Here is everything you need to know about the 64-year-old contest that's watched by around 200 million viewers every year

By Phil Boucher
June 29, 2020 02:46 PM
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Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
John Wilson/Netflix

Netflix viewers can't get enough of Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams' new comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The Netflix original movie became the platform's top hit over the weekend, leading many to discover the European song contest that inspired the film for the very first time.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga follows Icelandic musicians Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (McAdams), members of the fictional band Fire Saga, as they are given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to represent their country at the world’s biggest song competition.

To dive deeper into what Eurovision is all about, here is everything you need to know about the 64-year-old contest that's watched by around 200 million viewers every year.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Netflix

THE BASICS

Watching Eurovision is no easy task. The contest was established in 1956 to promote peace in Europe after the horrors of WWII and includes a bizarre set of rules that ensure tiny countries like Malta and San Marino are on a level playing field with the likes of Germany, the U.K. and France. Or at least, that’s the theory.

The Grand Final involves competitors from 26 different countries performing one song each at The Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. It is divided into two main sections: the singing and the voting.

The songs themselves are performed back-to-back and, with a run time of around an hour and a half, represent the first test of your Eurovision stamina. It’s also where things start to get weird.

To begin with, the definition of ‘Europe’ in Eurovision is a little ‘fuzzy,’ as the contest involves countries that aren’t actually in the continent of Europe at all, such as Israel, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Australia.

The contestants themselves also don’t have to come from the countries they’re representing: for instance, in 1988 French-Canadian Céline Dion sung “Ne Partez Sans Moi” on behalf of Switzerland – and won.

You also need to be aware that not all of the countries in Europe will appear in the Grand Final. While the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the previous winners (in this case, Sweden) are guaranteed a place, every other country has to qualify through two semi-final heats.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Elizabeth Viggiano/Netflix

This means that while you’ll get to see contestants from the likes of Russia, Belgium, The Netherlands and Hungary performing, you sadly won’t be able to catch those from Ireland, San Marino and Belarus who failed to make it through qualifying.

THE VOTING

After all 26 acts have performed their songs, the telephone lines are thrown open to every single person in the 42 countries who entered the contest, regardless of whether their own act made it through to the Grand Final. This voting window lasts for 15 minutes and can be done via a cell phone app, landline call or text.

It also includes the one rule that is absolutely central to Eurovision: you cannot vote for your own country. So if you’re from Paris you cannot cast a vote for the French song, and if you’re from Berlin you cannot vote for the German song.

Once this 15-minute flurry is, over the votes are counted and points awarded to the 10 most popular songs in each country. But Eurovision doesn’t like to simply hand out points from 1 to 10. Instead, the most popular song in each country is given 12 points and the second favorite 10. The third most liked then gets 8 points and the fourth 7. This pattern continues all the way down to the tenth most popular, which gets one point.

Favorite: 12 points

Second: 10 points

Third: 8 points

Fourth: 7 points

Fifth: 6 points

Sixth: 5 points

Seventh: 4 points

Eighth: 3 points

Ninth: 2 points

Tenth: 1 point

THE JURIES

This is where Eurovision gets all Game of Thrones.

Bizarrely, the votes of people cast across an entire continent only account for 50 percent of the total. The other 50 percent is decided by a series of five-person juries in each nation. Like the public votes, these juries rank the songs into a top 10 and hand out points accordingly.

On the surface, all you will see is a seemingly endless stream of people appearing from far-flung capitals like Tirana and Belgrade to hand out points for the top 10 choices from each jury. In reality, however, you will actually be looking deep into the heart of European politics, geography and history as allies vote tactically for each other and refuse point blank to give points to anyone else.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
John Wilson/Netflix

This has been the cause of massive, heated arguments for decades. In 2008, longstanding British TV host – and Eurovision legend – Sir Terry Wogan actually stepped down from presenting the show because he believed the system had become totally corrupt.

In 2013, this was nearly proved to be true when Azerbaijan was accused of trying to buy votes from jurors and paying Lithuanian students to vote for their contestant Farid Mammadov. The case was never fully proved but Eurovision introduced a new rule as a result and any country found guilty of vote rigging now faces a three-year ban.

Despite this, the tactical voting continues – particularly among the Scandinavian, Balkan and ex-Soviet nations, who basically share the points out among their friends and allies. Put it this way: Belarus entered Eurovision in 2004. Since then it has given Russia twice as many points as any other country.

It doesn’t stop there, either. The truth is that Europe has so many centuries-old alliances and feuds that virtually every country votes tactically to a degree. It is for this reason that Greece always gives high marks to Cyprus and little or nothing to Turkey. Meanwhile, Malta always hands out points to the U.K., and the U.K. always gives points to Ireland.

Just about the only countries that don’t play the game are France, Israel, Monaco, Switzerland, Portugal, Australia and Germany.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is streaming on Netflix.