Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Take the Money and Run"

My nearly lifelong habit is to listen to the radio as I'm falling asleep at night--talk radio, not music. Last weekend when I turned on the radio it was tuned to "Coast to Coast AM." The guest was somebody I had never heard of before: Paul Bishop, an LAPD detective who specializes in suspect interrogation. (You can see a summary of the show and listen to the interview here.) He was really interesting, and I ended up staying up later than I had intended listening to the stories of his successes and how he gets suspects to confess.

The reason he was featured as a guest was to help promote a new reality TV show on which he appears: "Take the Money and Run," on ABC. I had not heard of this program before, but the premise intrigued me. They go to some city and give a briefcase containing $100,000 to two contestants. (Well, I'm sure the briefcase does not actually contain the money. In one episode, there was a clear shot of the contents, and it was obviously bundles of movie-prop fake bills. But the point is that if they win they can exchange it for a real $100,000.) They have one hour to hide the case, after which time they will be taken into police custody and jailed for 48 hours. Playing against them are two local detectives (different on every episode), who do the footwork of trying to find the hidden case out on the mean streets, plus Bishop and his partner, who do the interrogation at the jail. If the detective team finds the case within 48 hours, they get to keep the money.

The segments of the show that feature the local dicks chasing down leads, looking through the bushes, etc., aren't very interesting to me. But I'm fascinated by the segments that show the interrogations. This is interesting, first, from the perspective of having it drilled into your head that if you are ever the subject of a police interrogation, you should expect them to be lying to you and manipulating you at every point. They are not your friends. Even seemingly innocuous questions and answers are either traps or are probing you and setting you up for less innocuous questions. By far your best strategy is to just shut the hell up and not talk to them. (If you're willing to spend 50 minutes on it, there's a great lecture by a law professor about why you should never, ever, under any circumstances subject yourself to a police interrogation, because of all the ways that doing so can screw you that you would never have anticipated. See here.)

But of even more interest to me is watching how the contestants and the detectives lie to and play emotional games with each other. Some of them in the first four episodes (all of which I have watched this week) are good liars, others not so much. You can watch the detectives asking them innocent, obvious questions, which the "suspects" will readily answer. This gives the detectives a baseline picture of what they look like when telling the truth. Then you can see all sorts of things change when the questions get to ones about which the contestants must lie in order not to give away the location of the briefcase. They suddenly take more time to think about answers. Their voices change. They stop making eye contact. They lean back. They squirm. They put their hands to their faces. At least the bad ones do. One excellent liar in the fourth episode instantly concocts an answer that is positively brilliant, completely plausible, and does it so convincingly that the detective is thoroughly buffaloed into believing him. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, but you'll know it when it happens.)

And hence the poker tie-in. As a viewer, you know before the interrogation begins how and where the team has hidden the money, so you know which of their answers are truth and which are lies. But in spite of that--in fact, maybe even more so because of that--it's worth watching to see what you can pick up on that are behavioral clues to their deception. Many of these have direct correlates to how players behave at the poker table when they are trying to deceive you into folding to a bluff or calling a value bet.

You can read more about the show (including the FAQ section, in which they explain why contestants aren't allowed to use some of the most obvious strategies that you think they would try) and watch all of the episodes here.

1 comment:

BISH said...

Thx for this post. A nice run down of the show. Appreciate your support!