Reality competitions come and go on television, but there’s always something that’s wildly popular. Decades ago it was Jeopardy! and Wheel Of Fortune while at the turn of the century it was shows like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and American Idol. Now, it’s Idol imitator The Voice that’s the hot program, and there’s talk that a new trivia competition called The Wall could be the Millionaire for a new generation. Some of these shows are based on knowledge and games, and others focus on talent and performances. They’re all competitive, and they’ve all managed to capture the attention of huge audiences.
But what are the actual chances contestants have of winning these types of shows?
It’s hard to say for sure. Theoretically though, we can work out the odds for top prizes. For instance, a performer on American Idol would have a shot equal to one-in-whatever number of total contestants there were. Someone on Deal Or No Deal has a 1-in-26 chance of blindly picking the briefcase containing $1 million. But even odds like these aren’t concrete. The performer still has to stand up to pressure each time on stage and perform at or above the average level of his or her competitors to maintain the original odds. And the Deal Or No Deal contestant has to make a series of intelligent and increasingly complicated decisions to reach the point of opening the million dollar briefcase at the end of the game.
The real trick for reality competitions is looking beyond the starting odds and figuring out the specific strategies or circumstances that have helped past contestants win. Looking at trivia-based game shows, experts have delved into mathematical mechanics and strategies that can potentially give contestants certain advantages. For instance, it might pay to know that the “ask the audience” lifeline in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire actually has a 90 percent success rate, making it by far the most valuable of three lifelines. Or in Britain’s Deal Or No Deal it’s worth understanding that though the briefcase values vary from £1 to £250,000, only six cases contain amounts greater than the mean of £26,000, meaning that a 1-in-26 shot at the jackpot is also a 20-in-26 shot at falling below average. These are mathematical facts based on show dynamics and past examples, and can give a player a leg
up in potential to win serious prizes.
For talent-based competitions, it’s a little more difficult to find patterns or mathematical certainties like these. However, particularly with regard to The Voice, there may be something to be said for simply knowing the relevant audience. For instance, a 2013 article theorized that Team Blake had an advantage on The Voice. Known as a country star, Blake Shelton consistently picks country or rock/country artists, and a pattern had developed by then where such artists were clearly popular with a majority of live viewers who voted on the later rounds of the show. Fast-forward to 2017, and this pattern has only strengthened. Country singers Craig Wayne Boyd and Sundance Head have also won for Team Blake, reinforcing the idea that you might have a better shot on this show if you’re able to belt out some memorable country numbers. That doesn’t mean you have to be a full country artist—just that you should consider singing country when live voting begins.
In short, the lesson is simple: in any reality competition the best way to figure out a legitimate strategy for winning is to look into the show’s history and analyze what has worked in the past. Then again, it usually comes down to something closer like the plot of Slumdog Millionaire—you have to hope for circumstances that bless you with incredible luck and the chance to display your talents in a way that can make you a winner!