Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Deal or No Deal is Kind of a No Deal

With no other viable options last night at 8, I gave "Deal or No Deal" a chance - and that's all it's going to get. The game show has a contestant choose one briefcase from 26, each worth $0.01 to $1,000,000. The person is then intermittently offered money from this ridiculous "Banker" to either take, or stay with their chosen briefcase in order to hold out for more offers or until the end to see its contents. In between offers, the contestant chooses various briefcases to see their contents, all the while getting a better idea of his/her chances of getting a big payout as the Banker changes his offers. The show works off of the contestant's greediness and blind luck.

Go ahead and feel good about yourself since this is all luck anyway.

The set has all of the dramatic lights and bass-heavy music you'd expect a primetime game show to have (thanks "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire"). It wasn't as over the top as Millionaire because there was no circle of spotlights to focus in a dramatic swoop, but the floors were nice and shiny. Speaking of shiny, Howie Mandel and his bald head hosted the show without much fanfare. He wasn't spectacular but also didn't add to the excitement. I've always liked Howie and heard some of his humor during the show, like when a contestant didn't get his sarcasm and Howie said, "yeah, that would be the joke." I'd let Howie have more comedic room to make fun of, I mean, work with the out-of-touch-with-reality contestants.

Please match the model to her IQ.

I don't think the show will have the staying power or incredible popularity that Millionaire had when it first aired (though this is a popular Australian transplant (whose version sounds much more interesting)) . This show is more about blind luck than anything else, while Millionaire is well-designed. By starting with very easy questions, Millionaire lets the viewer feel smart until they reach significant values. The show's strength is in its question variety that would always touch on at least one viewer's area of expertise. Then, when the question was asked, we'd feel smart because it was "soooo easy" for us, but because it was random, it'd stump the contestant. It also helped having multiple choices so everyone felt like they had a fighting chance to pick correctly. "Deal or No Deal" is popular, but if only because of its simplicity for the masses.

Seriously, you can't beat my fake smile after a contestant makes a joke.

Deal or No Deal's strategy solely relies upon how greedy someone wants to be. Last night, the female contestant was offered $138,000 with $300k and $500k left on the board. She passed on the offer and eventually finished with $25k. What gets me about the show is how easy it is to finish with a few thousand dollars for essentially doing nothing, while other shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune at least make you work for it. For the most part, you're in a fair amount of control of how you'll do in those two shows. Meanwhile, Deal or No Deal gives you little control in your result unless you're deciding on a Banker's offer. Outside of that, you have no control over your tally since picking random briefcases is just that - random. The game also lends itself to longer turns because there is little incentive to walk away early when you'll have better offers the longer you stay, until there are a handful of briefcases.

I can't believe I'm writing this much about a show I didn't care for, but I can't stop myself....

You know my fingers will smell like chicken when I remove them from my armpits.

The Banker guy is shown as a silhouette perched above the stage who "makes" this awkwardly silly call to Howie to report the next offer. I think they should do away with this whole scheme. Watching Howie listen on the phone really isn't entertaining. The phone prop looks really cheap with one little 20-W light bulb acting as the call signal. Why not just give Howie the offers in an IFB and have him comedically/dramatically tell the contestant? The banker guy has no voice or character (haha) so why have him there at all? The producers would be better off having a different celebrity act as the banker each night and put their own twist on it. Then, weak viewers would tune in to see that night's surprise banker.

Let's hug after we turned down $138k.

Of course, like any reality/game show, the details are in the closing credits (for example: Trump's weekly decision is decided beforehand with help from the producers). The "mysterious" banker is really the producer(s) and the "high security" vault we're shown at the start was "scripted for dramatic purposes." Not that it mattered since any vault on a sound stage isn't going to be your first choice to store your great-grandmother's necklace. While we're talking about deceiving appearances, is there any point to having identically-dressed, not-so-hot models hold and open the briefcases? Though it is fun watching Howie awkwardly speak with any of them for more than a few seconds.

That's my super secret vault behind me...until you read the fine print to learn it's fake and the producers knew what briefcase had what value the whole time.

Perhaps this is the show's crux, but I found myself rooting against last night's contestant after she turned down the $138k, telling her how dumb she was and deserved the lower sums for being so greedy. Did I feel better about myself? A little and I can see myself yelling at the screen night after night. I know nothing about math theory, but when the briefcase is first chose, it's a 1 in 30 shot of having the highest cash and 1 in 6 of having a 6-digit amount. As the briefcases are opened, we're told of the contestant's likelihood of having a high amount. So with 4 cases left, it's 1 in 4, but in reality, it's still the 1 in 30 from the start, meaning, as we've seen in every episode this week, no contestant ever has a value over $100k so it pays to take the cash after opening at least 20.

NBC offered an interactive game where you text a guess which briefcase is a separate secret one, but even if you get it right, you have to be randomly selected among the winners. It's a decent idea to get viewers involved, but not enough for me. I won't watch the show from the start again, but over the next week, if I'm flipping through with no other options, and someone is very far along, my curiosity might get peaked, but there isn't enough substance to keep me regularly coming back.

Of course, this is just my two cents. Sorry, so very sorry about that pun.

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