Sunday, January 17, 2010

Please welcome our next sucker!

Game Show Network seems to be the only worthwhile television for the time being, and that's even taking into account the coverage of the earthquake in Haiti. If I want reliable news, I'll go to the BBC. In the meantime I'll watch mind-bogglingly stupid contestants make fools of themselves on unmemorable game shows.

These shows are idiotic by design, and quite obviously so. The prime example is Deal or No Deal, a show where nothing substantial happens and greed overwhelms what little sense these contestants have. Oh god... having Greed flashbacks... Chuck Woolery... No! Agh! Get away from me!

Where was I? Ah! Deal or No Deal, the show where 26 samples of eye candy present the player with 26 cases labeled with meaningless numbers that you can pick in any order without affecting the outcome of the game in any way. Each case contains an amount of money (okay, a tile with the number of the prize money on it) ranging from one cent to $1 million, and the contestant gets to choose one, since choice is the foundation of American life. Once you do the math and acknowledge the logic behind the design of the game, it becomes clear that your choice of a case does not affect your odds of winning for or against you. Which nicely sums up the impact of your case choices for the remainder of the show. The game proceeds with the contestant choosing and opening the remaining 25 cases, eliminating the hope that their case contains any of the revealed amounts. In other words, once you choose your case, if you open the case with $1 million, you know for a fact that you've lost the top prize. Isn't this a nice game? It tells you in advance that you're a loser the moment you started. Most game shows will bullshit contestants into thinking they can win more money than they'll earn in their whole lives, even though it's made perfectly clear from the moment of their introduction that all contestants are hand-picked for their blithering idiocy. For entertainment value, you see. Folks at home want to feel smart by comparison.

Despite this, many contestants on Deal or No Deal proclaim with very obnoxious attitudes that their case is indeed the million dollar case. Nooo, you don't know that, and you can't know that. You hope it's the million dollar case, but what you know is that odds are 25 out of 26 that you don't have it. In fact, your odds of having the million dollars are as good as your odds of choosing the penny. And even if you choose the right case, you have to play all the way to the end, eliminating alternate prizes until you decide to risk everything just to see if you got it out of sheer blind luck. In other words, there's no intelligent way to play this game. But chances are, if you're on the set, you're too stupid to know that. And it's great to watch. It appeals to the sadomasochist in all of us.

Oh, but there's more. Our host is Howie Mandel, a former comedian if you can believe it, and given his performances on the show, I find the "former" part highly plausible. Every so often the contestant must stop choosing cases so that Howie can pretend to talk into a ringing remote control, supposedly linked us with the "Banker", a man we can only see in silhouette in a booth overlooking the set. I'm sorry, but the Banker is not at all an effective villain, even for a game show, so stop acting like he's the biggest ass in the world. It has no impact on the show and he's not memorable at all. Although that lack of memorability does explain why they made Darth Vader the guest banker in a special Star Wars-themed episode...

Excuse me, a little part of me just died right there.

The Banker - who acts nothing at all like the respectable moneyholder all Monopoly players are familiar with - makes the contestant cash offers based on their odds of getting a better prize. The object of this is partly to tempt the players to stop, but mostly to expose them for the greedy fucks they are and later to taunt them mercilessly when they knock out all the big prizes and the offers drop. It is at the moment that an offer is made that a contestant can either say "Deal" and push the Deal button to accept the prize offered, or "No Deal" and close the plastic casing on the button to continue playing a mindless game of press-your-luck. Wait, no... Press Your Luck... Peter Tamarkin... Come on come on, Big Bucks Big Bucks Big Bucks, no Whammy no Whammy STOP!

Ack... I'm a very sad person...

So over the course of watching this show so many times, I and some members of my family have devised numerous ways to rob the show of any of its intended entertainment value.

1) Get rid of the cases. My father for once made a very wise observation: The cases choices are meaningless, so this game is essentially just offers with people declining them thinking they can somehow get something better. So if that's all the gameplay there is, then just get rid of the cases and the models and don't let the contestants choose any numbers at all. You could run this game with any random number generator. In fact, you don't even need a host or a Banker. That'd be quite the game show, wouldn't it? Just a contestant and a laptop, and a leering audience which finally gets to see just how much this game really amounts to on a personal level. The laptop assigns the contestant with a random unknown prize, then it eliminates prizes all on its own, only showing the results with the calculated offers for the contestant to say "Deal" or "No Deal" - represented in this case with the retro Interweb key placement of "Y" or "N". Basically the game will look like this:

Round one:

$18,000 - Y/N?

Round two:

$35,000 - Y/N?

Round three:

$22,000; You may no longer win $1,000,000 or $750,000 or $500,000 - Y/N?

Etc, etc. Reviting, isn't it?

2) Accept the first offer. When a contestant accepts an offer, they're asked what their hypothetical next choices of cases would have been if they continued to play, and the resulting offers are also displayed simply to mock them, before their own case is finally opened to reveal whether they made a "good" or "bad" Deal. Like it matters. So what if the contestant accepts the very first offer they get at the beginning of the game? For one, the audience and host would be baffled as something like that has never happened before and never will, since greed (not the show of the same name... >_<) is the driving force behind the whole show. The pointless involvement of a few of the contestant's family on the side will never have started. And best of all, all of the remaining cases would have to be opened one at a time. All of them. That's 19 cases after the first round to open. That's at least a half dozen hypothetical offers to blaze through. It would be the most pointless and tedious game ending of all, and I'd love every second of it.

3) Go with your case; play all the way through the cases without hesitation. This was my idea, and consequently my favorite. The best way to do this is to show how meaningless the order of case choice is, by choosing the cases in order. Your case is number 1, your next choices of eliminated cases will be 2, 3, 4, 5, etc, until the final two cases are your case 1 and the other case 26. The only way to thoroughly mock the game by playing in this way is to not even consider any of the offers. As soon as Howie raises the plastic casing around the Deal button, you have to slam it back down without giving any time to the offer or even for Howie to say "Deal or No Deal?" (I only recently saw someone do this after the first round. A contestant actually chose the cases based on random draws from a bag of numbered ping pong balls, and then when the first offer came up she closed the case before Howie could ask if she wanted to take the offer. I doubt I'll ever see how that show ends.)

So much of this game show is padding based on case selection and offers that you have to blow right past all of it and continue choosing the cases in order, despite all reason or force-fed tension. Since family members are asked to stand on the sidelines and cheer the contestant on, the family must also adopt this mindless mentality in order to shut Howie up and get the game over with. Contestant and family must all approach this without any hint of involvement or emotion (especially not humor, since cracking a smile ruins the dry feel of the joke being played on the show). Attempts at small talk should be met with direct monosyllabic responses (yes, no, etc), the face should be completely blank with the body giving no indication of disposition whatsoever, and whenever Howie tries to make the contestant or the family members stop and consider their odds of winning, all should give the direct and unthinking response of "Play the game, Howie." The facade must be complete, even for commercial breaks. The contestant should just stand there without saying a word until the game resumes and then they proceed selecting the cases in order and immediately declining all offers.

It would be a monumentally stupid occasion for all of television history. And I would bask in that moment of glory when pointless, mindless, boring game shows like that get contestants who treat the game in the same way.

All this is an excellent reason to move to Japan immediately.

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