‘You seethe with resentment that your partner doesn’t know the Thai flag’

Tanya Sweeney: A Zoom quiz invitation? I thought we’d waved that blight off for good

Back in March, the Zoom quiz seemed like a great idea . . . it didn’t take long to see them for the folly that they were. Photograph: Getty Images

Back in March, the Zoom quiz seemed like a great idea . . . it didn’t take long to see them for the folly that they were. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Honestly, I couldn’t have been more surprised if I had got a fax or a message on MySpace. “COVID PUB QUIZ NIGHTS is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting,” the text from a friend read. And here was me thinking we’d waved that blight off for good.

Back in March, when lockdowns were a new thing and we were banded in a sort of Blitz-era solidarity before we knew about Covidiots and anti-maskers, the Zoom quiz seemed like a great idea. Every weekend, there they were, just like a trip to the pub or cinema once filled our social calendar. As we leaned into our new normal, we thought they were great . . . for about a fortnight. Then we saw them for the stressful nightmare that they are. And they’re nothing to get nostalgic about, much less resurrect.

I remember the sheer, bum-clenching awkwardness of it all. Firstly, we were getting invites to Zoom quizzes six times a day, often from people you’d long forgotten you were friends with. Arriving into the “Zoom room” only to realise there was someone on the call that you hadn’t seen since school. Ackkk. “Oh there’s Jane from home economics,” you’d shout into the computer cheerily, waving, while wondering how the heck she knows the host of the quiz. Turns out she works with your friend’s friend. They work in PR together. That’s the problem with the Irish degrees of separation: you never know who you’ll end up on a Zoom quiz with.

No matter. To alleviate the awkwardness of the reunion, you try to get a surreptitious look at Jane’s house. Her husband, sitting next to her, looks like a sweet potato with eyebrows, you note with embarrassingly mirthful glee. It’s only then you realise your own partner is sitting next to you, stuffing Kettle Chips into his fizzog like they’re about to be banned during lockdown. He looks like the Tasmanian Devil after two weeks on a juice cleanse. Jane sees this too. You can see it in her eyes.The mirthful glee.

There is always someone on the quiz call who Gives Good Zoom. They have lit themselves and their non-Ikea sofa perfectly, so they look aglow – not like a blue-beige serial killer. They nurse a lightly sweating glass of gin and tonic with actual cucumber in it.

Powerpoint presentations

The quiz host is usually a bit too enthused about the task at hand and has turned full-blown school teacher. There are Powerpoint presentations and perky graphics and lots of Comic Sans font, which make the Kettle Chips inside you gurgle. They haven’t even started asking the questions yet and your face is already wrecked from holding up a smile.

And then come the questions. Reader, it’s absolute chaos. There are the easy ones to begin with: questions cribbed from the news headlines that make everyone feel smug and clever. Then there’s an elaborate graphic with flags of the world. You get two right. Jane gets five. You will later seethe with resentment that your partner doesn’t know the Thai flag, even though you don’t know it either.

There are the sort of curveball questions that have the power to break up a relationship. “What Caribbean island did Princess Margaret own a home on?” You are convinced it’s Mustique; himself is dead certain the answer is Antigua (who knew you lived with such an enthusiastic royalist?). Eventually you cave in, owing to his absolute conviction. By the time the quizmaster reveals it was indeed Mustique, you are about ready to run away to the airport. Worse again, you forget to mute the argument so everyone can hear.

Zoom quizzes certainly aren’t a decent replacement for blathering over wine and dry roasted peanuts in the pub.

Midway through the quiz, you realise you are in third place and that’s when you get really, really invested in winning. The music round provides some blessed light relief but with one or two heads bobbing along obligingly, it’s just watching an empty dance floor at a party.

By the 10th round, your team has slipped to sixth place, which means it’s time for your Oscar-losing actress face. Honestly, at this point your face is killing you from all the performative grinning. It’s worth it though, to see the look on the winner’s face when they realise their prize is . . . getting to host the Zoom quiz next week.

For a while, the Zoom quiz had the strange double-effect of becoming both the scaffolding of our weekends and a stressful event we came to dread. It didn’t take long for most of us to see them for the folly that they were. We may have bought into the gaiety initially but we soon realised they were not a bonding exercise and they certainly weren’t a decent replacement for blathering over wine and dry roasted peanuts in the pub.

Try as you might to resurrect the Zoom quiz for the cold, dark winter of 2020, I will not be partaking. We will not be bonding in this way. I will not be brushing up on my European capitals or taking YouTube tutorials in Powerpoint. No, I will probably be doing something else that night. As in, anything else.

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