Who doesn’t like to watch game shows? Every now and again I love to just flip on some good old Family Feud or pretty much any other game show. I try to shout out as many answers as I possibly can and when I don’t know something I’ll just yell any random guess that comes to mind. What does this say about game shows? Are my extremely random guesses acceptable and what game shows should be asking for or should game shows be based on one’s knowledge? In other words, should rewards be based more on luck or more on one’s personal situation and capabilities?
Let’s look at three of my personal favorites: Jeopardy (Even though Trebek annoys me, I still love it. What a classic), Who Wants to be a Millionaire (Gotta love Regis. He’s the man) and Deal or No Deal. Jeopardy rewards its contestants by how much they know, how quickly they can recite their answers or determine the answer to a question or problem and essentially how well they are able memorize and retain information. This is a game show that rewards the highly intelligent and the highly educated scholars who apply to be on it. In fact, many people don’t even make the cut to be on Jeopardy. You have to be of a certain level of intelligence to even grace the show with your presence because the show has an image. Its image is one of wisdom and sophistication: people on this show are smart and given the chance to win money because of it.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire is a more dynamic game show in that it has luck and knowledge involved in the equation. Intelligent contestants are given the chance to vie for the position to possibly win a million dollars, but they are also given four choices to choose from in each question. Each question is inherently answerable due to the four choices and hence twenty-five percent chance that the contestant has to answer correctly. Not only this, but contestants are provided with helpful “life-lines” that give them extra room for error within their random guesses for the questions they are unsure of. Ultimately, this game show is rewarding of those who are both lucky and smart. Somebody could get lucky every time and just guess the right answer out of the four, or somebody could know every single one and not even expend a “life-line”.
Lastly, Deal or No Deal is all luck. Let’s be honest, there isn’t much skill in choosing stainless steel briefcases with plastic figures for numbers pasted on them. Some people out there claim to by psychic or what not and if they truly are then they might have a leg up in this game, but otherwise everybody is given an identical opportunity to be rewarded with a monetary prize.
Should game shows be based on luck alone, primarily on luck, primarily on knowledge, or a balanced combination of the two? I find this to be an intriguing question because Rousseau and Rawls’ work both touch on concepts similar to this game show concept I’ve discussed.
Rawls fights for “social justice” (37), in the words of Thomas Nagel. He doesn’t believe in rewarding people based on their inherited skills and letting the less skilled suffer comparatively. Nagel said, “Rawls’ outlook is that differences in ability, to the extent that they have genetic sources, do not in themselves justify differences in reward” (39). This means that Rawls generally disapproves of better rewards for those who are inherently more able because of their lineage. Inheriting abilities is somewhat unfair in the sense that one does not earn their advantageous talents, but just has them upon birth. He takes on a more democratic perspective in that he advocates for more support for those lower in society. Rousseau doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with people rising above others because of natural distinctions. He is mainly against this happening with the presence of social institutions that have become in society because they are artificial in creation. Rousseau comes across as less forgiving than Rawls in his writings. He does not necessarily believe in the more able triumphing over those without comparable abilities, but he is less sympathetic than Rawls seems to be.
If we created a world in which rewards were doled out through game shows (I know, what a strange life that would be), what would these guys think? As they don’t directly deal with luck, they both deal with the issues of rewards, natural abilities and justice in general. Rawls’ theory asserts that people should not be ahead of others naturally, but that differences in natural capability cannot be annihilated or removed (40). So, if game shows were the key to gaining rewards, which would he support? On the other hand, Rousseau is more accepting of the concept of those with greater natural talent receiving more benefits, but his ideas do not fully support this. Both philosophers have ideas on natural ability and subsequent rewards, but both of their dispositions are not radically against the opposing side. Rawls doesn’t support rewards based on natural gifts, but he is also aware that natural advantages and disadvantages should not be erased completely. Rousseau is not against natural differences in ability, but his ideas acknowledge that they are not the best things by any means. What would they say about these game shows if they determined how people were to be rewarded in life?
Is luck is a MORE fair way to distribute rewards? What is the quintessential game show? How should a game show reward its contestants?
Nagel, Thomas. “Justice, Justice, Shalt Thou Pursue.” The New Republic 25 Oct. 1999: 36-41.