This Goldenballs £100,000 steal remains the most savage game show moment of all time
No, not the weird nickname we had for David Beckham in the early 2000s, but the daytime game show that ran on ITV between 2007 and 2009.
Presented by Brummie comedian Jasper Carrot, Goldenballs was ace because it used a bunch of nifty game theory tricks to get its contestants to behave like absolute bastards.
There were no conventional questions to be answered in the show; if you wanted to win money in Goldenballs, it was in your best interests to lie, cheat and steal your way to victory.
It all came to a head in an ace final round. In it the contestants make one last decision to determine the final jackpot division. Each contestant chooses one of two final golden balls, one with "Split" printed on the cash background inside it, and one with "Steal" printed on the killer background inside it.
- If both contestants choose a Split ball, the jackpot is split equally between them and they both go home with half the money they've won.
- If one contestant chooses a Split ball and the other chooses a Steal ball, the Stealer goes home with all the money and the Splitter goes home empty-handed.
- If both contestants choose Steal balls, they both go home empty-handed.
- The excellence of it is that according to game theory, one should always steal. The game is a modified version of the Prisoner's Dilemma and became a popular point on a number of poker forums.
One common tactic that emerged was for someone to tell the other person they're going to steal and that they will give the other person 10% if they pick split. This effectively gives their rival a choice between getting nothing, or 10% of the prize.
It was a dastardly final round, that one time lead to this moment in 2008.
This my dear friends is where Goldenballs transcended the confines of a mere game show, and became a rumination on the state of mankind.
A great writer once said, "There are two kinds of war movies. There’s Platoon and there’s Apocalypse Now. One addresses the specific hardships and adventures, acts of bravery and cowardice, and sociopolitical context around a particular conflict. The other is about conflict itself — why we find ourselves, over and over again, drawn into these acts of mutual destruction."
This moment is the Apocalypse Now of television gameshows. Everything you need to know about life and the human condition is contained in this one scene.
It has everything; there are the high stakes with the life-changing sum of £100,000 to play for.
There's the intrigue in Stephen having already double-crossed Sarah in a previous round.
And then there is the drama. The sheer weight of the conversation Stephen and Sarah have before the deal is done. Look at some of the things they say to each other.
"If I stole off you, every single person there would run off and lynch me."
"Everyone who knew me would just be disgusted if I stole."
"Sarah, I can look you straight in the eye and tell you I am going to split."
"We're going home with 50 grand each. I promise ya."
And then Stephen runs shit outta luck.
Sarah's face. Look at that face. That's the face Lucifer after he managed to convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.
That's the face of every older sibling who's broken something managed to pin the blame of their younger relative.
That's the face of a person who knows they've just screwed someone, knows they shouldn't be too pleased with themselves, but is honestly too happy to care.
That is face of person who in an act of deceit, is at their most raw and honest and truthful.
It's also fucking hilarious because it leads directly to this:
This is the face of a man who's seen his entire life shatter.
Stephen thought he was home clear. Fifty grand is a life changing sum of money. It's two years of take-home salary.
Stephen was feeling good. He was spending the money in his head. He was taking the family on holiday. He was going fix a few things in the house. Maybe sort out a mate or two in a sticky bind. Put some against the mortgage.
Stephen is a sensible grounded fella. He wasn't gonna blow this. He likes his motors but knew this fifty grand, this time, this time he was going to be sensible with his windfall.
Stephen was even planning to give a bit to charity.
And then he ran shit outta luck.
It gets better/worse the more you watch. Sarah goes from lip swallowing "gotcha" to a guilty remorse. She can't look at Stephen anymore. There's a moment where she daintily tries to put the ball back on its stand. She does it in the manner a child does when they try to fix something they've broken, but it looks like a paid hitman dispensing a weapon after a contract as been fulfilled.
There's a small flinch where you suspect she worries Stephen might lash out, and then she realises she has nothing to fear.
Stephen can't lash out. He's physically inable of doing so. He's too busy reassessing all of his life's decisions. Stephen's wondering how he got to this point. Whether or not he's too kind, or wasted his life. Stephen's wondering if maybe he is the wrong one.
Credit to Jasper Carrott for playing it straight on presenting duties. For a man who's just witnessed a treatise on the essence of man, he's remarkably calm.
All that's left now is a rather rattled Stephen and Sarah to deliver their closing VTs.
Look at how the colour has drained out of Stephen's face.
"Goldenballs has taught me that some people... look for revenge, quite easily. And greed, obviously knows no bounds."
Look at this face.
"When Stephen revealed the split ball... I wasn't proud... I didn't feel happy about what I'd done but having been stabbed in the back last time I just couldn't put myself through it again."
Hurt people, hurt people.