If there's anything you need to know about me, it's that I love Taskmaster.
Being a fan of a British panel show in America can be a little lonely, so I've tried to recruit some friends to watch it, and I can't help describing it to them as pure comfort food.
Fortunately, Gardiner was aware of the show before I met him, so I didn't have to muscle him into watching it with me. He had seen clips but had never watched any full seasons until I moved in with him. Now we've been watching all of them, out of order, which is really fun.
So, while we (I) wait for season fifteen to air later this March (2023), I've decided to look back with the ultimate fondness and rank my top ten favorite contestants from the first five seasons.
Now, I'm sure among fans a lot of my rankings are going to be confusing, but hey, that's just how it is. As much as I love this show, not every season is to my taste, and that's okay. It's just how it is.
Now, on with the list.
Oh, and if, for some reason, you're reading this without having seen the show, there will be spoilers as to season winners and such.
10: Sara Pascoe
"It was a gift from me, so technically I own it."
The last lone woman contestant on the series, Sara Pascoe sat in the fifth seat on season three. She was one half of the "sinister Aryan twins" with series winner Rob Beckett, she cartwheeled her way through a goose shit-covered running track, and she molded the sweetest little ice cream snowman, Scoopy.
There was something about Sara that just made me want to be friends with her. She seemed super nice on-screen, and she actually is off-screen, as I once tweeted her for advice on starting a stand-up career and she gave me a very kind and thoughtful answer.
I found her laugh to be infectious and her sense of humor just perfect for the Taskmaster environment. She's one of many contestants I truly wish had gotten to be on a ten-episode season, instead of the mere five we saw her on.
And while I loved her from the get-go, secretly bringing in her boyfriend at the time's Queen clock for a prize task, her contributions in team tasks with Rob sealed the deal.
9. Joe Wilkinson
"There's strength in arches..."
Before his go on season two, I vaguely recognized Joe from the clips of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown I had seen on YouTube and knew to expect some...oddness.
As expected, Joe approached the show with a laziness and attitude that fit his strange comedic persona, and it was perfect. He made many low effort attempts at tasks, such as his miffed rendition of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," but shockingly put a lot of effort into making a full, hearty breakfast instead of eating an egg the quickest.
But, easily, his most iconic moment in the whole show was the potato throw.
The Task: Get this potato into the golf hole. You may not touch the red green.
The Approach: Just fucking toss it in.
The Outcome: Joe was revealed to have the toes of his shoe just over the edge of the red green.
The throw was so incredible that when his shoe gaffe was revealed, Greg left its status as a qualified or disqualified attempt up to Joe's fellow contestants. When the decision was revealed to not be in Joe's favor, he literally threw himself onto the ground and begged Greg on his hands and knees.
To this day, coming up on thirteen seasons later, it is still discussed at length amongst fans, cementing Joe's status in this top ten list.
8: Mel Giedroyc
"Yes, this is what sencha is."
Okay, I'm going to be honest. I was not one of those Americans who watched The Great British Bake Off, so I was not aware of Mel until I saw her in season four of Taskmaster.
I think what I loved so much about Mel was her infectious enthusiasm. She may not have been the funniest contestant in the show's run, but she was just having so much fun that you can't help but adore her.
At times I felt bad because her funniest moments were more about laughing at her, especially when she had to eat her exotic sandwich. But she took everything in such great stride, laughing harder at herself than anyone else.
Oh, and her running around in a Baby Gap with the giraffe stuffed animal? A stroke of pure genius.
Mel just seems like the type of person who could make the most boring situation so much fun. And that's exactly the type of person you want on a show like this.
7. Rob Beckett
"Wot shoes? [wink]"
Like Joe Wilkinson, I knew who season three's Rob Beckett was prior to his run on Taskmaster. And all I really knew was blond hair, big teeth, and a truly unique laugh.
It wasn't like I didn't enjoy Rob before, but I genuinely didn't think I was going to like him as much as I did. In fact, I was actively rooting for him to win near the end.
For me, the best thing about Rob's time on the show was the frenetic energy he brought. Rob had the odd advantage of having just become a father before he started filming his tasks. The lack of sleep involved truly gave him the upper hand and allowed a special level of creativity that arguably led to his win.
I think this is highlighted especially when he had to do something to surprise Alex as soon as he left the shed. Rob dressed as what I can only assume was Norma Bates from Psycho and fired a power washer at Alex.
6. Hugh Dennis
Easily one of the most robbed Taskmaster contestants of all time, Hugh Dennis sat first chair on season four.
I barely recognized him from the one episode of Mock the Week I had seen, and so had no idea what to expect from him when it came to his task attempts. I loved getting to know Hugh as one of the contestants who used lateral thinking in as many tasks as he could.
However, Greg seemed to judge him harshly, even when it wasn't completely warranted. In my opinion, it always struck me that Greg thought it was funny to take the piss out of Hugh and kept doing it throughout the studio recordings to entertain himself.
Most in the audience agree with me that Hugh should have gotten more points on a lot of tasks, in particularly his choreographed dance to the ringtone. But this also made his scant few successes all the more exciting to celebrate
Hugh provided a lot of great laughs at his expense, and like his teammate Mel, took it pretty well. He was a great contestant, and I'd love to see him get another chance.
5. Roisin Conaty
"I just grazed it."
Oh, Roisin. What are we going to do with you?
The only woman on Taskmaster's first season was Roisin Conaty. Another contestant I sort of recognized from other panel shows; let's just say, I knew to expect that she probably wasn't going to win.
I think what I loved the most about her time on the show was the way her off-screen friendship with Greg Davies bled into the studio sessions. She knew how to get a rise out of him and he made an effort to tease her in the opening of every episode. And I genuinely think the first season of the show featuring this sort of chemistry helped Taskmaster to grow into the juggernaut that it is today.
Roisin was perfectly inept at most of the tasks and had this way of giggling about herself that was so infectious and made me adore her throughout the season. And though I liked her so much throughout, there's one moment that lives in my head rent-free.
The Task: Paint the best picture of a horse whilst riding a horse.
The Approach: Ride a fake horse.
The Outcome: Despite her fear of horses, she painted a middling picture of the horse.
To me, it wasn't her painting of a horse that struck me. It was the image of Roisin riding a fake horse in the stable while the theme from Rawhide played over it.
Roisin was so much fun and I truly wish she had been on a season with more than six episodes to watch.
4. Joe Lycett
I cannot tell you how happy I am that Taskmaster introduced me to Joe Lycett in its fourth season.
There was something about Joe that reminded me of a lot of my own personal friends. His facial expressions, his mannerisms, and his jokes all felt very familiar to me and were much appreciated.
His approach to the tasks were also very fun and well thought out. And even though I was initially rooting for Noel in my first viewing of the season (mostly because the Old Gregg sketches were an important part of my college experience), I found my love for Joe taking over. Now every time I watch season four again, I get sad knowing he isn't going to win.
One of my all-time favorite moments is the task where the contestants had to paint a portrait of Greg Davies and Joe was given the extra task of having to smile with increasing enthusiasm every ten seconds. His smiles were pure gold and added an extra level of fun to the task.
3. Tim Key
"I picked the plug up, mate."
Tim Key is one of the most important contestants in Taskmaster history, and you cannot tell me otherwise.
Back in season one, Tim displayed a level of energy and mental gymnastics that has turned the show into what it is today. A king of cheating, lying, and playing around with the words of the task, but also using his brain in more positive ways, Tim is one of the greatest competitors to grace the show.
And on top of all that, he delivered one of my favorite moments in the entire series. The task was to collect the most tears in an egg cup. Most of the contestants, including Tim, tried to make themselves cry, as I'm sure a lot of us would do in the given situation.
How did Tim try to achieve his own tears? By asking to look at "powerful art."
I can't tell you why it worked for me, but by God, does it still make me giggle when I think of it.
I'd love to see Tim on a newer season, one with ten episodes. But I'm so glad he was there from the beginning.
2. Romesh Ranganathan
"There wasn't a box, mate!"
I've often had an idea in my head of having a special version of Taskmaster, where former contestants of the show who didn't win could come back and get their second chance at it. And whenever this thought pops into my head, Romesh Ranganathan is always the first name that comes up.
Romesh was another first season contestant, and genuinely one of my favorites of the whole series. From the watermelon throw to the "Tree Wizard" song, his antics were among the reasons I loved every one of the six episodes he was in.
Romesh's level of anger is hilarious on its own, and his laugh was music to my ears. I wonder if his rants in the studio inspired many of the newer superfan contestants, like James Acaster and Iain Stirling, and I cannot complain at all.
The juxtaposition of rage with the ridiculousness and meaninglessness of the tasks is just one big chef's kiss, let me tell you.
1. Paul Chowdhry
"Well, you're a man who likes women."
Good lord, could it be anyone else for me?
Paul Chowdhry, the worst scoring contestant in the show's history, is my number one favorite of the first five seasons. Maybe even favorite ever, with Guz Khan being the only competition I can think of at the moment.
I knew nothing of Paul going into the season three, and found him delightfully awful at most of the tasks. His deadpan, serious demeanor made me giggle more than anyone else on the show. And I love seeing how twinkly his eyes get when he smiles in the studio.
I think the perfect moment of Paul Chowdhry on Taskmaster is when he had to make a snowman. He requested a slushy, a bag of ice, and a white teddy bear, which ended up being a rabbit instead. Right there you might be wondering, "How can he possibly make this a snowman?"
Well, he stacked ice on top of the rabbit in its tray, then poured blue slushy juice on top if it, which made it look like the "bastard" was "crying, innit?"
The "snow bear" received some of the loudest laughs I've heard from the audience in the entire show, and I can't watch it without cackling, myself.
His attempts at tasks were so misguided and hilarious. I can't agree more with Greg than when he says something to the effect of, "I want to stay here all night," after judging one of Paul's tasks.
Now, I know I said I was ranking my top ten from the first five seasons and then didn't rank anyone from season five. There's a reason for that.
First things first, I wanted Bob Mortimer to be part of this list because I love his stories on Would I Lie to You?, but honestly, I loved these ten people better on the show.
Second, my most controversial Taskmaster opinion is that season five isn't one of my favorite seasons. I know it's incredibly popular, but it just didn't work for me. And that's okay.
All Taskmaster is good Taskmaster.
But what do you think? Agree with my choices? Let me know. I crave validation. Disagree with my choices? Let me know. But remember that it costs you nothing to be kind.