Matt Rose has just spent a week learning to make pumpkin cannelloni, not an easy dish considering the most extravagant thing he’s cooked to date was served with a side of potato smileys.
He may have exaggerated his cooking skills when applying for MasterChef Live, an arena-style food exhibition put on by the people behind the television show, but he’s been doing everything he can to get his face about recently.
In the end Matt put aside the newly-bought pasta maker and instead tried his hand at risotto when he appeared last Saturday.
Matt’s clearly no foodie, so what is he is up to then?
Earlier this year he graduated from the University of Surrey with a first in English Literature and is struggling to find a job.
He’s not the only one – this year, the total number of unemployed 16-24 year olds reached a record high of 991,000.
But he hasn’t been applying exclusively for jobs. When he’s not busy handing out CVs and filling in forms, Matt is applying to be a contestant for just about every TV show on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 that wants applicants from the general public.
“Game show applications are so interesting – the Deal or No Deal one has you writing poems about the banker and so forth – that job applications seem too boring to consider by comparison.”
In the months since he graduated, Matt has been asked to just one job interview, for a sales job in London, which he unfortunately didn’t get.
“I struggled because unlike the other applicants I have no sales experience”, he says, “I think it’s tricky to get a job as an English degree tends to fall through the cracks of what employers are looking for.”
He has, however, appeared on several television shows.
Earlier this month he was in Manchester recording an episode of the seminal Channel 4 quiz show Countdown. He crashed and burned: having stormed the phone interview, Matt just struggled to put points on the board in the studio.
Before that he assembled a crack team to challenge five of the country’s most esteemed quiz show champions on BBC2’s Eggheads.
“Being on Eggheads was surreal. I botched an easy question, saying Kate Middleton was married at St Paul’s instead of Westminster Abbey, doing that terrible thing where you have the right answer and then talk yourself out of it. If it wasn’t for that, I might have won 20 grand.”
Other recent television appearances include providing a soundbite on The Joy of Teen Sex, proclaiming to the world, “My friend – who shall remain nameless – once said that going down on a girl in the morning is a bit like pulling apart a cheese toasty.” Nice.
The most recent figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters show that companies will receive an average of 83 applications per graduate vacancy. In contrast, the producer of Countdown estimates that there are roughly 8.5 applicants per place on the show, so it’s not really surprising that Matt is managing to get his face on television with ease, but struggling to find an employer.
It might be common practice to pay your rent by getting a job and working the nine-to-five, but the potential earnings for a professional quizzer are substantial. So, has all of this television work translated into a profit?
“I haven’t made any money from shows yet”, he says, “I’ve just had travel expenses paid, so I’m essentially getting free mini-breaks around the UK, which has been nice.”
Winning enough to make being a quiz show contestant a viable career choice is clearly tough, but even a single appearance on Deal or No Deal or The Million Pound Drop could make all of the effort worthwhile.
Unfortunately, the high demand for places on these flagship programs with big cash prizes makes them extremely difficult to get on to.
Luckily, generating a one-off windfall is not Matt’s only concern.
As well as broadening his knowledge of trivia considerably and finally learning to cook to an acceptable standard, he’s benefited from experiencing how TV is created behind the scenes.
“Aside from the money I am quite interested to see how the whole TV process works; having spent hours of every day watching the same afternoon game shows, it’s quite surreal and exciting to actually be in the very studios I’ve spent so many hours watching, gregariously chatting with the presenters and so forth.”
So what is he going to do next?
“I’m not sure yet, although I’ve heard that the auditions for the next series of Big Brother are opening soon.”
Maybe most are better off sticking with more conventional income sources, but with more than one in five young people out of work, perhaps it’s not surprising that some are searching for novel ways to accumulate wealth.
Trying to win your living on quiz shows might seem a bit off the wall, but there are plenty of more reliable opportunities worth considering: starting a business, building a website, becoming an investor, or generating income from creative work are all options with a great deal of potential.
The general outlook is pretty bleak for young graduates at the moment, but with creative flare and a bit of ambition, you may not have to rely on the congested jobs market.
If you pull it off you’ll probably wind up happier and more fulfilled; it has to beat working an office job.
Henry Hill’s commentary: It will never be easy to find a graduate job again