TV Game Shows

  • John HaighEmail author


Mathematical ideas arise frequently in popular TV game shows, either in pointing the way towards good tactics, or simply adding to the viewer’s enjoyment. The general idea of the Utility of a sum of money has a strong influence on whether a contestant will play safe, or take a riskier but potentially more rewarding path. We look at Monty Hall’s game, and its extension to more than three boxes; maths comes up in The Price is Right, both in making sensible guesses at the value of prizes, and in the final part, when three contestants spin a giant wheel, seeking the largest score from one or two spins without going over the score 100. Newer games such as Pointless and ‘Two Tribes throw up subtle but interesting maths—how really unlucky could a contestant be, or how a game could be made fairer to all players. Utility can explain many actions in the Million Pound Drop, Deal or No Deal and Who wants to be a Millionaire?. We consider when contestants in The Weakest Link should bank the accumulated funds. The idea of Backwards Induction, applied to the short-lived The Colour of Money, proves that there was some optimal strategy at all stages of the game. Several formats have used variations on the well-known Prisoner’s Dilemma to split, or share, a prize. Teams of different sizes arise—can we find a good handicapping system in pub quizzes?

References and Further Reading

  1. Coe P R and Butterworth W (1995) Optimal Stopping in “The Showcase Showdown”. The American Statistician 49(3) pages 271–5.Google Scholar
  2. Grosjean J H (1998) Beating the Showcase Showdown. Chance 11(1) pages 14–19Google Scholar
  3. Haigh J (2003) The weakest link. The Statistician 53(2) pages 219–26.Google Scholar
  4. Haigh J (2014) Pointless: The maths of TV Game Shows. Plus MagazineGoogle Scholar
  5. Haigh J (2015) Making Two Tribes Fairer. Plus MagazineGoogle Scholar
  6. Percy D F and Scarf P A (2008) On the development of decision rules for bar quiz handicapping. Journal of the Operations Research Society 59(10) pages 1406–14.Google Scholar
  7. Thomas L C (2003) The best banking strategy when playing the Weakest Link. Journal of the Operational Research Society 54(7) pages 747–50Google Scholar
  8. Wolstenholme L and Haigh J (2006) Deal or no deal? Significance 3(4) pages 191–2Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MathematicsUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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