Real or No Real?

Yesterday, as I sometimes do, I watched Deal Or No Deal. If an alien wished to see how fundamental to many humans irrational belief is, they need have gone no further than watching the show. The big money contestant was a white witch (it was Halloween weekend after all) and she said she had a magic stick which would ensure she won. If she pointed it at a numbered box, it would vibrate (or not) to indicate whether the sum of money contained was high or low. As such, she promised to weed out all the small quantities of cash and make sure she was left with the £50,000, £75,000, £100,000 and £250,000 boxes.

With her first three selections, she picked boxes containing trivial amounts of money, all under £1, and everyone in the studio was immediately convinced of her powers. She had a system, it was working, and it was brilliant!

She then selected a couple of boxes with thousands of pounds in them, and seemed to be undermined. But no, her magic stick would steer her clear of the really big prizes, so removing £2,000 or £10,000 was all 'part of her system'. No-one present, least of all Noel Edmonds (dressed as the devil), demurred.

The Banker phoned, and offered her a few thousand quid, but she ignored it and carried on. A mix of low and fairly high value boxes were taken out, but she was basically doing quite well, and The Banker's offers increased. £20,000, then £21,000, then £50,000. Each time she refused the offer with certainty. Her stick would not be swayed by such temptation, and anyway, her friend in the audience 'knew' she was going to win £100,000 and had never been wrong.

Then the stick removed the £250,000 box. Disaster? A fatal undermining of her system? No, somehow not. £75,000 and £100,000 were still there, so her stick was working.

On she went. And, as those two boxes, plus £5,000, ended up as the final three boxes to choose from, she could no longer lose. She was guaranteed to walk away from the show with thousands and thousands of pounds. She was a big winner, and her system was vindicated.

It was the climax. In front of her, her own box. In the studio, just two other boxes left. Her stick would know which contained only £5,000 and she'd select and discard it. She pointed, she chose a box, it was opened. £75,000! The audience gasped! Calamity! Catastrophe? Oh no, not for this mystical madam. £100,000 was still there, just as her friend had promised. So, when The Banker phoned again and offered her £35,000, she pointed the stick at the remaining box, and then her own. She declared that her box contained £5,000 and that the other held £100,000. '£35,000. Deal Or No Deal?' asked young Tidybeard.

'Deal,' said she.

The audience erupted! What a victory for the people, what an amazing woman, what a brilliant system! She'd come with nothing, and her magic stick had helped her leave with £35,000!

Noel asked her why she'd chosen to deal now. She explained what her stick had told her, and said she wasn't sure if The Banker would offer her the chance to swap boxes. £35,000 was the sensible option to take. And when her box was opened - £5,000! Proof! Vindication! The studio viewers erupted once more in delight and wonder, her fellow contestants bowed down in humble reverence, and Noel described it as the greatest Deal Or No Deal EVER!

A great pity is that, like all contestants with 'a system that works', she will never get a chance to test it a second time, or a third. Having claimed her magic stick would only pick low sums of money, it didn't. Having said it wouldn't pick any of the top four prizes, it went onto choose two of them, one the maximum £250,000. Having declined The Banker's earlier offer of £50,000, she ended up accepting his later one that was £15,000 less. Having promised a £100,000 victory, she went away with just 35% of that sum. But none of this mattered to her or her believers. Nothing could undermined The System Of The Stick, because in a one-off, 50-50, heads-or-tails guess, she had called correctly. Everything contradictory that had gone before was irrelevant. She should probably take over the management of Britain's economy.