Howie Mandel: I'm An Observer


Since 2005, Howie Mandel has been the leading source of game show shockers; be they financially or emotionally derived. His latest endeavor, NBC's Take It All, serves up surprises of both ilks as we watch contestants win, and then attempt to steal, prizes from one another in a supersized version of White Elephant.

Tonight brings the final episode of the special showing, and to mark the occasion ETonline caught up with Mandel to find out what he thinks game shows say about our culture, what has surprised him the most and why he'd never be caught dead as a contestant.

ETonline: Did NBC come to you with Take It All, or did you approach them?
Howie Mandel: I took it to them. My first recollection of wanting to be in show business was watching Allen Funt. I loved Candid Camera. What I loved was seeing real people in awkward situations and seeing how they'd react. It opened up a discussion between people about how they would react in a similar situation. Therein lies everything that I have done from day one in my career. I've always felt awkward, but over the years, I've grown comfortable with my discomfort. I realized that the world is uncomfortable. When I was at parties watching these White Elephant games, it was fun to not only participate but watch how everyone else was reacting. Some people took it really seriously. They were no longer at a party; they were really angry that someone took their gift. I find that fascinating.

ETonline: Some people have wondered what these shows say about us as a society. What's your take?
Mandel: There's been an open discussion about people's greed. We're putting up a mirror to who people are. But I don't know if we're showcasing greed or gamesmanship. Is it worse to see somebody Take It All on my show, or is it worse to have a friendly card game every Tuesday night where you bluff and take your relatives money? These are two consenting adults who came in with nothing and are fully ready to play a game. Is that the perfect world? Or is the perfect world wanting to win? Personally, I don't play poker. I can't play poker. I don't want to lie. But I understand that other people enjoy that.

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ETonline: Do you think the show is more successful in any of the outcomes?
Mandel: No. As the host, I feel it is my responsibility to make their experience as pure as it can be. I should not have any ability to sway them in a direction. You are seeing the purest form of humanity in their gamesplay. Every outcome, every moment has been a surprise. But that's what keeps it fun and exciting for me.

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ETonline: What's been the biggest shock for you with Take It All?
Madel: I was surprised by the two guys last Wednesday – they were the most emotional and both kept their own prizes. You would think, culturally, that the guys would be less emotional, harder to read and more prone to trying to Take It All. I was surprised that the females were more cutthroat than the males.

ETonline: The drama on Deal or No Deal was internal since every game focused on one person. Here, you have multiple people battling it out and manipulating one another. Do you have a preference?
Mandel: I like this because it’s mano-a-mano. They're forced to verbalize much more, whereas I had to draw it out on Deal or No Deal. Here, I have the best seat in the house and it's an exciting place to be. These are the kinds of shows I respond to.

ETonline: You've watched people win, lose and steal millions of dollars over the years. Has that proximity altered the way you live your life?
Mandel: I don't know if it's changed anything about me, as much as it's underlined certain things I always believed. We're all human beings, I'm a husband and a parent and a big part of my life is empathy, so I have to tell you that sometimes I leave these shows feeling bad. I never know what these people are going to do, how people are going to react in these heightened environments. I've just grown to know that we can always be surprised – and you can't trust what you think you know. I don't know if I'm teaching my kids right, but you have to go with your own instincts. You can't be so sure that other people are going to do right by you.

ETonline: You previously said you could never compete on Take It All. Is there any competition show you think you could handle, and win?
Mandel: I don't play games. I'm not a gambler. I don't take chances. I'm not good with trivia. I have no physical prowess. I can go to a lot of games, but I'm not a player. I'm kind of an observer. That's why I think I do what I do in life. I just observe. That's what I find fascinating.

Take It All airs tonight at 9 p.m. on NBC.