Monday, May 01, 2006

I'll take door number three, Monty

For some reason, The Daughter's taken a liking to this NBC game show Deal or No Deal. If you haven't seen this show, it's about the simplest premise I've ever seen for a game show. You know those really brief pricing games on The Price is Right, where you're offered two items and all you have to do is put the displayed price on the right item? That's about the level of sophistication with Deal or No Deal. There is no trivia quiz, and no real approach one can take to playing this game aside from playing odds once the "endgame" comes around. It's a pure guessing game.

Basically, Deal or No Deal has a bunch of numbered briefcases, each one of which contains some amount of money from $.01 up to $1,000,000. A contestant picks one of these cases to be "her case", and then picks out other cases to be opened and the contents revealed. As the dollar amounts are revealed, they are "removed from play", and periodically, as the number of "amounts in play" diminish, a person called "the banker" calls down to the stage with an offer of money to "buy back the contestant's case". The idea, then, is to get the banker to pay a lot of money for a case that hopefully doesn't contain much money at all. (If one plays all the way to the end, one gets whatever is in the original case. That hasn't happened yet.) When the Banker makes an offer, the contestant can either accept it, ending the game, or play on, opening more cases in hopes of picking the small amounts of money and driving up the future offers. At first, one has to open five or six cases without getting an offer, but as the game goes on, the offers start to come after every case.

Got all that?

The game is pure, one-hundred percent guesswork and gambling. There are no hints given as to which case may contain the million dollars. As a game show, the game is so inherently uninteresting that the show would be painfully dull to watch if not for the "human factor". You really get a good sense for how people talk themselves into believing what they want to believe, for how they insist on applying logic to situations in which they have almost no facts on which to base their beliefs, and more than a lot of plain old superstition. As the game gets more intense, the stakes rise; and when confronted with five cases from which to choose, the contestants will often say things like "My first child is twelve years old this week, so I'll open case number twelve!"

There's some kind of psychological insight to find in shows like this. I'm not sure what it is, but it's there.

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