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Deal? No, No Deal.

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Today I am in a foul mood, and so we're going to dispense with all (or most of the) pleasantries.  Before I begin though, let me say that I completely respect the series I am about to question.  I don't understand it, which is what we're going to talk about, but I respect it because whatever they're doing, it's working.

Can someone explain the appeal of Deal or No Deal to me (outside of Howie, who, I'll be honest with you, I really do enjoy seeing on my TV)?  You probably watch it, you're probably excited by it, and I just don't get it.  I can't for the life of me figure it out.  I've sat there, I've watched the program, and I have no idea what it's appeal is, I don't get it.

It requires no skill.  It requires no thought.  It requires nothing but luck.  It's like a game of three card monte, but you don't have to pay to enter it (except, you know, for exposing your life and loved ones on national television).  Jeopardy, I get.  Wheel of Fortune, I get.  I even get The Moment of Truth (it's not for me, but I understand it).  Deal or No Deal I simply cannot figure out. 

Pick a case, get cash. 

Maybe you get what's in your case, maybe you get more, maybe you get less.  You're going to get money for simply eliminating, randomly, other cases.  You don't have to do anything special to eliminate the cases, you don't have to guess the retail price of a bottle of Windex, you don't have to know which state was the 14th to enter the Union, you don't have to know the last paragraph of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (hint, it begins "With malice for none…").  No, in Deal or No Deal you get money for showing up.

What is the appeal in that?  It's not you getting the money.  Someone else, someone the producers have decided to be worthy to have money handed to them is given cash for showing up.  I don't see the "trick" to it, it's not like there's a discernible pattern for where the million dollar case is going to be, it's just 100 percent random luck whether or not you're going to leave the place a millionaire.

And, can I be honest with you for a minute?  You're not going to leave the place a millionaire.  Even if you get the million dollar case, Uncle Sam is going to reach in and pluck around 50 percent of the cash right out of it before you ever leave the studio.  Now, if it were a two million dollar case that you just by pure luck happened to select, then you could actually leave the building a millionaire.  You'll also have your long lost 5th cousin's step-daughter's niece's roommate calling you as soon as the show airs though with her (or his, but I'm going with "her" because I'm assuming same-sex roommates) hand out. 

Also, let's face it, you can't retire just because you have a million dollars in the bank.  You can pay off debts, you can buy some stuff, you can go on a few rockingly good vacations, but you can't retire. 

Say that you leave the show with a million in your pocket after Uncle Sam takes his cut (it can't happen, but let's say it could).  Let's further assume you have no debt and, as are so many of the people on the show, you're in your early 30s.  you have another 50 years of life ahead of you and 30 years until you can collect Social Security (if that even exists in 30 years).  Let's further state that you don't live in an urban area, you live somewhere hugely inexpensive.  What would it take for you to live really comfortably, nice vacations, health insurance, decent cars every five or six years?  I don't think 50,000 is an unreasonable sum (and way, way more if you leave anywhere near a major metropolitan area, closer to 100,000 or 150,000 then).  Well, at 50,000 a year, your money will last 20 years.  20 years.  That's it.  That's a full 10 years short of your being able to collect Social Security.

It's true that you'll put the money in a bank or some sort of interest bearing account, so you'll end up being able to go longer than just 20 years.  But, you probably also either have some debts or family with debts that would want you to help them out (and you should help them out, that's what family is for).  Or, you'll probably blow a lot of the money early on with a nice trip somewhere (seriously, I could spend 10,000 on a single week in DisneyWorld without batting an eyelash), so let's call the interest and the extra cash you'll spend a wash.

Plus, may I remind you, you're not getting that money anyway.  You're not on the show, you're just watching it from home.  I have to figure that I'm missing something, because people really, really enjoy it.

It's an old line, but here it has to be the truth – it's not you, it's me.  It has to be me because the show is popular.  God bless the people that made it because they have a worldwide sensation on their hands.  I just want someone to explain it to me.

(you see, this is what happens on Tuesday when I've seen all four episodes of Top Gear that BBC America aired Monday night, let's all hope that never happens again).

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Jordan Richardson

    It requires no skill. It requires no thought. It requires nothing but luck.

    And you say you don’t understand the appeal?

  • robert

    If you will notice, the contestants and their family/friends really believe they have some kind of mojo, esp, feeling, or hunch that they know which cases to pick? “I know my case has the million dollars.”

    The appeal is in the belief (just like roulette, slot machines, etc) that a person has a system. Plus, you are absolutely correct. The contestants have not put any ante up.

    Now, what is the appeal for the audience. I believe we are in the confortable position to talk to the tv set, actually believing the idiots can hear us exclaim the illogic of their moves. No pressure on us. Keep going. Maybe the case has the enormous amount.

    Ever notice how the audience is always screamin:”no deal”.