Deal or No Deal
Jon Culshaw as Noel Edmonds (1st Anniversary special)
Endemol West Productions for Channel 4, 31 October 2005 to 22 July 2006
Remarkable Television (formerly Cheetah Television West) for Channel 4, 28 August 2006 to 11 December 2016
as Deal or No Deal Live, 10 to 23 October 2011 (12 episodes)
as Celebrity Deal or No Deal, 8 April 2012 to 18 September 2015 (14 episodes)
as Deal or No Deal on Tour, 12 to 23 December 2016 (10 episodes)
“A quarter of a million pounds. 22 identical sealed boxes. and no questions. Except one: Deal or No Deal?’“
So goes the introductory spiel to this big money guessing game, of which international versions have already proven to be quite good fun. There are 22 numbered boxes, each one containing an unknown cash prize of between 1p and £250,000 and 22 contestants, who have drawn lots before the show to determine who gets each one. A ‘randomly’-selected contestant is invited to sit in the hot seat and becomes the player for that show, bringing their box with them. The other boxes are then opened one by one, and an off-stage banker known as, er, “The Banker” offers the player money to buy back the box and leave the game, based on the values of the boxes left.
There is an offer after the first five boxes are opened, and then after every third box until there are just two boxes left. In theory, these offers should come slightly below the arithmetic mean of the remaining boxes; in practice, the early offers are artificially low. As a result, the deal almost always occurs during the closing fifteen minutes, which serves to place a lot more emphasis on the journey than the outcome. The commercial breaks usually come just before the 8th and 14th boxes are opened, something which contestants have now started anticipating. It’s surely only a matter of time before they start pre-empting Noel and announcing the breaks themselves (see below).
It is, in essence, a game of pure chance – a lottery, or more precisely a series of lotteries, with the contestant merely choosing whether to reinvest their winnings in the next one or stick with what they’ve got. It’s more watchable than that implies though, mainly because of the interaction between host and contestants. In a way, the game is only there to give the characters in the studio something to react to – almost the exact opposite of the maximum-gameplay, minimum-personality Fifteen-to-One, for which this show is Channel 4’s first really convincing replacement. It is a show that could have been invented purely to showcase the skills of its host – chatting to Members Of The Public, talking on the phone, being generally affable, and having a beard that doesn’t look quite deliberate, somehow.
Anyway, it’s friendly enough, Noel makes us care about the contestants and it’s nice to see likeable people walk away with a decent sum of money. It’s perhaps not quite the great and mighty format that some folk have talked it up as (and it does seem to be one of those shows that either you “get” or you don’t) but as daytime gameshows go, it’s pretty good and a deserved hit.
A year and a bit later.
The above was written in the show’s first couple of months on air, and since then, there have been some changes. Some for the better, some for the worse, and some we’re really not sure about either way.
One thing that really needed to be sorted out was the show’s music. Right from the start, the music cues were always pretty much the least appropriate and most intrusive of any game show, but if anything it’s got worse since then, with overuse of the cliched heart sound effect not only being exceedingly irritating, but also betraying a lack of confidence in the game’s ability to produce its own tension. And they’re still using the same stupendously awful theme music. It sounds like a stopgap knocked off in a hurry, probably because it is, and if only they’d quietly ditched it after the first production run, it could have been a distant memory by now. But no such luck.
But however bad the soundtrack is, it’s merely a cosmetic element. Far more important is the way the banker plays the game, and there’s no getting away from the fact that this has changed quite a lot. Whether it’s changed for the better or not is a moot point, and one that we’ve subjected to a good old mooting ourselves. Offers have tended to become more generous in the early stages (once upon a time, eight thousand as an opening offer would have been spectacular; now it’s commonplace) and less generous in the later stages. There often does seem to be an element of pushing players to open their box by making unduly low offers, which is either (a) tension-building, exciting and a good thing, or (b) tension-sapping, aggravating and a bad thing.
The banker has also taken to offering swaps instead of money in the early stages, and although it’s unlikely that a player would deal at the first or second offer, it can look rather “off” not to give them the opportunity. After all, most of what happens in the game is essentially random – the values are distributed randomly amongst the boxes, and the boxes randomly amongst the players, and while the selection of numbers may not be strictly random, the results (unless the player really is psychic!) are. The only thing that’s stopping the game from being big-money Fluke is the player exercising their option to Deal or No Deal, and at best they only have six opportunities to do that during the game, which isn’t many to start with. Offering a swap, or making a joke offer that’s not even worth considering, deprives them of one of those opportunities and takes the game even further out of the player’s hands. One player who had once made a throwaway comment that he would keep on playing as long as the top prize remained on the board, was offered a swap three times on the trot, which not only cut the gameplay in half, but also came across as incredibly petty (and besides, if you really wanted to test a player’s resolve in that situation, the smart thing to do would be to make high offers and see if they took the bait). Supporters say this flexibility in the format is interesting and keeps it fresh; critics say it makes the makes the game so unfair and inconsistent that it becomes barely a game at all. Whether that matters is another question. Can a game show survive as all show and no game? We don’t know. Though it’s worth noting that since the three-swap game, there seems to have been a bit of a snap back to more reasonable gameplay from the banker, as if aware that he’d gone that bit too far. How long this will continue remains to be seen (best guess: not very long).
There’s also been an increasing emphasis on gambling in the show, with both Noel and the banker clearly showing a preference for gamblers, and Noel constantly going on about “courage” (which in his book seems to mean ignoring the odds and pressing on to the end regardless). This probably does increase the show’s appeal to, well, people whom gambling appeals to, but it might be questioned whether this kind of none-too-subtle endorsement is really suitable for 4.15pm, and indeed whether it really makes for a more exciting show anyway.
Actually, the winning of the jackpot points up a related flaw that’s been inherent in the format since day one, which is that the top prize is more likely to be won by recklessness than good judgement. A person who judges the odds well is likely to deal earlier, especially given the volatility that having the £250,000 box in play brings to the game. Clearly, a 1-in-5 or even 1-in-2 chance of the jackpot is unlikely to be more attractive than a guaranteed payout to the sensible player, unless the guaranteed payout is so low as to be utterly stupid, but the odds are short enough that if enough reckless players appear on the show, sooner or later one will win the jackpot – and ultimately that’s what happened. And even then, the Banker – no, let’s be honest, the Producer – threw in a shamefully poor final offer to persuade the player to continue.
No wonder some people think the show is rigged. “Sequencegate” didn’t help, even though all the evidence says it was a genuine mistake. Astute conspiracy theorists may note that Noel can still be telling the truth about nobody knowing where the money is at the start of the game provided the producers don’t open the sealed list until play begins. Not that there’s any evidence that they do – but with the loophole there and the way the banker-producer treats players, it doesn’t feel like it would be out of character if he did.
It’s all a great shame, especially as Noel (or The Comeback King, as all reports are now obliged to call him) does such a good job of extracting entertainment value from the players. But it’s not just the novelty that’s worn off the show, it’s also the innocence. There is a danger that as Deal or No Deal develops, it will continue to descend, incrementally, the path already trodden by its stablemate Big Brother. BB was once a great little show about ordinary people playing a fair game with clear rules. But over time the producers, hiding behind a faceless character, sidelined the very things that made it so good, threw every gimmick they could think of into the mix, and even abandoned the pretence of a fair contest. But there’s a twist. Even after all that, Big Brother is still as big a ratings draw as ever. And who’s to say the same won’t happen to Deal or No Deal?
Twenty-three sealed boxes?
To the surprise and consternation of more snooty critics, Deal or No Deal continued to pull in the viewers – shows were extended from 45 minutes to an hour in early 2011, allowing Channel 4 to sell a third commercial break. The red box club finally met its match in 2013, as a refreshed BBC1 schedule gave viewers less reason to switch over, and Tipping Point proved to be a reason to turn to ITV. Some suggested that Tipping Point worked because every game was live until the final moments, the contender could win £10,000 right down to the wire. Many games of Deal were not going to beat £5000 by half-four.
To preserve some suspense right until the end, the producers introduced Box 23 at the start of 2014. At the end of their game, contenders had the option of buying this sealed box with their winnings. It could add £10,000 to their winnings, it could halve or double their money. It might do absolutely nothing, or send them away with absolutely nothing. The outcome had been sealed before the game began.
Viewers were unsure about this innovation: the consensus seemed to be that the decision would usually be clear-cut, only people winning about £7000 might have to ponder their choice. The weakest case was someone winning £250,000 who might have doubled their money by purchasing Box 23, because this would be both a jackpot win and an anti-climax at the same time. It only took six weeks for this to happen.
The £250,000 top prize was first won on 7 January 2007 by Laura Pearce, a 24-year-old (at the time) civilian police worker from Hemel Hempstead. She rejected her final offer of £45,000 with the £250,000 and £3,000 as the last two remaining amounts and the chance to swap her box, and her box contained the £250,000. Inevitably, the result was leaked in the press weeks beforehand.
The top prize was won a second time on 12 March 2009, by Alice Mundy, a 21-year-old (at the time) trainee stuntwoman. She was offered and took the “Banker’s Gamble” (returning the previously won amount for the chance to take whatever is in the box) with 1p and £250,000 remaining, having originally dealt at £17,500. She rejected the swap, and her box was then opened to reveal the £250,000. Coincidentally, Alice came from the same town as Laura did.
The jackpot then remained unwon for more than two years, a carrot dangled in front of more than 600 contestants without once being snaffled. Friday the 13th of May 2011 was not an unlucky day for contestant Suzanne Mulholland as she reached the final two boxes with the two top prizes, £100,000 and £250,000, still in play. She was offered £165,000 to deal, but declined. The banker offered her the swap, which she accepted. Her new box was then opened to reveal she had won the £250,000 jackpot. Furthermore, she also won a two-week holiday for two in Florida, as part of a special ‘Banker’s Birthday’ week of programmes.
Four months later, the top prize was won on 22 September 2011 to another female contestant named Tegen Roberts. She declined the banker’s offer of £77,000 between the two boxes in play, which were £20,000 and £250,000, She was also offered – and declined – the swap before opening the box she’d had all game.
Yet another female contestant named Nong Skett won the top prize on 3 August 2012. She declined the banker’s offer of £68,000 between the two boxes in play, which were £5 and £250,000, She was also offered – and declined – the swap before opening the box she’d had all game.
Paddy Roberts became the sixth jackpot winner – and the first man to take the quarter-million – on 12 August 2013. He had the £75,000 and £250,000 boxes at the final offer, and turned down both £140,000 and the obligatory swap. Viewers later found his target for the show was £18,000.
Roop Singh was the seventh player to open a box containing £250,000. His game, on 12 February 2014, was the first jackpot win with the new Box 23 in place; had he bought this box, he would have walked away with £500,000, but turned down the offer.
Ann Crawford was contestant No. 8 to win £250,000 in her box on 16 October 2015. Her final 2 sums of money were 50p and £250,000 with an offer of £64,000, which she declined. When it came to Box 23 after she won the jackpot, Noel asked the question to buy Box 23 to which she said “Deal no”, leading to everyone stunned and shocked. When the Banker called, he offered her a second chance to change her decision, to which she accepted. Had she’d taken Box 23, she would’ve gone home with nothing.
Vikki Heenan was the ninth and last ever contestant to win £250,000 on 23 December 2016 (the very last episode of DoND). She had an offer of £66,666 with £750 and £250,000 left in play, she declined. She was guaranteed a swap at the end, but declined that too.
On 13 February 2006, the final box was shown to be empty. The £1 label had fallen off. (That’s Poundstretcher for you.)
On 26 March 2008, another box was shown to be empty, except this time there was no label to be found. A visibly upset Noel then offered the player, David Schofield, the opportunity to either start the game again from scratch, or to simply have the independent adjudicator re-shuffle the contents of the remaining boxes in addition to the amount that was missing from the empty box. He chose to shuffle, and was promptly informed that the amount missing from the box was the £250,000.
Mr. Edmonds’ increasingly predictable commercial links:
Noel: “Whatever you do. don’t open a low box. whatever you do. don’t open it until after the break!”
Noel: “Can you pick the box up for me, please? Can you guess the weight?”
Box-opener: “About half a pound.”
Noel: “No, the weight is. about three minutes while we go to a break.”
Noel: “Do not break her heart. did I say break?”
Box-opener: “I want this to be low”, spurring Noel into placing the box on the floor so it can’t be opened. Isaac Newton would have been proud!
“Deal or no deal?”
At the start of play: “Channel 4 is all yours.” or “It’s your show.”
“You’re obsessed with the reds!” when a contestant keeps on taking out red amounts.
“I think you’ll be there.”
“We do not want to see the quarter of a million.”
For many years, the show was produced by The Mole’s Glenn Hugill.
We can’t think of many shows that were on six days a week: I’m the Answer was one of them, as was Blockbusters back in the days when there were Champions series. Countdown also joined this exclusive club in January 2006, largely as a result of DoND’s success. Stop press: Apparently Ask No Questions was also six days a week.
Discounting phone-ins, the show set a new daytime TV record in its third episode, when Anita Wallas took home £33,000. Prior to this, the record was £25,000 from the previous year’s Beat the Nation, also an Endemol show. In the 11th episode the record went up to £35,000 when Maurice Cheshire took the chair. He dealt too early though, and could have taken over £100,000 had he played on.
On the 17th episode (18 November 2005), hot-seat contestant Jennifer Miller became the first person to win a six-figure prize on daytime TV when she dealt at £120,000. Jennifer was down to the final two boxes when she dealt. The £250,000 was in one of them and in the other was £750. She made the right call, as the £750 was in her box.
Jennifer’s record as the highest deal endured 2444 episodes and over eight years. Pat Crick dealt for £170,000 on 10 March 2014; she had £100,000 in her box, with £250,000 on the wings. Pat’s was only the second perfect finish before a deal had been agreed, following Suzanne Mulholland in 2011 (see “Jackpot” section).
Voted the Best New Show in this site’s Poll of 2005
The 1p prize was first won on 3 January 2006 by Nick Bain. He took out no fewer than EIGHT consecutive red numbers, until he was eventually left with 1p and £100. After turning down the banker’s final offer of £30 (the highest was £9,000), he agreed to swap round the two remaining boxes – so that he ended up with the 1p box. Between then and the introduction of “Box 23” at the start of 2014, 51 more unlucky players joined him in the “1p club”: Trevor Bruce (1 March 2006), Fadil Osman (14 April 2006), Dave Ellis (25 April 2006), Sally Kettle (14 July 2006), Connell Gibson (17 July 2006), Giorgio Felicini (22 July 2006), Sharron Coates, (31 August 2006), Tony Wynne-Jones (13 February 2007), Paul “PJ” Johnson (13 May 2007), Adam Field (15 June 2007), Katie Walsh (5 January 2008), Shaun Messer (24 January 2008), Simon Maughan (31 January 2008), Margaret Hall (3 March 2008), Matty Curcillo (24 March 2008), Pete Marston (2 October 2008), Marieanne (25 December 2008), Colin (16 March 2009), Dirk (31 March 2009), Olivia (8 July 2009), Rod (8 September 2009), Michelle (13 October 2009), Aurora (25 October 2009), Rio (16 November 2009), Corinne (7 December 2009), Gillian (16 December 2009), Hollie (25 December 2009), Bel (12 January 2010), De (17 May 2010), Laurence (25 June 2010), Letty (12 September 2010), Anji (10 October 2010), Beryl (1 February 2011), Vicki (17 February 2011), Bev (13 April 2011), Em (7 July 2011), Charlotte (11 July 2011), Kelly (13 October 2011), Andria (8 December 2011), Jan (26 March 2012), Bob (9 April 2012), Mary (21 June 2012), Mariyam (27 June 2012), Mev (8 November 2012), Laura (10 April 2013), Becky (11 August 2013), Richard (20 August 2013), Dave (20 February 2014), Leah (14 October 2014), Naz (7 January 2016) and Ashley (14 December 2016).
On 18 November 2008, contestant Lee accepted a special offer from the banker. With the £1 and the £10 boxes remaining in play, he had the choice of swapping the boxes, and should whichever box he choose contain the £10, the banker would make it £510. Should it contain the £1, he would leave with nothing. He decided not to swap, but his box contained the £1, therefore making him the first person to ever walk away with nothing. On 10 April 2009, in an Easter special, contestant Daimon was offered a double or nothing gamble. He could give back the £5,000 he won in the game, and if with two goes he could find the single good egg out of the three eggs on offer, he would win £10,000. If not, he would leave with nothing. He didn’t manage to find the good egg, and therefore become the second person to walk away from the show with nothing. Eight more contestants, Caz on 12 November 2009, Brenda on 5 April 2010, Jay on 22 December 2010, Darrel on 20 February 2011, Vera on 3 April 2011, Mark on 29 July 2012, Kris on 13 October 2012 and Neil on 15 April 2013 would also walk away with nothing after accepting special gambles from the banker.
The lowest opening offer by the banker was 18p to Ed Barnes on show 568 (16 October 2007). This was in reaction to a comment made in an earlier game, where he described the banker’s threats as “hollow and meaningless”. Ed went on to deal at £33,000.62 later in the game.
The first seven letters of “Noel Edmonds” anagram into “Endemol”, the production company’s name. The first six letters anagram to “NO DEEL”. Edmonds’ name contains the letters DOND (Deal Or No Deal) in order.
The T-shirts worn by the studio staff have the slogan “What’s in your box?”.
It was Brian Conley who presented the first run-through of the show, before Edmonds presented a run-through and then a pilot. Les Dennis was also in the frame before Edmonds said he’d do it. Conley told the Manchester Evening News that he missed out because Channel 4 and Endemol disagreed on the direction the show should take, saying that “Endemol wanted it to be like the French version, which was a lot more fun and light-hearted and not quite as serious as it has become.” Chris Evans was also offered the job (or at least a place on the shortlist) but told the Daily Mail in January 2010, “I turned it down because it’s not clever enough for me. I still don’t understand why people like it.”
Dubbed Sequencegate by fans, an observant reader at the Bother’s Bar fan site noted that most games from early 2006 followed a small number of predicatable sequences. In fact, some of the shows had identical boxes. It was caused by a change in procedures by the show’s adjudicators, using a pseudo-random Excel. They now use a manual ‘picking balls out of the bag’ method.
On the episode on 29 April 2006, during Massimo Dimambro’s game, one of the remaining boxes was knocked on the floor. The box subsequently opened. All the boxes were re-shuffled with the remaining amounts. Curiously, this entire process – with the floor assistants coming on to bring the boxes on and off the set, and Noel reassuring Massimo throughout – was included in the programme’s final edit.
During the end of the first season, Noel began to have special symbols written on his hand. In September 2006, the mystery was revealed. Far from being an object lesson in Noel’s own psychology of cosmic ordering, as many had thought, in fact the final messages spelt out “www”, “red”, “box” and “club” pointing to the website www.redboxclub.com (now defunct). This contained all the symbols in sequence which, when solved, won a lucky person a VIP trip to the DoND studios including a chance to meet Noel and be one of the blue box openers. Unfortunately for would-be cryptanalysts, it would appear the entire thing may have been a hoax. Asked about the symbols, Noel told the Daily Record, “The symbols were a joke. It was a Dan Brown moment. I’d read The Da Vinci Code and thought why don’t I put some signs on my hands to see if people notice.”
After winning a mere £10, Noel told contestant Olly Murs, ‘You do not have failure written over you’. This would prove to be prophetic as Murs later finished as the runner-up in the sixth series of The X Factor, and in September 2010 his debut single ‘Please Don’t Let Me Go’ reached the top of the UK singles chart. Murs became the first, and to date only person to play the game a second time, when in April 2012, he returned to the Dream Factory as a guest contestant on Celebrity Deal or No Deal. Unfortunately his second battle with the banker ended worse than his first, as he left with 50p. In a twist of fate, had he swapped his box, as he did in his first appearance on the programme, he would have walked away with £10 a second time.
According to the yoghurt manufacturer which signed up to sponsor the programme in 2010, the show’s viewers over-index heavily on over-45-year-old empty-nesters looking for a healthy balanced lifestyle. Whatever that means.
The programme reached its 1500th episode on New Year’s Eve 2010, and reached its 3000th, penultimate episode on 22 December 2016 – co-incidentally Edmonds’ sixty-eighth birthday.
Occasionally Channel 4 broadcast episodes of Celebrity Deal or No Deal, with the celebrities playing the game for charity. The following is a chronological list of these celebrity participants:
- Jimmy Carr (comedian and TV presenter) – £750
- Olly Murs (singer and TV presenter) – 50p
- Sarah Millican (comedian) – £20,000
- Louis Walsh (X Factor judge) – £70,000
- Peter Andre (TV personality) – £1,000
- Katie Price (TV personality) – £16,000
- Tom Fletcher, Danny Jones, Dougie Poynter, Harry Judd – McFly (musicians) – £10,000
- Joan Collins (actress) – £15,000
- Sean Lock and Jon Richardson – £32,000
- Jonathan Ross (TV presenter) – £20,000
- JB Gill, Marvin Humes, Aston Merrygold, Oritsé Williams – JLS (musicians) – £50,000
- Gok Wan (TV presenter) – 10p
- James Corden (actor) – £32,000
- Alan Carr (comedian) – £26,000
- Noel Edmonds (TV presenter) – £26,000 (hosted by Sarah Millican)
In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Channel 4 repeated James Corden, Jonathan Ross, Alan Carr, Joan Collins and Louis Walsh’s episodes, in that order, with the obvious intention of gauging interest in a revival.
Deal or No Deal Contents Co-hosts Jon Culshaw as Noel Edmonds (1st Anniversary special) Broadcast Endemol West Productions for Channel 4, 31 October 2005 to 22 July 2006 Remarkable
The least amount won is $1, won on the Sunday, May 6th 2007 episode.
According to Howie Mandel, the models often faint from standing at attention for so long.
On the episode of September 1, 2008, Jessica Robinson became the first contestant ever to win the $1,000,000. She turned down an offer of $561,000. The only remaining value left was $200,000. (Season 4, Week 2)
The total amount of all the cash awards in the 26 briefcases adds up to $3,418,416.01.
There are 2 contestants who had won $10.
The 26 cash amounts that were possible prizes were as follows: 1 cent ($0.01); $1; $5; $10; $25; $50; $75; $100; $200; $300; $400; $500; $750; $1,000; $5,000; $10,000; $25,000; $50,000; $75,000; $100,000; $200,000; $300,000; $400,000; $500,000; $750,000; and $1 million ($1,000,000).
Case #25 had the million 10 times while case # 21 had the million 11 times
The highest amount won in regular show (jackpot: $1,000,000) is $402,000 won by Anteia Greer her case # 21 had only $400.
Cases number 6 and 17 held the $1,000,000 prize the most times, at 25 times each.
Trivia (10) The least amount won is $1, won on the Sunday, May 6th 2007 episode. According to Howie Mandel, the models often faint from standing at attention for so long. On the episode of