Dealing with Deal or No Deal
ow airing on NBC three nights a week (M-W-F) and all three episodes often making the top 20 in the ratings, Deal or No Deal is the most successful game show since Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and its progeny ruled the roost at the turn of the millennium. And the question on everyone’s mind—besides the titular one, of course—is…well, why? Sure enough, ask anyone who watches the show, and you’ll get the same answer: “I don’t know why, but once it’s on, I can’t stop watching.”
In case you’ve somehow managed to avoid Deal or No Deal so far, the concept is this: a (pre-determined) contestant selects one of 26 suitcases, each held by a Vanna White-type figure. This suitcase, like the other 25, contains a specific dollar amount inside—ranging from one cent to a million dollars. They then proceed to eliminate a series of suitcases—six at first, less each time after—in an effort to determine what dollar amount is in the suitcase they picked. But after each series of suitcases is eliminated, the contestant receives a money offer from a figure dubbed “The Banker”—usually somewhere near the mean average of the dollar amounts in the suitcases yet to be eliminated—to stop eliminating suitcases and walk with the amount offered. And thus, the decision: Deal or No Deal?
There is not a single element of this show that falls short of stupefying. First, to call it a game show is something of a misnomer, since there is no way to really win the game, as it involves essentially no strategy whatsoever. A two-year old that knows how to count with his fingers and nod his head yes or no has roughly as much a chance of winning a large dollar amount as a 55-year old number theory professor. The amount you win fluctuates solely on how lucky (and greedy) you are.
In addition to (or perhaps because of) this lack of skill or strategy, the show is remarkably devoid of genuine content. Essential happenings are few and far between on Deal or No Deal, and you’d be tough to spot them surrounded by the filler of host Howie Mandel (of inflated surgical glove fame) bantering with his contestant, the contestant’s family (who are also brought on the show for support) shouting their entirely uninformed opinions at the contestant, and the contestant debating that fateful titular decision. At times, one contestant will take up an entire episode—an increasingly monotonous rhythm of events that offers naught in the way of variety.
There is a sort of comfort in the predictable dynamics within the contestant’s family (the brothers always shout for the contestant to keep going, the mother does too but backs off before the brothers do, the kids appear to be the only voice of reason), the ridiculous dealings with “The Banker” (who, despite being a character-free figure that’s never directly heard and only seen in silhouette, has his own blog) and of course, Mandel’s inevitable utterance of those four words that are sweeping the nation. Plus, there’s always the belief that somehow, if you were there, you’d know EXACTLY when to stop. It’s not much to go on, but hence the brilliance of Deal or No Deal—a show you’ll keep watching even when you don’t know why.