The Hustler

By | January 6, 2021

Sidenote, don’t forget Poll of the Year closes Saturday night, and also closing then is the Bother’s Bar Game Night Awards poll, so remember to get your votes in.

The Hustler had a “series preview” on Monday ahead of Thursday’s “season premiere” because American TV is mental. It’s a format devised by Richard Bacon of 19 Keys fame and once again Stephen Lambert is on hand to redefine the gameshow genre in exec producer role, this time it’s another Quiz Whodunnit where one person knows all the answers to the questions but must avoid detection whilst also adding money to the pot they could take home.

Let’s get this out of the way first – the production on it is superb – I love the Victorian library set, the vibe, the fonts, all that. I love that losing contestants get shoved out of secret doors (albeit in a comically rubbish manner). I think Craig Ferguson is absolutely terrific, the Crystal Maze host who never was.

Five people work together as a team to answer multiple choice questions that one of them definitely knows the answer to as they relate to their interests. There are ten questions, each one preceded by a fact about the Hustler, the first nine worth $10,000, the last one doubling or halving the pot. At various points during the game, The Hustler gets to secretly determine which two players get sent home. At the end the final three have a discussion, if the two contestants can unanimously agree on who The Hustler is, they split the pot between them. If not, the Hustler wins it all to themselves. The Hustler, then, is trying to lead the team into getting questions right to put money in the pot without giving away their position.

There’s a pretty immediate issue that comes across – everybody is encouraged to discuss and find The Hustler through the clues given, but The Hustler then gets to eliminate people without recourse, so you’re punished for Doing The Thing the game wants you to do to win. This doesn’t seem quite right – sitting in the background would be the best strategy but it’s not much fun. Because of the way the prize structure works there also doesn’t seem to be much in the way of incentive for The Hustler to do something gutsy except possibly the final question. Maybe if each question had an increasing value they’d be more inclined to stick their neck out, as it is, apart from a few times they asked “is $x,000 enough?” it’s easy to get too comfortable, and there are diminishing returns.

Did I at any point really care who The Hustler was? Not really. But there’s enough entertaining stuff going on that it’s not a washout by any means.

All Quiz Whodunnits in the past have worked on the premise that somebody’s got all the answers. But what if they actually did it like The Mole and the villain had to persuade the team to get answers wrong to earn themselves money? After all, the more successful ideas based on this sort of thing understands that everybody messes up from time to time, but who’s doing it deliberately?

6 thoughts on “The Hustler

  1. Alex McMillan

    I pretty much share all of these concerns and quibbles, but the show is oozing so much style it is hard to get overly annoyed by any of them. I quite enjoyed how you could interact with the game at different levels: If you’re not a quiz fan, there’s still merit in trying to suss out who the Hustler is from the clues alone, in a bit of an ‘Identity’ sort-of way. Mind you, with the questions being answered almost instantly by the contestants, the quizzing element is a bit difficult to play along with.

    I’m trying to figure out the best thing to do as a contestant, and it’s all a bit tricky. If you just act like you’re The Hustler, you screw yourself at the end because the other contestant won’t want to vote with you. If you actively try and explain your logic, you get sniped by The Hustler. Backseating is the optimal strategy for everyone, and it seems like the game knows this, given the example in the first episode where everyone is too shy to put forward an answer for the 10th question. I don’t think this bothers me too much, it does feel like an active choice.

    Really, thoroughly enjoyed episode 1, hope this is a show that runs and improves.

    1. Matt Clemson

      I was actually thinking about the game from the other direction, the optimal strategy as the Hustler – I’m not *necessarily* sure you want to eliminate people who you think are onto you… because doesn’t that possibly confirm their suspicions in the minds of the *other* players? I’m thinking you probably don’t want to eliminate based on suspicion unless you think *two* players are onto you, but instead try to eliminate the players who you think won’t be as helpful *on the questions that you know will be coming up*, because a helpful player could be useful cover.

      Can you tell I’ve been playing and watching a lot of Among Us lately?

      I do think there was a slight issue with some of the questions in that they were a bit *too* ‘you either know it or you don’t’; having a bit more in the direction of “can we puzzle this out?” might help allow for a Hustler to guide the discussion without having to hinge on “It’s one of these two, let’s go… this way!”.

      I’m wondering if there’s merit for a player in the final three to emphatically point towards a known wrong answer and see if the Hustler pushes back against that, particularly on the double-or-half question – as evidence they can cite towards forming their argument in the final debate.

      A little bit of me does feel there should be some reward for identifying the Hustler even if you can’t convince the other player, however. That’s something I’m going back and forth on.

      (And on a side note regarding this episode specifically, I’m really surprised they didn’t allow the players to taste the salsa, given they had some prepared. Just in terms of having, for want of a better term, a ‘physical interaction’ with an aspect of the Hustler’s life.)

      1. Alex McMillan

        I loved they went to the effort of having the salsa on-set, a really nice touch.

  2. Andrew, the Yank

    This is sort of responding to twitter but I figure it’ll be easier for you to answer here: what is the 1% Club that you mentioned would be filming?

  3. Ben

    I immediately was wondering the optimal strategy for the non-Hustlers to avoid getting eliminated by the Hustler.

    I guess it encourages everyone to be suspicious, and encourages everyone to contribute to the success. Anyone not getting questions right or laying low would be an ideal candidate for the Hustler to eliminate, as they’re least likely to be suspected of being the Hustler.

    I was concerned with this aspect at first, but I think it works out fine and allows for its own strategy to be developed to counter the concern.


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