‘Deal or No Deal Island’ Recaptures the Game Show’s Chaos

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/NBC
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/NBC
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The chaotic brilliance of Deal or No Deal has returned. But it’s back with a Survivor-style twist. Deal or No Deal Island may sound like a title ripped from 30 Rock—I feel like I write this every week at this point, with reality shows about twins dating, MILFs, and polyamory always popping up—but it’s 100 percent real and about to debut on NBC.

Deal or No Deal Island, which premieres Monday night on NBC at 9:30 p.m. ET, was a show made for anyone who still watches reruns on the Deal or No Deal Roku Channel that airs reruns at every hour of the day. (So, me. I’m unapologetic about this fact—Deal or No Deal rocks.) It was made for people who want to scream, “Don’t make that deal!” at confused contestants who think a measly $83,000 is better than a potential million bucks hiding within their case. Even without Howie Mandel, Deal or No Deal Island is a dreamlike, messy, absurdist concept that ties in facets of the original Deal or No Deal with ease.

At first, one might not expect such high praise for Deal or No Deal Island. The series is shoddily made, with iPhones replacing the iconic landline phones to contact the banker. Joe Manganiello takes the place of Mandel as host, a C-minus replacement at best. The models who present the cases—Meghan Markle used to be one—are no longer present; instead, two unfashionable “banker’s assistants” do that job. The ever-present techno thrums of the stressful Deal or No Deal music have vanished too.

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But what matters is that the simplistic concept remains: Yes, even though there is the new Survivor-esque strategy at play—more explanation of that in a bit—the Deal or No Deal gameplay is still the core of this new show. In every episode, one player from the batch of 13 must play a slightly shortened version of the OG Deal or No Deal game. They’re once again battling against the omniscient but unseen banker; however, instead of winning individual checks, contestants are working to add funds to the collective prize pool.

Only one person can win that giant prize, so the players must complete other minigames to win immunity and make alliances to stay safe in the game. Whoever walks away from the minigames with the lowest case value—cases range from $100,000 to $1 million, although the minigame cases never translate into actual cash value in the game—will be up for elimination. If they can make a “good offer” (meaning either walking away with a case value higher than the banker’s offer, or accepting an offer that is higher than their case value) in a classic game of Deal or No Deal, they’re safe—and get to choose any other contestant to send home. If not, they’ll be eliminated.

Nicholas Grasso, Jordan Fowler, Stephanie Mitchell, Miranda Harrison, and Brantzen Wong.

(l-r) Nicholas Grasso, Jordan Fowler, Stephanie Mitchell, Miranda Harrison, and Brantzen Wong.

Monty Brinton/NBC

To sweeten the deal and entice other reality fans into watching the new game show, Deal or No Deal Island features two familiar faces: “Boston” Rob Mariano, a five-time Survivor player and one-time winner, as well as former Deal or No Deal case girl Claudia Jordan. While Jordan lends her “strategies” (if there is any strategy involved in selecting cases at random) to her fellow players about the Deal or No Deal portion, Boston Rob manipulates an alliance that threatens the rest of the island from Day 1. Having two bigger names with a bunch of nobodies—the contestants they cast are wonderfully diverse, ranging from a buff dude to an older woman—is an appropriate balance.

The contestants of Deal or No Deal Island season 1.

(l-r) Jamil Sipes, Miranda Harrison, Kim Mattina, Nicholas Grasso, Jordan Fowler, Dawson Addis, Stephanie Mitchell, Alyssa Klinzing, Claudia Jordan, Rob Mariano and Brantzen Wong.

Monty Brinton/NBC

The parts where the contestants play Deal or No Deal are definitely the best, but the competitive minigames are nearly as marvelous. Contestants have to drag themselves through the mud to find the highest-value case. They pair up and scale trees for arrows, using those arrows to shoot down the most coveted cases. Most importantly, these little conquests are just as simple to grasp as the Deal or No Deal game itself, meaning it’s all incredibly easy to watch.

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Although an honest reboot of Deal or No Deal may have been more preferred, Deal or No Deal Island is a welcome twist on the original romp. That said, it would be awfully hard to screw up a revamping of such a simple game—as long as the cases appear, the banker makes an offer, and a player has the opportunity to slam a glass case over the red button and yelp, “NO DEAL,” it makes for fun TV. Deal or No Deal Island does exactly that, remaking the game show into something as spectacular as ever.

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