Diana Burleigh was the Crikey subscriber who lent us a hand when we lost our home in 2002 in that defamation battle with Steve Price. Now she has sprung to national prominence by winning The Einstein Factor and she’s kindly agreed to tell us how she did it.

Who wants to be a meeyoneaire it ain’t! The first person to crack the million dollar question will be a celebrity and be feted on TV talk shows. Will probably also be a guest on the Footy Show with Sam Newman – now that I would not do for a million dollars. Er, but I would have a million dollars, so perhaps I would!

But instead my old neighbour insists I do a freebie for his website! And being ABC Grand Champion gives me about 7 and a half minutes of fame and a trophy. But no complaints, the ABC made it clear from the start there was no other prize. The competition was advertised at the end of 2003 and something made me go to the website and log on. Wanted: Someone who knows everything about Something and something about Everything. What would my “Something” be? I considered Wagner’s Ring – too complex; Shakespeare – but I would have to read Titus Andronicus; maybe an area of English history – the Tudors or the Plantagenets but why when Gilbert and Sullivan would come easiest to me?

The audition: a hundred people crowded into a small hall in Elsternwick (90% male) and 25 general knowledge questions. I mark the paper for a young girl who came from Mildura and wanted to answer questions on horses. She thought the language spoken in Brazil was Brazilian! I chatted to 2 men whose interests were Tanks of the second world war and Western Movies. All three of us met again at the first taping session six weeks later.

It is obvious that this is going to be a different type of quiz show. They are using a Brains Trust to compete with the public. Who are these people? As they will include comedians, will they be there to ridicule the special interests of the contestants? “You have how many different styles of barbed wire in your collection?”

In January I am invited to be a contestant. I get down to study. Not knowing the format at this stage I stress about what to study. Should I be able to quote yards of verse? Do I need to know every relevant date? And what about the General Knowledge? I am not Australian born so I put an effort in Prime Ministers, people on bank notes and the names of the Bush Rangers. I decide it is too late to do anything about my ignorance of sport and science.

Four shows are taped at once and not necessarily in the right order. I go in to watch the first episode (which was shown third) at 2 pm. There are immediate technical glitches and at 5 the make up person comes to find me and whisk me off to be glammed up! At about 7 my episode is called. I am up against a charming suave actor from Sydney whose subject is King Richard III. He takes his time answering the questions and runs out of time and has a lower score than he deserves. Behind the screen, I learn the lesson – speed. Then it’s my turn and I plan to go hell for leather through the 15 questions in 90 seconds. But question 2 throws me. “Through which singer were Gilbert and Sullivan introduced?” They were not introduced by a singer – panic. Eventually I say this adding the name of the person who did make the introduction. “Fred Clay is the right answer” says Peter Berner and we move on to the next question. Then I am asked the name of the first play Gilbert wrote. Scholars are divided about this. I name the most commonly published play – Berner has the other one. Oh well, I finish with a fairly good score of 1100. The third contestant is my friend from the audition who knows everything about Westerns. He has been persuaded to limit himself to TV westerns of the 60s and 70s. He does well and is ahead.

We all do well in round 2 (multiple choice) and go into the final 15 questions to be answered by the fastest on the buzzer with me 100 points behind the Western lover. He proves not to have quick reflexes and I have a good start with questions in my areas of expertise and build up a lead that isn’t passed. Whew! I didn’t make a fool of myself on National TV.

Three weeks later I am back for the play-off. We are given the dates for all the future times we may be needed. I only pencil them in not wanting to presume success. The first few episodes are already on air and the new contestants are keen to chat to those of us in the play-off for hints. In this taping I learn something important. I had a good first round and was ahead of the others. Then in round 3 I began to panic that the Brain’s Trust would jump in before me and begin to buzz in too quickly. My lead is eroded to the point that I am only one question ahead of Leslie, whose subject is Get Smart. She buzzes in and gets the question and then on the final question (though none of us is counting) I buzz and get the right answer. My luck has held and I am in the Series Final. But I won’t buzz again unless I know the answer.

Leslie comes over and says she is going to be barracking for me now. It is wonderful that all the contestants get on and enjoy the time spent together in the Green Room. We may not be paid but there is plenty of food and (non-alcoholic) drink to keep us happy. On several occasions I gave interstate contestants a lift back to their hotel and we had a late supper in Fitzroy Street.

The Series Final is between me and 2 men. One is a Beatles expert and the other a lover of the Marx Brothers. As I arrive he is in the Green Room and greets me by saying that Groucho was a G&S lover. I know that, I have seen a tape of Groucho as KoKo in a made-for TV Mikado. He seems impressed. When I add that one of Sullivan’s nephews was in a couple of the Marx Brothers’ movies he is intrigued.

Onto the taping. I am on first and manage for the only time to get through all the 15 questions, but only get 12 right. I am relieved when the Beatles chap only manages 9 – his general knowledge is good. Then the Marx Bros ties my score. Round 2 and the question topics are displayed on our monitors. I hate them all and raise a laugh by saying so but choose one called English Churches on the grounds that I might know more about them than the Aussies-born guys with me. The question asks about the cathedral with the tallest spire. I rejoice, I grew up near Salisbury and know the cathedral well. The Brains Trust defer to Thomas Kennealy (he should know a religious question) and he gets it wrong but surprise the others have guessed Salisbury so it’s 100 points to all contestants. By some fluke I know or guess well and get 5 out of 6 of the multiple choice questions. One asks which pop song I had never heard of was made a hit by which of 3 pop groups I had also never heard of. I close my eyes and hit one button and the next day a teenage neighbour pops a note under my front door saying “I knew you were smart when you got the question on Jet right”!

We begin round 3 still with a tie between 2 of us but I am able to get more questions than him and to my surprise end up ahead. Wow, I am through to the Grand Final. My Marx Brothers opponent shows he has no hard feelings by researching Sulivan’s nephew’s contribution acting and sends me photos of him with Groucho.

Now there is a long wait. Series 2 and 3 have to be played through before we can record the Grand Final. I go along to the Series 2 final, the winner is a dour policeman who admires Michael Collins, the man who set up the IRA death squads. He gets the score which becomes the highest in the series. Another wait for the third series. Meanwhile I keep a notebook and jot down things from the news, winners of sporting competitions, names of notable people who die and anything else that makes headlines. My friends go quietly mad as I thrust lists into their hands and say “test me on the dates”. I also get a biography of Michael Collins from the library.

It also becomes clear that the programme is popular. Most of the people I run into over the weeks make a comment about having seen me. That should be a good omen for the show. Overheard in the ABC staff canteen: “We are rating very well, so the programme is bound to be axed”.

The policeman and I are at the taping of the Series 3 final. A young chap with an interest in Aussie Rock wins and looks surprised. He is even more surprised when he is told that the Grand Final will be a black tie event. It doesn’t fit his Rock image and he compromises by wearing a suit. He is a far cry from an earlier contestant doing another aspect of rock music who had his shirt taken away by the wardrobe supervisor to be ironed.

For the Grand Final there is an invited VIP audience who are wooed with champagne before the taping, while the 3 of us go through the ritual of make-up followed by rehearsals of the Presentations ceremony. We take turns in “winning” and being given the trophy by ABC Chairman Donald MacDonald. Then the audience is let in and we are away. Everyone says I look very calm, if they but knew! The contestants shake hands backstage and wish each other luck. I can’t help adding “and may the best woman win”!

Again I am on first. The questions are harder than before and I only get through 13 but answer 9 correctly. My heart sinks, that is too low a score for me to win. The policeman gets 8 of his questions. I breath again. Oz Rock answers 6 correctly. If I thought the first round was tough I wasn’t prepared for the second. We are asked the gas with the highest atomic number, the body of water separating the Atlantic and the Pacific, even Barry Jones on the Brains Trust gets these wrong. Nevertheless we all do reasonably and I am still slightly ahead. Round 3, we test our buzzers and Peter Berner begins. Immediately I hear a buzzer on my left. It is obvious the policeman’s strategy is too come in very quickly to stop the others answering. He gets in for 10 of the 15 questions and I think all is over. Then I realise that he is getting several wrong, which means he pays the penalty of losing 100 points each time. When Berner says “and that was the final question” I begin to think maybe I have done it and yes – I hear my name. Unbelievable. The first time I have won anything by keeping quiet!

Next I am given the gold trophy and we are invited to a party in the Seachange Bar – so named because it was used in the series of that name. Now we are all relaxed and happy and I can chat with the production people who have been endlessly friendly and supportive to the contestants. I reflect on the amazing amount of knowledge which has been aired. History, music, strange creatures of the sea and types of wattle are just some of the subjects which individuals know intimately. The head of light entertainment makes a speech congratulating the Einstein production team and looking forward to the next year. “Does that mean there will be another series?” I ask the Series Producer. “Looks like it” she says. So anyone with a niche interest in bugs, or outer space or anything in between, start honing your skills and apply to become be on next year’s show. But don’t confuse having a good memory with being Einstein – there is no comparison.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Indeed, it is all true. When Mr and Mrs Crikey popped in unannounced at 9.30pm one Friday night after a curry at the nearby Indian, Diana was busily studying away on her Australian history and we sat down and watched videos of her semi-final win and the seemingly unstoppable efforts of the dour copper. After all the effort it really was fantastic seeing Diana take the trophy from Donald McDonald on Sunday and we’re all absolutely thrilled for her.