On TV they always have to draw things out, otherwise most shows would take 15 minutes rather than 30. Some ways of filling time are to talk about contestant’s emotions, go through their thought processes in coming to a decision, empty silence, or in some cases a mixture of each. I thought we’d reached the pinacle of this kind of crap with Deal Or No Deal, where contestants umm and err for five minutes before picking a random box. Of course all the boxes have numbers on them, which have nothing to do whatsoever with the quantity of money within it, something which is mentioned explicitly at the start of the show, and yet still contestants will claim to have a ‘system’, and will use lucky numbers to determine what box they’re going to pick next. I do wonder how they come about making such a system, since each contestant only has one go of the game. Can’t be trial and error I suppose. But of course the boxes could be labelled with a picture of an animal, or a fruit, or even a colour. It’s nothing more than gambler’s superstition.
But no, Deal Or No Deal has been overtaken in stupidity. I don’t watch all that much TV even when I’m at home, but this afternoon I just caught the end of a gameshow on Channel 5 called Heads or Tails. Yes, they’re really scraping the barrel, actually televising a gameshow based on coin-flipping, I was amazed. So the concept is that they pick a square, flip a coin, and if they call it correctly they win the amount of money behind that square. The squares are also randomly assigned so there’s really not much skill involved at all, even less so than in Deal Or No Deal. Nevertheless, every time any decision has to be made, the audience shouts out their tuppence-worth and the contestant listens attentively as if somehow the audience has a mysterious insight into which way the coin is going to land. Today’s contestant actually said “well… it’s been heads the last three times so I think it’s going to have to change to tails”. Fail. Srsly. That’s what, Year 4 maths? Does she think the coin remembers what it’s done the last few times and changes accordingly to keep it a 50/50 result? Surely, if it’s been tails many times, that’s more likely to be a sign that the coin is biased towards tails?
Now I thought the gameshow host, Justin Lee Collins, was taking the piss, because at one point, after the audience had been shouting out their enlightened opinions about the unseen future, he said “well, lots of people have been shouting heads, and lots of people have been shouting tails, but what I can tell you is that it will be either heads or tails.” This is totally unlike Noel Edmonds on DOND, who gets thoroughly involved with the superstition, and encourages the contestants to concentrate on ‘beating the banker’, which is only partly relevant to the amount of money you end up winning. Personally I wouldn’t care if the banker took away more than I did, as long as I got a fair slice, and I’d make that clear from the start.
But then at the end there was a part where the contestant could call the coin, and if she got it correctly it would double her money, and if she got it wrong she’d lose it all. She chose not to take the risk and just to take the money, and Collins said “well, let’s find out whether you would have won or not”, and asked her to call the coin as she would have if she had played on, then he flipped it. What? I could be wrong, but surely this coin flip won’t necessarily have the same result as the coin flip if she’d gone for it? Just the difference in conversation, the extra time elapsed between the events, any number of things really, could have affected the flip differently. There is absolutely no way of knowing if that’s an accurate representation of what would have happened, it’s not like the coin flip results are lined up in advance so we know the next result will be the same no matter when it happens or in what circumstances.
The standard of familiarity with statistics and probability must be terrible if this kind of thing actually makes it onto the air, and people take it seriously. I’m no mathematician, but I am quite shocked.