Monday, January 22, 2007

Lessons from Tonight's Deal or No Deal

While I don't follow ABS-CBN's "Deal or No Deal" contest regularly, my family does. As I am often outvoted on choice of program, I just go along and watch. What is interesting about the show is the range of human reactions and the decision making processes that go on.

Tonight's show was particularly gripping. A young single mom with a baby barely a year old, recently separated from her husband. Personal objective: win enough money for her baby's future.

Before we go on, perhaps a brief background on "Deal or No Deal." From the Wikipedia:
The basic format of Deal or No Deal consists of a number of cases (usually 26, but varies in some countries), each containing a different amount of money. Not knowing the sum of money in each case, the contestant picks one case which potentially contains the contestant's prize. The contestant then opens the remaining cases, one by one, revealing the money each contains. At predetermined intervals the contestant receives an offer from the bank (run by "The Banker") to purchase the originally chosen case from the contestant, the offer being based on the potential value of the contestant's case. The contestant must then decide whether to take the deal from the bank, or to continue opening cases.

Tonight's contestant opened the P2,000,000 and P1,000,000 briefcases early on. As it turned out, however, her luck continued to hold with the P4,000,000 briefcase. It was in none of the other briefcases she chose.

The banker offers grew progressively higher. The penultimate offer was P320,000, and with six cases left to go.

She chose one more briefcase. It revealed a low amount. The banker's offer went up to P500,000.

By this time, the contestant was crying. I can sympathize. It really was a stressful situation. Does she take the deal, or does she go on opening cases? Game show host Kris Aquino enumerated lessons from past players: the priest who said not to be too greedy, to the previous week's contestant who copped out at P600,000 in exchange for her P2,000,000 briefcase.

Ultimately, the contestant caved in. P500,000 it was. Enough for a college pre-need plan for her baby, host Kris Aquino reminded her.

Which, in hindsight, is not a bad choice. Dinner table conversation around the TV show often revolves around the contestant's greed. Our family consensus is: better cash in high than risk it all on greed.

Having made her choice, the contestant proceeded to select other briefcases to open. All low numbers. Progressively, the hypothetical banker offers went higher, too. The P500,000 offer became P820,000, then P1,200,000, and finally, P2,200,000.

Progressively, too, the contestant became upset. You could see the disappointment building up through her face.

Finally, they opened her briefcase. It held P4,000,000. Shes was the first contestant ever in the program to select the jackpot briefcase. And she traded it in for P500,000.

Quite interesting, though, this display of human psychology. It was probably pure torture for her as they opened one case after another, and each revealed a low amount, correspondingly driving the offer higher and higher.

Though she walked away with half a million pesos, I can't help but think that, for a moment, she was just as disappointed and dejected as those who walked away with ten pesos.

Ah, the curse of the what-if: what if I had chosen this instead of that? what if I had held on for a little bit longer? what if...? what if...?

In life, perhaps, we be happy with the choices that we've made, and leave the remaining briefcases unopened. Such is the way to live without regret.

At the same time, I can't help thinking how fortunate she might have been that she walked away with P500,000 instead of P4,000,000. That perhaps, she would have been happier with the lower amount than with the jackpot.

After all, she left her husband because he was abusive. Who knows if P4,000,000 might prove to be too much of a temptation?

In a more general sense, what would she have done with P4,000,000? With a windfall does not necessarily come wisdom, and fortune can sometimes turn to tragedy. There's many a tale of lottery winners whose lives have taken a turn for the worse because of their winnings.

Sometimes it's best to receive that little that we need than an abundance that we don't know what to do with.

Best to leave some briefcases unopened.


  1. I wrote about this before in an old blog post. While doing some research on this problem, I encountered a phenomenon called the monty hall principle. It basically states that the probably of winning the game is equal to the original probability. In the original cups and key problem (or monty hall game show), that would be 1 out of 3 since there are 3 doors in the start. However, in deal or no deal, it is much worst at 1 out of 24 (or whatever the number of briefcases is).

    Like any game of chance, any winning is already good. So, one should feel happy for the 500k take home.

  2. I've been observing (NOT watching) the show for a while, and I'm slowly progressing on breaking the probabilities down. It has something to do with the Monty Hall problem, yes, but seeing that people are in dispute over the issue, I'm looking to explain "Deal or No Deal" in a way that doesn't reference Monty Hall.

    Their recent implementation of the P4M amount fascinated me, however, if only because they removed a P5k amount to make room for it. I keep wondering if that had anything to do with the math...

  3. William, only if we're talking about 'glass half-full' type of people. CHANCES are, she's still kicking herself.

    I extremely dislike the host of that show. The way she talks... @#*&^%$!.

    Pardon moi Francais.

  4. I wish you could actually decline the "what if". It's very frustrating how you make someone feel bad about taking home 500,000 when they should actually be VERY happy.