Only Connect: How I became a champion of champions

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As the current series of Only Connect enters the semi-final stage, I know how nervous the contestants will be feeling.

As the captain of the reigning Champion of Champions side, the Crossworders, I can safely say it never gets any easier and the show's producers always pull some fiendish questions out of the bag as the series nears its conclusion.

Along with my Crossworders teammates Mark Grant and Ian Bayley, I'm a pretty keen quiz player and solid general knowledge is definitely essential to do well on Only Connect.

I met Ian by chance at university and we went on to re-found the university's quiz society together. And we met Mark some years later when Ian played him on the BBC Radio 4 quiz programme Brain of Britain.

But by itself general knowledge is not sufficient to win on Only Connect. You also need that blend of lateral thinking and puzzle-solving ability which is tested in so many of the questions.

I've always enjoyed puzzles and word games, luckily, which really helped, and that combined well with Ian's and Mark's in-depth general knowledge.

The show enjoys a reputation as one of the most challenging on television, and the difficulty level had certainly been turned up to the maximum in several of our champions and special episodes.

The different rounds test lots of different skills. For me, rounds one and two - where you have to spot connections, and work out the fourth in a connected sequence - are the heart of the show.

My personal favourite is probably round two, which has the additional challenge of not only having to recognise a sequence but work out the correct order too.

The most successful team in Only Connect history make their first appearance.

While it's great to meet and chat with Victoria Coren Mitchell - who is just as entertaining in real life as she is on the show - all the members of the Only Connect team are extremely dedicated to treating contestants incredibly well. So the experience is great fun. 

But despite that, the stress slowly begins to mount as your team progresses.

There's little to lose in the opening matches, but that's certainly not the case as the knockout phase begins, and I imagine the semi-finalists will be feeling the nerves a bit.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was probably most nervous in our Champion of Champions match against the Epicureans. That team was captained by my wife Katie - so family bragging rights were at stake!

David takes on his wife Katie in a Champion of Champions showdown.

Katie and I had met while competing for different teams in a student quiz, but we'd not faced one another much since then, and both found the experience quite stressful!

My team won by just one point, so we were both able to go home with heads held high. We're not in any hurry to repeat the experience though!
Every team's preparation will differ, but it's always worth practising with a few Only Connect walls on the BBC website and maybe some missing vowel rounds too - as in both of those rounds a bit of practice helps with learning the right techniques.

David Stainer is captain of the Crossworders, to date the most successful team in Only Connect history. 

The first semi-final of Only Connect series seven will be shown at 8.30pm, Monday, 22 July on BBC Four. For further programme times, please see the episode guide. 

You can test your skills online with the Only Connect Play Along Walls.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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