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$1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime
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with Chris Wolvie
Judging Books By Covers
What can you tell about someone just by looking at them? Are looks deceiving? Or are first impressions usually correct? Tonight, if someone can identify 12 strangers - just by looking at them - they'll win half-a-million dollars here on...

SHOW: Identity
AIR DATES: December 18, 2006 to April 27, 2007
CREATOR: Reveille Productions
PACKAGER: A Golder, Valencia & Reveille Prods; NBC Universal TV Studio
HOST: Penn Jillette

Think you can tell who someone is just by looking at them? Well, just because she's a hot woman in a swimsuit doesn't make her a model. Just because he wears a "Crocodile Dundee" hat doesn't make him an alligator wrestler. Just because he wears a lab coat in the daytime doesn't make him my GSNN boss. But people today are very quick to assume things about a person just from first glances. And, in the mid-20-aughts, NBC looked to try to cash in on that with "Identity". They brought in 12 different people from different walks of life, from nuclear physicists to burlesque dancers, from shark attack survivors to Stan Lee (as "creator of Spider-Man"). And it was up to the contestant to figure out who's who in a test against "profiling". It was a rare show which made you think about what people are like on the outside and what they REALLY are on the inside. And only an engimatic comic-magician like Penn Jillette could host it.


A contestant is shown twelve "strangers" who are standing on numbered platforms from 1 to 12. They are then shown the twelve "identities" of the people; each stranger fits one of the identities (some may fit multiple, but there's only one way all the strangers fit each identity). The object is for the contestant to, one by one, match the strangers with the identities. For each one they get right, they go up a money ladder, starting at $1000 and climbing all the way to $500,000 if they get 11 of the 12 right (the 12th is assumed right if 11 are chosen right).

The contestant can, initially, only go by how the strangers look alone (and, usually, a few are blatantly obvious). After four correct matches, the contestants' family and friends can help (just like "Deal or No Deal"). They can also get help from the audience in general. But any other information has to come from the strangers themselves. The contestant can ask three of the twelve strangers for their first name and a biographical fact. After three matches, they can ask for facts of two of the nine remaining strangers. And, after six matches, they can ask one of the last six.

The contestant can miss ONE indentity during the game (called "Mistaken Identity"); after that, the next wrong answer will end the game and the contestant leaves with nothing. Before locking in an answer (called "sealing an identity"), they can walk away with what they've already won.

Two helps also come into play. With "Tri-dentity", the contestant chooses one identity and the field is narrowed to three strangers of which only one matches the identity. The contestant then MUST choose one of the three (or quit). If unused, it goes out of play when it's down to four strangers. "Ask The Experts" has three experts (initially an FBI behavioral expert, a psychologist and a body-language expert) giving their opinions about a identity chosen by the contestant, who does NOT have to make a choice right away based on the info.

Once an identity is "sealed", the host asks the stranger, "Is that your identity?" The stranger, if the contestant is right, will usually answer in a way that fits their identity, such as a baseball umpire shouting, "SAFE!" or a pro jump-roper showing off his skills with a rope. The game ends when a) the contestant gets all identities correct and leaves with $500,000, b) they "take the money and run", quitting the game with the money they've earned so far, or c) they get a second identity incorrect and they leave with nothing..

Let's face uncomfortable facts, OK? Ever since 9/11, Americans had started to suspect people just by the way they look. Perhaps inadvertantly (or maybe not), NBC tried to correct that through this game. They showed the world that you can't judge EVERYONE by their "cover". The person with one arm may not have survived a shark attack but, rather, lost it fighting in Iraq. The "plump" woman may have actually LOST 200 pounds. The show rewarded people for thinking outside the box and trying to get deeper into what the strangers were actually about...even if all they had to go by was their looks and some unconnected info. Hopefully, this helped matters and made people see that jumping to conclusions about people from first glance is NOT always the best solution.

Could someone else had done a better job as host than Penn Jillette? Of course. But I thought he brought a bit of humor to the proceedings. Plus I thought he fit in rather well. After all, besides the fact that he's been poking fun at magicians with Teller for thirty years (as of the show), what did we REALLY know about Penn? Hell, HE could've been one of the strangers and had an "identity" of "Libertarian aethist"...and he would NEVER be called out on it, I'm sure.

It seemed almost TOO easy to go by first impressions in this game. Even though that's not the object, people will be peeople. Add the fact that two or three of the identities were so blatantly obvious and you can understand why people would be quick to jump to conclusions about the other nine or ten. Having "identities" that could match several strangers doesn't help much, either. I'm shocked that one person actually won the half-million and others did fairly well.

The "Tri-dentity" might be useful in a pinch, but the "Ask the Experts" sounds too much like the "Three Wise Men" lifeline from "Super Millionaire"; it's just three people who happen to know a LITTLE about how people behave but could just as easily lead you astray. And having family and the audience helping DIDN'T help. You'd have better chances just guessing (and, mathematically speaking, that a chance in around half-a-billion).


Other countries have tried...but only Singapore and Italy have versions still going on today (and the UK version had Donny Osmond; if HE couldn't bring the audience in...). It was, without a doubt, the most unique concept of its time. But it was too DEEP a concept for most people to grok. These days, with the internet in full bloom, anyone can be ANYone (whether the actual "one" gives permission or not). MAYBE on one of the more scientifically-based cable networks...but not on "broadcast".

Look out belo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w!

Chris Wolvie's identity will stay secret...until the evil lair is complete. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at