Cash Cab Confidential: A Former Contestant Tells All

I’d like to preface this by saying I planned on taking this tale to my grave, or at least not telling it until Cash Cab went off the air. I don’t want to be the guy who ruins the fun, you know? But a number of stories have popped up on the internet in the past few days, saying things along the lines of Cash Cab is fake!” I was on the show, and I’d like to set the record straight. It’s not fake. It’s just kind of fake. The methods Discovery uses to screen contestants and get them in the right cab are deliberately misleading, but only to better the show. And it’s not like the actual game is fixed. The night I played, I signed some papers that said I’d get my winnings revoked if I squealed. But that’s of no concern to me, because I lost on the final question and got no money. Spoiler alert.

Three years ago, New York City. My friend N was browsing at the Union Square Barnes & Noble when he was approached by two Discovery Channel producers. They told him they were working on a new show called When In Rome. Each episode would feature a different resident of a given city giving a tour of his favorite, off-the-beaten-path restaurants, bars, etc. They asked him for three examples he would use if given the chance to host an episode.

Apparently he answered well enough, because a few weeks later he got the call that he'd been chosen to host an episode. He was encouraged to bring a friend or two—his fiancee and I rose to the challenge—and meet the producer one evening at 81st and Columbus, by the Museum of Natural History.

She was very late, and showed up breathless and apologetic. The van had broken down, she said, so instead of driving us all to our first destination, she would hail us a cab. She stood at the curb, and a number of cabs passed us by before she saw one she liked. She shoved a $20 bill in N’s hand and ushered us in, telling us to go to the Bryant Park Library. The fact that the library had closed hours ago didn’t really register.

From the outside it looked like a normal van-cab, but it was more hollowed out than normal. The driver made a weird moaning sound as we got in. Suddenly the lights and the sound came on, and along with them the quick realization that being on Cash Cab was the real reason for this setup.

I sprang into action. I whipped out my cell phone. I knew you were allowed one phone call on this show, and I wanted to make sure it counted. When I was in college, my roommate and I used to talk about how we would be partners in impossible emergency situations—we’d meet up and survive together if there was a zombie apocalypse, for instance, or we’d sit by a laptop, Google-ready, to be the phoned friend if the other was ever on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. So I texted him: “EMERGENCY. CAN’T TALK. NEED YOU. WILL CALL W/IN NEXT 30 MINS. PLEASE BE SMART.” Ben Bailey, the host, asked us to turn off our cell phones, and I obliged.

Then we got out of the car to deal with paperwork. We signed a couple papers, agreeing that if we won we would act like we were receiving cash straight from Ben, but in reality would give the cash right back and expect a check in the mail. We gave the producer back the $20 she handed to us when she first told us to hail a cab. We were told to not lean forward when sitting, because the camera uses a fisheye lens. And we hailed the cab a few more times to make sure they got a good exterior shot.

Once we got back in the cab, the game was on, and it was real. Frankly, I was very impressed with Ben’s ability to host a game show and drive in Manhattan at the same time. Few of the questions were easy, and I mostly sat in the back and nodded my head whenever N came up with an answer, and he was usually right. We were more than halfway there and had missed one question when we were met with a second that stumped us: “"In the classic arcade game, Pac-Man played cat and mouse with four ghosts nicknamed Inky, Binky, Plinky, and what?”

I knew this would be easy to Google. I announced I was ready to phone a friend, did, and he answered immediately. I started to ask him the Pac-Man question, but he interrupted me. “Are you okay? What’s going on? I’ve called your parents, your girlfriend, but no one knows where you are! Why has your phone been off?” He had, of course, not realized what I intended by the cryptic-in-retrospect “EMERGENCY. CAN’T TALK. NEED YOU.” and “PLEASE BE SMART.” He was nowhere near a computer. We missed the answer, which is Clyde.

If you catch my appearance as a late-night rerun on the Discovery Channel, you will only see us incorrectly answering the question. You won’t see me booting up my phone, or trying to explain that I don’t have time to explain that no, I haven’t been kidnapped, I just need the answer to a video game trivia question, and I need it immediately.

We then answered a couple more questions correctly and arrived at the library just as Ben started his final question, which meant that getting it right would give us $800 to split. Getting it wrong would mean we would be kicked out of the cab, though were already at our stated destination—which was, again, a closed library.

"Also known as Strabismus, what facial feature can keep Siamese cats from succeeding as a show breed?" Clueless, we used our remaining “shout out” to ask a passerby. The area around the library is almost exclusively populated with tourists, though, and many are weary of strangers shouting trivia questions at them, at night, from a parked taxi. Finally, we caught the attention of an older couple, who had no idea. “Nose?” they offered. Ben insisted we answer immediately, so we weakly threw out “nose.” It didn’t stick. Cross-eyed-ness is the answer. On TV you won’t see us shouting at the sidewalk and being ignored, just meekly suggesting that it’s Siamese cats having noses that keeps them from succeeding as showkitties.

Ben asked us to leave the cab. We did. The producer was there, and she asked us to enter the cab and exit again to make sure the cameras got everything. We did. We each received an XL t-shirt that reads Cash Cab. And then we walked to the subway to go home, because cabs in New York can get way expensive.

Comments (28)
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But hes really driving the cab!!! Thats enough for me....I find him really sexy(weird...hes really not my type) but if he hadnt been truly driving the cab I would have found him less so....
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Fake
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but... what about those clips they show of people turning down the offer?... is that fake too?!..... i knew i shouldnt have read this... i knew it wasnt completely spontaneous. i thought the people got in, Ben tells them they just got in the Cash Cab, asked them if they wanna play, and then the producers came up and explained the rules and had them fill out paper work.
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My boyfriend and I were approached by the same producers during our trivia night at a bar in the East Village. They had a huge form to fill out about our favorite spots in New York as well as trivia questions. We thought it was odd that a supposed show about locals giving a tour of New York would include trivia questions in their screening process.



We got a call a few weeks later to meet them for a taping, but they wanted us to go during the day on a weekday and we didn't think just a potential free meal and an appearance on a travel show was worth missing a day of work, so we declined. If we had known it was Cash Cab, we would have definitely gone! I think they might be missing out on a potential pool of contestants who would be interested in appearing on a trivia show, but not in a lame-sounding travel show. Maybe that's why so many contestants on the show aren't very trivia savvy.
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All of this seems very rational and reasonable. Anyone that believes these shows could be totally spontaneous is very naive. It is a good show and I enjoy watching it from time to time and will still watch. I wish them all the luck that that type of program can have in the current TV market.
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*sigh* Another illusion of one of my favorite shows is shattered completely
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sigh...to think people in this day and age might believe a reality show is ...REAL. Look at the credits sometimes. Every contestant is screened...it says it right there. Every camera shot...Retaking shots...Edited for TV. My gosh people. They TELL you outright. It;s not their fault you are sheep.
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indeed....we say sheep they say baaaa.
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I can't believe that some of these commentors now actually believe the whole show is FAKE. Of course, that was your intent, wasn't it? More to the point, your whole ARTICLE is "fake," implying misdeeds where there are none.
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I had a feeling that CASH CAB picked its contestants and edited or reshot some takes. However -- and this is crucial for me -- the quiz itself is NOT fake. I really don't care about the rest of it; it's just to make a better show. I'm a little upset that the contestants don't really get the cash immediately though.
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I had heard this too, from another former contestant. Glad to hear it confirmed. I work in TV and I can tell you, there is nothing actually real on TV. It is all scripted, rehearsed and planned to look "real", especially Reality TV. Mike, It really burst my bubble when I realized this too. What?! Pro Wrestling isn't real? Noooooo!!!
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This is causing me to rethink my life.
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Doesn't sound particularly fake to me- even reality is surreal sometimes!
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It is pretty obvious that it is staged...the fact that they always have on-the-street angle shots of the contestants hailing the cash cab prior to getting into it for the first time is the only clue you need.
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That is sooo messed up!
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It does say during the credits that some contestants were pre-screened
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This is Man vs. Wild all over again. Is there nothing that is sacred?
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The only thing that "surprises" me about this is the fact that their destination was picked by the producer, which is kinda cheating since not all rides are the same length. I wouldn't call it fake though, the people don't know they are on the show before they get in the cab, and they really are answering questions in real time. The other stuff is just how tv works.
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Reality shows aren't typically fake, they are just staged like this. Which makes them feel faker than they are, of course, so when somebody does something for real, it feels fresh and fun. Incidentally, this is also why Mythbusters became a hit early on, then stopped being good.
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I really like this show, so this was really interesting.
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That's interesting, Michelle. I do wonder, now that some people are being vocal about being contestants, if we'll be able to piece together how their tactics have changed over the course of the show. I doubt they're still using the When In Rome ruse these days.
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I was on one of Cash Cab's first episodes in 2005. We weren't screened, just picked up off while hailing a cab near Union Square on a Tuesday afternoon. We were never asked to reshoot any exterior shots. Also, I never got a t-shirt. Otherwise, my experience with the fish-eyed lenses, contract signing, and fake cash was similar. I got a check in the mail four months later.

I'm assuming the process was changed at some point after. But at least at the very beginning, Cash Cab was "real."
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This is sorta a "no duh" story isn't it? OK, so Cash Cab is more "real" than the likes of Operation Repo, yeah, but are there REALLY people out there that thought a TV show like this would work exactly like the premise of this show? I mean come on, anyone that thinks there's a cab driving around picking people up and giving them money (with no setup ahead of time and no contract signed, etc.) is just plain moronic.
It is sorta interesting to hear the "behind the scenes" details though.
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A reality show is fake, no surprise there.
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That's cool you were on the show but i wasn't surprised how fake the show was.
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Sounds like bang bus...without the banging. I thought at the very least the producers would give you a ride to your destination even if you lost.
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Sounds very fake to me. Nothing near what they actually show on television, but that's no big surprise. What is surprising is that someone would have to waste a 'help' on such an EASY Pac-Man question. Haha! (Cheaters never prosper!) Enjoy your T-Shirt!
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WOW >_
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