In many ways, game shows are just like psychological experiments. Scientists love to exploit our logical blind spots to show just how irrational human beings will act in the right circumstances. Of course the scientists can sleep well at night knowing that they're only making anonymous subjects look stupid in the name of progress, while game shows make people look stupid on national TV so we can laugh at them while they lose money. But it all balances out in the end, since the game show people can use all that money to buy medication to help them sleep at night.
6Wheel of Fortune: Waste Your First Guess (aka the Steve Jobs Advantage)
The first three rounds of Wheel of Fortune are a glorified hangman game in which turns follow one-on-one basketball rules: You get a letter right, you get to go again. The final round of group play, however, is the speed-up round, where Mr. Sajak gives the wheel a final spin and then the contestants take turns guessing a letter at a time and trying to solve the puzzle until someone gets the right answer.
Let's say you find yourself going first in the speed round. If you've watched Wheel of Fortune, you'll probably guess "E." Vowels don't cost anything in this round, and every Wheel watcher knows that "E" is the most common letter in the English language. As you hear the pleasing ding and watch Vanna walk up to the glowing puzzle pieces and flip them around, you'll probably feel pretty good about your guess.
"What is 'Chalupa Night'?"
Congratulations, you've just done the stupidest thing you could have done with your turn. What you should have done is ask for something you're fairly certain won't be up on the board, like a "Z," or an "X," or an ampersand. This is because, despite what your impatient monkey brain tells you, going first is almost always a huge disadvantage.
How Does That Work?
Remember in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the Nazis are trying to pass a series of trials to get to the Holy Grail, but all they're really doing is racing against each other to see who can die more horribly? Indy goes last and beats the game! Sure, Indy's smarter than Nazis, but how far do you think he would have gotten if he hadn't watched a bunch of them get decapitated and make poor cup choices?
"Note to self: Wait this one out."
It's called the "first mover disadvantage," and it says that in most turn-based contests, the first person to move has the worst chance of success because he or she is going in completely blind. As a result, the person going second gets the benefits from the information gained by the first mover without any of the costs.
This applies to any real world situation where people are competing to come up with the best answer to the same question. Steve Jobs knew this better than anybody. Despite his reputation as a great modern-day inventor, Jobs never really invented anything. Not the windows-based operating system, not the MP3 player, not the tablet and certainly not the cellphone. Jobs' business strategy was to sit back and wait for other companies to invent new products, then figure out what the coolest version of that product would look like.
Returning to the hypothetical Wheel of Fortune scenario, now that you've "taken advantage" of having the first turn, you have to pick a famous quotation solely by the position of its "E"s. If you guess "X," you pass your first mover disadvantage on to the second contestant and wait for the board to come back to you.
"I'm sorry, there is no pi."
Of course, there's nothing stopping all three contestants from adopting this strategy, turning the speed-up round into the Mexican standoff round as they scrape their way through the bottom half of the alphabet. That's where the pleasant ding and the sight of Vanna White come in. A good sign that a show is screwing with one of your logical blind spots is if they surround the illogical option with good-looking women. For instance ...