Published December 13. 2012 4:00AM
There's an aspect of "Take It All," NBC's new game show, that host Howie Mandel finds utterly fascinating:
The contestants are allowed, even encouraged, to lie.
The better they are at bluffing, in fact, the better their chances are of winning big.
"There is strategy, there is gamesmanship, there is bluffing," Mandel says. "Some people just out-and-out lie, and that's fun to watch."
Every episode of the show, which premiered at 9 p.m. Monday and returns each weeknight this week, ends with two big prize winners matching wits.
If both players choose to "keep mine," both will keep all the prizes they have won to that point.
If one player chooses "keep mine" and the other chooses to "take it all," the player who chose "take it all" goes home with all the prizes and the "keep mine" player leaves with nothing.
And if both players choose "take it all," they both go home empty-handed.
So every game boils down to reading an opponent and watching for poker "tells." Can the other player be trusted? Or is he a pathological liar?
That's the aspect of the game that Mandel, who entered the TV game-show business as host of "Deal or No Deal" in 2005, finds so compelling.
"In this game, the producers tell the players, 'You're allowed to lie about anything,'" Mandel says. "You can come out and say you're the mother of three and you're terminally ill and this and that, so the people feel bad for you and they trust you - and then you can pinch everybody for everything."
As a result, Mandel says, "Take It All" is not a conventional game show.
"It's an incredible social experiment," he says.
Earlier in the game, meanwhile, there's an element of Yankee swap, in which players swipe prizes from other players.
It's as simple as that. No trivia questions to answer. No stunts to perform onstage. Just broad-daylight theft and bare-faced lies in an attempt to take possession of the best prize.
Speaking of prizes, the Take It All loot also differs from the norm.
"You will see things that you haven't seen on any other show," Mandel promises. "I'm talking things like hovercrafts and submarines and jet packs, and they're all amazing.
"I'm just as blown away as the contestants when the gifts are revealed. I go, 'Oh, my God, this is amazing. I want one.'"
It remains to be seen whether "Take It All" will wind up on NBC's prime-time schedule beyond this one-week run. But it would be unwise to bet against it.
"The last time I was involved with an event of this magnitude in this way was 'Deal or No Deal,'" Mandel says. "When I was presented with 'Deal or No Deal,' they said, 'We're going to give you five nights in a row. We think it's a fun holiday event.'
"That fun holiday event turned into 500 episodes (and four seasons)."
Mandel has been offered many game-show gigs since then. He turned them all down until now.
"I have no interest in saying, 'All right, question No. 2 is this,' and reading questions," he says. "It's not what I want to do and that's not what I'm interested in.
"But when two people are looking at each other in the face and saying, 'I'm going to trust you. We're both going to keep it. I trust you. I believe you,' and when you'll be sitting at home going, 'I don't trust him! He's lying! He's going to take it all! He's lying!,' that's more than a game.
"Not since 'Deal or No Deal' have I seen this kind of television, where you're on the edge of your seat at home, screaming at somebody on the screen, a visceral reaction to what's happening on TV."
"Take It All" airs at 9 p.m. through Friday on NBC.