When it comes to causing a stir with viewers, this isn’t The Chase’s first rodeo.
This time, the ITV show is being accused of making the huge error of awarding £1,000 for a wrong answer about the science fiction film The Martian, which starred Matt Damon and was directed by Ridley Scott.
One of the programmes contestants, Mo – an IT consultant from London – appeared on the game show and was asked by the host Bradley Walsh to name the occupation of Matt Damon’s character in the film.
When his answer was that Matt Damon’s character was an astronaut, Walsh claimed that this was correct, but fans of the show were quick to claim that his answer was in fact wrong, and that Damon’s character Mark Watney is actually a botanist.
Andy Weir’s original novel of the same name, from which the movie was adapted, has the character state on a fair few occasions that he is a botanist with a mechanical engineering qualification, and not an astronaut.
Though Mark Watney is chosen for a mission to Mars, he introduces himself to readers by saying “I’m a botanist and mechanical engineer, basically, the mission’s fix man who played with plants.
“The mechanical engineering might save my life is something breaks,” before adding later, “Hell yeah, I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!”
And viewers on Twitter were quick to back this up, with one person writing: “Mark Whatney in the Martian was actually a botanist #TheChase”, as another put: “Technically Matt Damons “TheMartian” character was a Botanist not an astronaut. #TheChase”.
Confusingly, the book also refers to Watney as an astronaut on a number of occasions. At one point in the book, it talks about the fate of “astronaut Mark Watney” on a mission during a news report. What we’re not so sure about is if he actually has the official qualifications to back it up.
He also refers to himself as an astronaut at several points, though that could be wishful thinking, stating while fighting for survival: “If I get back to Earth, I’ll be famous, right? A fearless astronaut who beat all the odds, right? I bet women like that.”
In situations like these, one needs to remember one of the basic rules of narrative storytelling from the first person perspective: you’re getting the story from someone’s point of view, and you’re hearing their thoughts. And as such, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are concrete points. Watney seems in this respect to be an ever-so-slightly unreliable narrator.
The character of Watney was not based on any one member of NASA or other space exploration program, and Weir has previously claimed that it is based on himself.
He told The Observer: “Mark is based on my own personality. Though he’s smarter and braver than I am and he doesn’t have my flaws. I guess he’s what I wish I were like.”
Weir wrote the book in his spare time while working as a software engineer, and despite having a significant amount of scientific knowledge to base the story upon, he had no contacts within NASA to contact for research.
NASA has since become a big fan of the book and is reportedly required reading for astronaut trainees at the organisation, with Weir being invited to visit NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston.