Sure he works in advertising, but since we first saw him on Gruen Transfer, he’s proven to be smart, funny and good looking all at the same time. He’s a man never short of a convincing argument, yet without the bravado of being too full of himself. Are all Canadians in clever t-shirts this nice?
Now ABC1 has had the smarts to give him his own show in the form of a science / entertainment series, ReDesign my Brain with Todd Sampson. Maybe he’s taking inspiration from Brian Cox.
In the three-part series Sampson looks at “brain plasticity” and whether the brain can be trained like a muscle to increase its power in “mental speed, attention, memory, creativity, innovation, lateral thinking, body intelligence, visualization and emotional intelligence.” I see we still have some ground to make up in astral travelling, but no matter…
Sampson takes the Louis Theroux approach of presenter-turned-guinea-pig, boldly putting himself forward as the candidate for a series of exercises. In this first episode he agrees to represent Australia at the World Memory Championships in London, a tall order for someone who’s yet to embark on his first lesson.
Overseeing several of these is US neuroplasticity pioneer Michael Merzenich. He puts Sampson through a series of exercises that test his eye movements. His brain is “mapped” with scanners and he is given computer-based challenges, some of which are showcased for the viewer to try at home.
Sampson is also asked to learn how to juggle, so he meets juggler and brain scientist, Nic Price. Who knew circus skills were so productive? Sure enough when he first starts out he’s pretty hopeless, if endearing.
The show also takes us overseas to the US and Europe to meet a chess champ who can play multiple competitors without even seeing their chess-board, to test his peripheral vision and memory skills, and to learn how magicians deceive us with distraction.
The biggest challenge he faces comes when he is presented with a deck of 52 playing cards, and he is expected to memorise them in the order they are first shown. Thankfully, Australian memory champion Tansel Ali is at hand to impart some basic tactics to memorise them. If you’re dead keen, you’ll be able to master this skill yourself, with a little practice.
But will it be enough for him to take on the best at the World Memory Championships, where they come in all ages, genders and races? Suddenly the geeky young kid and the funny old boffin are serious competition for this normally-confident ad man.
Older viewers will however be encouraged that there are practical steps they can take towards reducing mental decline.
Sampson slips into the solo presenting role with ease. He reacts to the challenges with the same sense of wonder and shock that we would feel, sitting from the comfort of our couch. He deftly balances the information with the personable without making this too much of an info overload.
I don’t know whether Plasticity is just a buzz word for something we knew all along, but it will make a pretty neat Todd Sampson t-shirt as Plasti-City.
ReDesign My Brain with Todd Sampson airs 8:30pm Thursdays on ABC1.