A few nights ago, while perusing Youtube for morsels of David Tennant-y goodness, I came across an episode of Derren Brown’s Trick or Treat with David in. The premise of the show is that Derren will choose participants from a pool of applicants, and then surprise them with the news that they’ve been chosen, at which time they must blindly pick from two cards; trick or treat. This then determines what type of activities Derren will be performing with each guest. In the one episode I saw, David Tennant chose a treat card, and Derren proceeded to perform several tricks (treats?) with David involving time travel (what else?).
The show is definitely entertaining, but it left this Skepchick feeling a bit uneasy. The tricks were fascinating, David was sexy as ever, but it seemed to me that there was too much room left for the paranormal. This had been sort of bothering me for a few days, until this morning, when a nice Skepchick reader sent in a link to the series finale (thanks, Ballookey Klugeypop!) which consisted mostly of Brown explaining superstition psychologically.
I watched it right away, in the interest of science, of course (David who?). The show opens with Brown gathering all of the guests from the show’s previous episodes, ostensibly for an end of run party. Just as they were beginning to settle in, an alarm went off, and they were directed into a large, white room full of all sorts of random objects and large, colored polka dots on the floor. A sign on the wall told them that if the counter on the wall got up to 100 within 30 minutes, they would all get 500 quid (damn my american Mac with no pound sign!).
What they weren’t told was that they were basically trapped in a giant skinner box, and the counter had absolutely no relationship to their actions, but was actually counting the number of times two goldfish crossed a line in an aquarium a few rooms away. It was fascinating to see how quickly guests made connections between their actions and the counter, and hilarious to watch the bizarre things they started to do. To top it all off, there was another message written on the ceiling. After five minutes, the doors would unlock, and they could walk out and get a whole trunk full of money. Of course, they were all too wrapped up in their silliness that they failed to look up and see it.
At the end, all of them except David (I’m sayin’, the boy is totally a skeptic!) had formulated a system of beliefs explaining how it was that they had “scored” the 100 points necessary to “win”. At this point, I would have loved to see the truth revealed, and the participants’ reactions, but instead, Brown allowed them to take their mistaken beliefs home to be crushed later on when they saw the finished episode. Fair enough, I suppose.
I’m still not sure what to make of Derren Brown. Despite this great examination of human psychology and our predisposition toward superstition, he still strikes me as someone who’s trying to play both sides. I guess I’ll have to do some more research.
I’d be curious to hear what David Tennant has to say about his experience on the show. Maybe I can hook up with him (yeah, right!) in August when I’m in Stratford to see Hamlet. I will try, though, you know, just for the sake of y’all Skepchick readers…any of you know anybody that can hook me up?