on degree of difficulty. To win the cash, they must guess the correct question. The person with the most money at the end of the episode wins and becomes the carry-over champion for the following night.

Jeopardy! is perfect for home viewer participation. The only time you won’t be excitedly yelling the answer at Alex is when you’re stumped by a particularly America-centric category like “Our State Looks Up To You” (naming the US state directly above another one) and the self-explanatory “Colleges East Of The Mississippi From K to Q”.

In many ways, Jeopardy! is similar to Celebrity Letters and Numbers: a fun, family-friendly show that tests the mental skills of both contestants and viewers.

“It’s all about the games,” says David of Letters and Numbers. “They are pure and surprising, from easy to gnarly. Anyone can play them, on the couch or in the studio, regardless of age or ability. Even I love playing the numbers round.”

Lily agrees with David’s assessment.

“I think the puzzles are the true stars of the show,” she says. “They’re simple yet challenging and can be tailored to all abilities. Most importantly, you can compete with your friends and family! There’s a certain joy that comes with solving puzzles together.”

Premiere episodes of Celebrity Letters and Numbers screen Saturdays on SBS and SBS On Demand. Watch episode 1 below.


The first season of Letters and Numbers is now streaming at SBS On Demand.


 Jeopardy! airs weeknights from 6.55pm on SBS VICELAND (episodes are not available at SBS On Demand). 


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