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Please Explain: Deal or No Deal
2007-02-12 22:26
by Scott Long

This week's topic might seem like an easy one, but let me mention this if you are unaware. Deal or No Deal is one of the Top 10 rated TV shows in the US. I decided tonight to see what all the fuss was about.

If you haven't seen the show, Deal or No Deal features a bevy of supermodels who hold suitcases with varying amounts of money in them. The hot babes are all dressed alike, kind of like Vanna White meets Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love video vixens.

I'm not going to get into the details of the program, but it takes the least amount of intelligence and skill of any game show I've ever seen. Deal or No Deal makes PLINKO seem like Jeopardy. I understood much of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire mania, as it was a game which tested intelligence, while at the same time incorporating strategy. Deal or No Deal has all the depth of thought of a Howie Mandel standup comedy routine. After just one show, I can tell you No Dealio for me.

Please Explain Deal or No Deal.

2007-02-12 23:26:48
1.   D4P
I have never seen the show. Yet, instinctively, I know that it is an appropriate "Please Explain" victim...
2007-02-12 23:35:47
2.   jmoney
The Deal or No Deal phenomenon is simple: people love to watch a train wreck. I've only seen the show once or twice, but the contestants are so freaking stupid, they'll always turn down the sure thing for a chance at some huge, elusive dollar total. Television viewers like to see people make bad decisions, and they enjoy watching the ensuing train wreck unfold.

For the record, I think the entire concept of Deal or No Deal is idiotic, but I tend to feel that way about most of what's on television.

2007-02-12 23:42:05
3.   Greg Brock
2 You bet. I've watched it once or twice. It's awesome watching people throw away easy money. It's dumb to the power of retarded. Awesome!

You can take the box or the boat...

A boat is a boat, but a mystery box could be anything...Even a boat! We've always wanted one of those!

2007-02-12 23:53:51
4.   D4P
Sounds like a rip-off of one portion of Let's Make a Deal.

Hey: it even has "Deal" in the name!

2007-02-12 23:57:51
5.   Cliff Corcoran
3 Greg, that's "Let's Make a Deal."

Did anyone catch the "Gold Case" concept on "30 Rock." It was a gameshow created by Kenneth the page in which several Deal-or-No-Deal-type models hold suitcases and the contestants simply have to guess which one is filled with solid gold bricks. The TV execs love it and green light the thing, but it blows up in their faces when every contestant figures out which case has the gold because the 120 lb. model holding that particular case is huffing and puffing and struggling to hold the suitcase full of gold bricks aloft. Funny stuff, even if it ignored the fact that even Deal or No Deal puts the cases on tables.

2007-02-12 23:59:43
6.   Greg Brock
5 I was simply mocking the stupidity of game show contestants. And quoting a television program.
2007-02-13 04:01:18
7.   Shaun P
Its not the train wrecks that are most amusing to watch; they happen too frequently because too many people are stupid/greedy/dumb.

The fun part of Deal or No Deal is when you get someone who knows what they are doing, and so wouldn't be a train wreck. And they've guessed well enough to get a big money offer ($200K) and still have a couple of big money cases left to open. Its fun to see what people who are intelligent enough to make the right choices to get to that point do when huge amounts of money are involved.

Most do quite well, but every once in a while someone goes from intelligent to gambler - and the end result is always amusing.

And, when someone plays it smart and right, and walks out of there with over $200K, its genuinely nice to see.

2007-02-13 04:25:45
8.   Sam DC
I've only seen a snippet of this show, and maybe I missed how the game works, but I'm surprised you all seem to think there's such a clear approach -- it seems like you'd get to some difficult decisions about what kind of risk you're willing to accept for what kind of return in this game pretty quick.
2007-02-13 06:15:03
9.   Penarol1916
I think that this is not as good a choice for Please Explain as others. Previous choices at least had defenders among the chattering classes, Deal or No Deal is universally derided as crap, I can't think of anyone who has ever defended watching that show, except for my 9-year old.

That being said, from the couple of episodes I have seen, I don't really understand some of the comments being made, particularly 2. and 3. The episodes I saw, the offers being made for the suitcase were much too low given the expected value of the suitcase based on the probabilities. That made sense, since to build up the drama, you want people to reject the deals, especially initially. Granted, I only watched the first couple of episodes so perhaps they have changed the game and now the offers are much closer to the expect value of the suitcase, but before you would see examples where the remaining suitcases were $500,000, $10,000, and $1,000 and the offer for the suitcase would only be $115,000 so that only someone who was highly risk averse would take the deal. Have they changed the show recently?

2007-02-13 07:01:59
10.   Raf
It must be popular; I caught the spanish version last Saturday...
2007-02-13 07:43:34
11.   Benaiah
The premise of the show is the highest possible "high drama" moments in an hour. Every case opening, every offer by the banker, ever time Howie says the catch phrase, the score says the murderer is under the bed and an extreme close up shows the contestant peeking between their fingers. They even put the family and friends there, so that you can see a little human drama, multiple lives hanging in the balance as a future trophy wife opens the case. The family gives advice, so you can see them have to resist saying "I told you so" when the offer goes from 150K to 1500 bucks. Throw in a little pageantry ("The Banker"), some essentialized hot chicks (A common complaint is when they talk or look in the case, I mean seriously, hot women who aren't allowed to talk... DoND, the strip club for people ashamed to go to strip clubs) and a generically funny host (AKA not funny, but "2 and a half Men" is still the most popular comedy on the air), and you have a show. Everyone acknowledges that there is no skill involved, but that doesn't mean that it isn't compelling in some way or another to middle America.

They give away fantastic amounts of money, and I don't care what Penarol says, if my options are: 33% chance at half a million, 66% chance at enough money to take the family out to dinner, or 100K, I would take the 100K. Whatever, they are offering some schlub from Ohio three times the average household income or the chance to tell people you almost had half a million. There are train-wrecks and big winners, and really hot girls, that even your girlfriend won't get mad about. Reality TV may not be intelligent or particularly compelling to you or me, but there is a reason why Americans love it so much... We all think we are going to make it big some day, and having an idiot like Howie give it to us is probably the best hope for some of us.

P.S. Greg, I got the reference.

2007-02-13 08:06:35
12.   Mike J
I'm not ashamed to admit that I watch it occasionally. It's harmless, kid-safe (I have toddlers), and it passes Bill Simmons' cooking segment test. (Everyone thinks its stupid, but once the fire gets going it's hard to turn the channel. You WANT to see the host's face when they take a bite of the hastily prepared concoction.)

When you get down to it, it's "Who wants to be a millionaire" for stupid people. Not that the viewing audience is (necessarily) stupid, but like someone said earlier it's like watching a train wreck. Basically, I root for these idiots to lose. When someone has 300k, 1k, and 50 bucks left, and they ponder an offer of 95,000...tell me you're going to turn off the TV. You WANT to see them turn it down, then have the 300k come up so that person can take 200 bucks home and be ridiculed for the rest of their lives. What's not fun about that?

On the flip side, there's also the "butcher wins the lottery" spectacle, too, where someone might go home with several hundred thousand dollars. The emotion from case to case is intriguing.

It's not for everyone, though, obviously.

2007-02-13 08:25:22
13.   D4P
I can't think of anyone who has ever defended watching that show, except for my 9-year old

Stupid kids

2007-02-13 09:06:40
14.   Penarol1916
11. It is fine to make that choice, it just means you are risk averse. The problem I had was with jmoney and Greg Brock calling the contestants stupid for making the smart choice from a risk neutral perspective.
2007-02-13 09:36:16
15.   Brent is a Dodger Fan
Quite simply, there is no explanation for the viewing habits of the american public.
2007-02-13 09:54:24
16.   D4P
You mean, beyond ignorance and stupidity...?
2007-02-13 12:46:25
17.   Benaiah
14 - I don't know if that is necessarily correct. I think the whole premise of the show lends itself to risk adversion. 33% chance of 100 Dollars, 33% chance of 1000 and 33% chance of 500K equals an expected value of 167 thousand, the offer would probably be 170K in that situation. I imagine that the algorythm the banker uses is probably expected value+1, rounded up to the next whatever.
2007-02-13 13:57:20
18.   Penarol1916
17. Like I said, it might have changed since I watched it in the beginning, but the times I saw it, the offer was always less than the expected value, by a substantial margin in the beginning, somewhat less so than in the end. My guess was always that it was so low in the beginning in order to ensure that no deal would be taken, otherwise the drama of the show would be lost.
2007-02-13 14:42:41
19.   metz
It's a train wreck because of the way they attempt to extract 30 minutes of TV out of a 2 minute scenario. It's a train wreck because every fool that gets up there feels the need to jump around and make a big production out each decision that only needs to take 10 seconds to figure out. It's a train wreck because they attempt to make it appear to be a skill in picking the "right" case instead of dumb luck.

What's mildly interesting is the offers given by the "banker". One guy here at work even put a SS of offered vs. expected values. As suggested in 18, it's designed to to have the player not take the deal in order to highten the drama.

Now, Gold Case...that's a game show :-)

2007-02-13 15:37:13
20.   George Y
Look, what could be more American than having the chance to get filthy rich by doing nothing, and having the whole scenario mean you get to be on TV and get some casual help from a model?

I'm waiting for the game show where someone who is a drunk till he's 40 and a failure at numerous businesses gets to be President.

2007-02-13 15:57:43
21.   Brent is a Dodger Fan
20 Now that is fine american television waiting to happen. Go to hollywood and sell that script, now.
2007-02-13 16:05:48
22.   Ravenscar

No talking down PLINKO!

That was always my favorite game on The Price is Right.

As far as Deal or No Deal, I need to put it in the same catewgory as "Night at the Museum", "The Bachelor", and whatever Jim Belushi's show was. No answer, and no accounting for taste.

OK, I'm going to go play my home version of PLINKO.

2007-02-13 17:13:01
23.   Tom
A point of clarification, I haven't seen too much of the show, but the banker offers you far less than the expected value. If you had a 1/3rd shot at $500k, you'd be offered less than $167k. If the other cases are really low ($1 and $500), I'd guess that they'd offer you $100k or less. That's the excitement.

As far as the "Please Explain" answer-- it's a game show. What do you expect?

2007-02-13 18:35:43
24.   Scott Long
Finally checking back.

Go to George Y at comment 20, as it is really funny and illuminating at the same time.

I don't think all game shows are dumb. As I mentioned, I understood much of the original sensation to Who wants to be a millionaire. Not a big fan of the weakest link, but it had some interesting social experiments in the rules.

This Deal or No Deal farce requires no real brain power and doesn't even pit one player against others. It takes about as much skill as playing a scratch-off lottery ticket.

2007-02-13 19:04:50
25.   D4P
Go to George Y at comment 20, as it is really funny and illuminating at the same time

Just read it. Nice work, G.

2007-02-13 20:27:01
26.   Ruben F Pineda
I'm sure this is posted somewhere, but I'm almost positive that mathematically speaking "deal" is almost always the worse choice. of course, as my fiance constantly reminds me, you only get to play once, and the difference between $100 and $100,000 is a lot bigger than $100,000 and $1 mil psychologically.

People like it for two reasons... anyone can win (not some just some snobby know it all), and those who do win are attributed some inner quality of goodness or something, like they deserved it more. Kinda like clutch hitting I guess...

Someone should do a study of what the average win per show is, and what the average case was. I can pretty much garauntee the case has a higher average total.

2007-02-14 02:12:42
27.   Ken Arneson
26 "You only get to play once."

That applies both to the game, and to your life. Which is why I'd imagine people take a shot at the life-changing amount when presented with the opportunity.

2007-02-14 08:18:13
28.   Benaiah
26 - They have done a study and people become highly risk seeking after they lose the big money. Basically, people play like maniacs once it becomes clear that they aren't going to change their lives. I don't care what anyone says about risk adversion, 1000 bucks lasts about five minutes, 100 grand is a pretty nice start on a retirement fund. Further, because of the structure of the game, you actually have less than a 1/3 chance at 500K. There is a 1/3 chance you lose the first time, and a 1/2 chance you lose the second time, for a total 5/6 chance you lose. This is counter intitutive, but I just pointing out that there is a 50% chance your case has less than a grand to start with and you have to risk losing substantial "paper profits" time and again. Whatever, it is a silly show, but there is a point where it is smart to opt out even if you might lose a little money.
2007-02-14 15:34:37
29.   Derek J
It's basically a show about how Americans don't understand mathematics. Watching it is so appalling, you'd think we'd have a grassroots movement going to raise the salaries of math teachers, just based on the success of this show. Sadly, that hasn't come together yet.

Really, it's about as entertaining as a game show in which blind kids have to shag fly balls for prizes, with three seeing relatives standing on the sidelines yelling stuff at them like "left!" "back!" "put your glove up!" Just excruciating.

2007-02-14 17:56:06
30.   El Lay Dave
It's bald Howie's mildly satanic new look, as opposed to his 'froed, mildly clown-like old look.

29 Yes, but DoND didn't orginate in the U.S.

28 Faulty reasoning. If you are down to three cases, one of which holds $500G, there is a 1/3 chance you hold it (win). If you don't accept the deal, they open another case and it doesn't contain $500G, there is now a 1/2 chance you are holding the $500G (win). Do you think there is also a total 5/6 chance you win? The fact that there is a 1/2 chance now does not change the fact that there was a 1/3 chance to begin with. By the way, when it's down to two cases, $500G or crap, if they offered you to switch cases, do you do it? (I do.)

It's not all about pure mathematics / probabilities. Risk-neutral is nice when you get to play the game repeatedly, e.g. over thousands of hands of 21, or you are a casino, but you only get to play once [26]. 1000 bucks lasts about five minutes, 100 grand is a pretty nice start on a retirement fund or a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I'm with Benaiah on this one; I'll take some amount less than expected value in order to have the sure thing. Throwing $100,000 at my kid's college tuition is probably worth $66,666.66 of expected value to me; ending up with near-zero is unacceptable.

That said, I've never watched the show.

2007-02-14 20:07:29
31.   Chyll Will
I've got nothing. My roommate watched the show until American Idol came back on. I'm thinking of changing all the locks; therapy doesn't seem to work.
2007-02-14 20:22:28
32.   grandcosmo
29. >>>It's basically a show about how Americans don't understand mathematics.

After reading all of these posts I think that is what this thread is about.

2007-02-19 08:32:40
33.   scopi14
Scott, I will explain.

I was in Paris for a month two years ago, and nightly I would watch a show called "A prendre ou a laisser" (Take it or Leave it). I always referred to it as "The Box Show" given the gaudy orange and maroon boxes each contestant would have.

Basically, it was this fabulously smarmy host and 22 people, each coming from their respective province in France. Well, once they determined who would be the contestant through a Who wants to be a Millionaire model, that person would proceed much like they do in DoND.

Now, the French show had many elements the American show did not. First, although you could win one centieme or one euro, there were funny "prizes" - a tuba, an old bathtub, a used five iron, etc. Instead of hot girls holding cases, regional prejudices would reign, as an Alsatian contestant would remark "I detest the cheese from Lorraine" and promptly eliminate that box. Also, if you got down to two boxes in the end, the contestant could choose to switch the box with the other, if they so chose.

But the best part of the show was the host - not only did he basically give all of the female contestants full-on rubdowns and insult all the men with the approval of the crowd, he would yank the phone out of the wall and throw it when the banker would call, and yell 'You don't even want to hear the offer!' to the obviously stressed contestant. The drama was much more pronounced despite not having the serious music and shadowy figure making offers.

I loved this show. I would watch it while eating dinner at least three times a week. It was funny, revealing, and very light (no human interest story contestants who have a child with a rare disease or husband in Iraq). My French was just good enough to make out about 30% of the dialogue, and to see the true anguish these folks would go through was palpable.

The best part of a prendre ou a laisser was the fact that it was high drama followed by what could be comedy or tragedy, and when the contestant made the deal (which happened far more rarely there), you felt cheated after watching all the proceedings.

So I liken the popularity of the show with the fact that the success or failure are so clearly demarcated, but the line so narrow between riches and embarrassment. It is so simple anyone can understand it.

I contest it is being wacthed by foreigners or the soon-to-be-naturalized who are trying to learn English, and they all love it.

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