Deal or No Deal


You Can’t Lose With This Game Show

Math geeks have a game show designed especially for them to optimize profit. Hosted by comedian Howie Mandel in his first return to series television since St. Elsewhere, Deal or No Deal contestants compete for up to $2 million by opening briefcases hiding amounts ranging from one penny to one million dollars. The cases are across three risers and cradled by model-caliber beauties. Mandel, with a new soul patch and only a hint of old Manic Howie running through his expressions, bumps fists with contestants doing well and uses a deadpan delivery to build suspense as well as American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest.

The game’s premise is deceptively simple. Contestants start by picking a case that holds “their amount”. A “banker” who is shrouded in darkness calculates the odds a contestant has chosen the million-dollar case. The banker then contacts Mandel and offers to buy the suitcase from the contestant. Family and friends on the side of the stage either urge the contestant to accept the offer, or (more often) reject the offer and keep opening suitcases. For the math-impaired, the show’s producers sometimes flash a graphic with helpful information such as “Suzy Contestant’s Chance of Holding A Case Worth Less Than $500 Is 5 in 6”. Duh. There are six cases, and only one holds an amount greater than $500. Pay attention and stop looking for Dorito crumbs.

This is a game of luck and skill — more like blackjack rather than the eventually bankrupting games of roulette, or heaven forbid, slot machines. While luck is a huge element, the contestants’ risk tolerance and facility at mental math in a chaotic setting lets them direct more of the action than one might anticipate.

Deal or No Deal‘s beauty is that everyone is a winner. One can simply open the minimum number of cases, receive an offer from the mysterious banker, take the deal and split. Without dragging out probability tables, the odds are that the offer will be for several tens of thousands of dollars. Even at pre-tax dollars, that’s not a bad haul. One suspects the show’s producers use some sort of risk tolerance analysis to determine who will keep opening cases. An interesting phenomenon is that squeamish contestants sometimes bail out of the game and opt for the payment worth big bucks relative to their life. Good for them.

Everyone’s a winner, baby.

The Bottom Line, Remote Controls and All

Deal or No Deal can be strangely addicting, especially with compelling contestants. There are enough gimmicks to allow Mandel to tone down his gotcha lines and more than a little suspense.

Five Things To Remember From This Review

1. Everyone wins. You literally can’t lose. You might win $100, but you’ll win.
2. There is some element of chance here, but contestants familiar with probability can mitigate some of the risk.
3. Howie Mandel back on regular television. About time.
4. The show’s producers invite family and friends to the stage to increase the squealing levels.
5. Despite its deceptively simple premise, Deal or No Deal is strangely addicting.

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