Monday, February 9, 2009

Open the case

We never watched Deal Or No Deal during its heyday as a staple of the new game shows that were saving networks, sussing it out (correctly) as a triumph of style (and endless delay) over substance. But Archer loves its monetary, banker, and case-number aspects, so we have ended up watching quite a bit of it with him.

And a more frustrating viewing experience I could not have imagined. First, let me give the show its propers: You really root for the contestant. Unfortunately, that's because their boneheadedness makes for such painful, inevitable failure, and their crumpled faces and crushed sp.

You see, the people in the studio -- I'm looking right at you, invariably-complicit family and friends -- are rooting for the contestant for the wrong reasons. What is the object of the game? To get the banker to give you a lot more money than your case is worth. What is not the object of the game? To "believe in yourself" and continue on to the bitter end under the delusion that your case holds the million dollars. Yet this is without exception what friends-and-family urge the contestant to do. They talk about all the hardship this person has suffered, and all the dedication it took to get there, as if the universe owes her. Instead of surveying the odds, they beg the contestant to will the jackpot into her case, Schroedinger-like.

If the game billed itself as being about shrewdness and probability, rather than about heartwarming stories of misplaced self-confidence, people would play differently. Instead, you see over and over again contestants once offered six figures -- six figures! -- reduced to accepting a hundred bucks at the end. And all because of some bizarre American conviction that game shows exist to balance the moral scales and reward damn-the-torpedoes heedlessness.

If that were the case, my friends, by now I'd have found some way to monetize all the hours I've spent yelling "TAKE THE DEAL!" at the television.


the secret knitter said...

In one of my college classes a professor talked about how Wheel of Fortune casting directors picked contestants who wouldn't solve the puzzles too quickly so that people at home could solve them faster and feel smarter than those on the show. I suspect that's pretty much what's happening on Deal or No Deal. Plus, there's the added advantage of making smaller payouts.

Anonymous said...

Well said! Well said, indeed.

doafy said...

I've always felt like I'd be the perfect Deal or No Deal contestant. I'm incredibly enthusiastic, enjoy making a fool of myself in front of others (see my most recent blog entry for proof) and I can probably come off in an interview as irrational, but really, I would actually take the deal when I was out of safe cases.

All I really want is $425,000. I think that's reasonable. :)