This is what happens when you combine game theory, psychology and sociology on a gameshow you get the phenomena called Golden Balls.  I have not watched an entire episode, but merely some outcomes of the final decision in which two people are given three possible outcomes for splitting, usually, a large sum of money.

What happens is each contestant is given two golden balls, within each ball there is a little sign that says ‘split’ or ‘steal.  That gives us three possibilities…

1.  Split – Split = contestants split the pot.

2.  Split – Steal = contestant who chose the steal ball takes home the entire pot.

3.  Steal – Steal = contestants forfeit the entire pot.

This of course has game theorists rubbing their greasy little hands together with glee because the choices presented are unambiguous, but the calculations that people must undertake most certainly are.

Let’s take a look at some outcomes – (the MC lays out the rules each time, feel free to skip to the ‘moment of truth’ but make sure you watch the conversation time before they have to choose)





This is really a terrible show – but inside that terribleness – lurk a couple of questions that may bother you for awhile.  What would you do if up there with another stranger?  Go for the amiable split and risk everything, or take the money and run.

Can you judge the character of another person in 45 minutes?  Enough to take them on their word?  But then what about the double lose scenario, if we are to believe in the baseness of human nature then the logical choice is the ‘steal’ ball.

Does this boil down to making a person trust you enough to screw them over, or is about building enough trust to ensure a win/win scenario for both contestants?  What I have noticed in this admittedly small sample of clips is that people who go for the steal option rationalize their choice by saying that this is ‘just a game’ and games are there to win.  Is that enough to justify selfish behaviour?

Conversely, when people do decide to honestly split was it out of actual altruistic impetuses or the calculated desire not to go home empty handed?  The amount of moral ambiguity involved in making these decisions must take a terrible psychic toll on the contestants.

A larger meta thought on the whole ‘gameshow’ aspect is -how ethical is it to be deriving pleasure from watching poor people go tooth and nail at each other for money?

Here is an entire episode if you happen to be the curious sort.


Gimmicky game show or a window into the human psyche?  What this show does and shows about people is still rattling around inside my skull – what faithful commentariat do you think ?