Derren Brown: Good or Bad?
It’s a genuine question, because I can’t quite make up my own mind.
I’m also curious, in the extreme, to know how much Mr Brown is worth, and how much he takes home each year – really, if you know, add a comment, please.
I should probably declare my interest, which stems from being intrigued by the subjects that he is able to convince the TV gods to deem as worthy of their time. Apart from the ‘cheap magic’ that any run of the mill performer can present, such as the Nail Hammered Up The Nose and Crush My Face Into Broken Glass routines he included in recent shows (and are really beneath him in my opinion), his own ‘original’ illusions are much along the lines of items I would like to come up with, so from that point of view, I judge him as generally ‘Good’, as I get to see some of my ideas brought to fruition. Before you dismiss this as ‘Apollo Jumping on the Bandwaggon’, let me say that I refer only to the few that he has revealed in detail, and this leaves plenty that I have no idea how as to how he achieves the final effect – and some that I am also sure that the explanation he has given is a perfectly plausible, but completely false misdirection, intended to protect their real secret.
The most recent offering was The System, in which he announced that he would show a foolproof system of betting on the ponies, which he would present to member of the public, have them operate, and bet using all the money they could raise. This would then be followed by an explanation and description of the system for all to see.
I don’t claim to have seen through the detail of the method that was finally described, however by the third race it was clear that there was no ‘predictive’ system in operation, and that there would be no conclusion to the programme which would provide the viewer with a system they could nip out to the bookies with the next day, and net a small fortune. Apart from the simple fact that unless we were looking at fixed races, simple chance meant that there would be no ‘system’. The reason for making this statement was simply the number of unpredictable events taking place in the races themselves, in particular the number of time horses stumbled and/or fell or lost their riders. Unless the riders are complicit, then there’s no way (in the real world at least) to predict such events – no matter how much you might want to believe that they can.
By the end of the programme I was genuinely intrigued to see how he would match the method to the coin demonstration shown earlier, when he revealed the ‘Brute Force’ method used to provide an honest test result when 10 consecutive heads were thrown in a coin toss – I’m impressed he was able to get the result so quickly, I think he was lucky to get it in one day’s shooting!
The final method, again a form of ‘Brute Force’ was no less impressive in that it worked. There was no guarantee that the pool of punters they picked would have contained a winner – I think. I’d have to have a look at the summary again, and look at the numbers involved; comparing the number of punters, the number of races, number of runners etc, and that would allow the numbers to be run and determine if they had enough punters to cover every possible result in the chosen races, in which case the chances of success would clearly be much better – and I’m sure they would have minimised their chances of failure. There’s also the tiny problem that Yours Truly is too firmly attached to his dosh, and has never been attracted to betting an the gee-gees, so would have to go learn about that too!
There is, of course, the finale of the show, where he wound up his victim with the ‘You’ve Lost Your Stake’ routine (did anyone really think he would lose 4 grand for his ‘victim’ – this would have done nothing for his future viewing figures or sellability), and left her reading of the betting slip to the very end, to reveal he had given her the winning ticket. How was this done? Again, you can only guess, but if you go back to my opening question about what he is worth, work out the cost of the scheme he showed (remember, all the punter were reimbursed for their failed bets along the way), then estimate the revenue from the programme and sponsors, and then consider that he is an expert at sleight of hand, you should be able to come up with at least one way to get the winning ticket into the final punter’s hand. Don’t forget the original principle of ‘Point of View’ demonstrated by the run of 10 heads in the coin toss example. The punter sees a benefit in cash terms when their ticket wins and the bet provides a cash return at whatever odds their bet was placed. The programme sees a benefit in different terms, and if, perhaps, it spent more in terms of placing the winning bet than it won, then although in that small frame of reference is makes a cash loss, it can, perhaps, see its ‘win’ or ‘benefit’ from the net profit of the whole exercise, and the airing of a successful programme which attracted the required number of viewers for the sponsors.
(You didn’t really think there was any chance of him blowing his brains out on national TV when he did the Russian Roulette programme, did you?)