I was going to write about a new game show that puts some of the least sympathetic people you’ve ever seen on television. I really did believe those greedy, shameless people I’d witnessed last night—all of them hoping to go home rich after appearing on NBC’s Take It All—represented some of the darkest, most deceit-filled corners of American life. Just as I set out to tell you about all those awful people, and even some of the less reprehensible contestants, someone in the office mentioned a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The world was learning that students and staff at Sandy Hook elementary school were gunned down in the small town. Suddenly, Take It All‘s glorified greed, as fun and perhaps important as it would be to dissect, seemed utterly trivial.
I was going to tell you about a man named Jeremy, who might be the world’s greatest liar. On last night’s episode of Take It All, a mostly boring game show, Jeremy was at his best. Take It All‘s intricacies aren’t all that important, but suffice to say the game culminates in a final round that pits two contestants—last night, it was Jeremy and Lauren—against each other in a “prize fight.” It’s a classic prisoner’s dilemma. Players choose to either keep what they’ve earned during previous rounds or “take it all.” If they both elect to take it all, they go home empty handed. If they both elect to keep their own, they keep their own. If only one player elects to take it all, they win the pot. Howie Mandel, the show’s host, gives them a minute to talk it out and then encourages them to forget all about honesty. “Remember, this is a game,” he said. “And you are allowed to lie.” Jeremy looked anxious, Lauren was tearful, and they made their choices. Jeremy, who’d just impressed upon Lauren how much she could trust his midwestern values, duped her into sharing the pot. He elected to take it all, and won $549,500. What of his stalwart midwestern values? Still intact, it seems, insulated by Mandel’s explicit reminder that it’s okay to lie on TV. It was probably naive to expect anything more noble.
Meanwhile, the world just learned the shooter in Connecticut was Adam Lanza, and we also learned one of his apparent victims was his own mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook. Jeremy, his pot of cash, and the devious means by which he earned it all seemed immediately unimportant by comparison. So did John, one of Take It All‘s final contestants the other night, who appealed to god during the prize fight. As he bargained with his opponent, Kim, she asked how she could trust him not to take it all. His response appealed to god. “He’s given me a gift. For me to arrogantly say I’ll take it all is to spit in god’s face,” said John. A few seconds later, Kim went home with $429,900.
When I woke up this morning, the absurdity of Take It All—its pandering to the greediest, most deceitful contestants and viewers—spoke so many volumes about American culture’s darker side. Maybe it really does. Or maybe it’s just a game show we should take at face value. I don’t know. What I do know is Adam Lanza’s name will live far longer than he did, and Take it All will fade into obscurity much sooner, no matter the infamy it amasses. When it comes to lasting power, tragedy always trumps greed.