If you participate in a White Elephant gift exchange this time of year, then you'll probably be familiar with the premise of NBC's "Take It All" (9 p.m. Monday-Friday this week and 10 p.m. Dec. 17, WPXI), which gets a six-night, holiday-season trial run.
Hosted by "Deal or No Deal" star Howie Mandel, this game show features a player opening a prize worth thousands. The next contestant can steal an already opened prize or take a chance on another unopened prize, hoping it turns out to be something better.
Once only two contestants are left -- NBC's description of the show doesn't explain how eliminations work -- the players have to choose to keep the prize they have or try to take all the prizes. If both choose to keep their own, they will keep what they've won in prior rounds. If one player chooses to keep their own prize and their opponent chooses "take it all," the "take it all player" goes home with everything. If both choose "take it all," both contestants leave the show empty-handed.
"It's like poker," Mr. Mandel said in a recent teleconference. "They get a chance to face-off of each other and against each other ... it's the most surprising social experiment I've ever been part of. [I thought 'Deal or No Deal'] was an incredible social experience, this takes it to the next level."
Unlike in some White Elephant gift exchanges, where players bring the tackiest, gaudiest gift they can find, there are no duds in "Take It All."
"Well, the only dud, if you want to call it a dud, is you end up out," Mandel said. "The prizes are like characters in themselves. I mean, you will see things that you haven't seen on any other show. Things like hovercrafts and [submarines] and jet packs, and things like you've never seen before, so they're all amazing. I mean, I'm just as blown away as the contestants when the gifts are revealed and I go, 'Oh my, God, this is amazing. I want one,' you know?"
Mr. Mandel said hosting game shows has taught him he can never accurately judge how people will react in a high-pressure, game show environment.
"I learned that I'm fascinated with the human condition. You put people in different environments and they probably don't even know what they're going to do," he said. "They get up there and there's hundreds of thousands of dollars cash in front of them -- diamonds, boats, gifts, and real estate -- and you watch their eyes glaze over and they become a different person.
"That's true when you get into a casino, so I'm fascinated by what happens," he continued. "All I try to do as the host is just direct the traffic and hope that I keep them as clear as possible and as focused as possible, so that they can manipulate whatever plan they have of attack in the clearest possible way."
A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.