What Is Cash Cab?
Cash Cab is an international game show franchise that originated in the United Kingdom and whose popular American version was hosted by Ben Bailey, a standup comedian and licensed taxi driver. In the American version of Cash Cab, passengers looking to hail a ride in New York City are taken by surprise into playing a game show and answering general knowledge questions for money. Whether you’re playing along with the contestants or just looking out the cab window at the streets of the Big Apple, Cash Cab is one of TV’s most laid-back game show experiences. Whenever the show is running, you never know when you’ll buckle up for a ride that pays you.
The original Cash Cab wasn’t yellow but black. The show got its start in 2005 on the British network ITV, where John Moody drove across various cities in the United Kingdom. This version of the show only lasted two seasons. Today, there are several international versions of Cash Cab, all showcasing different cities across the world, but it’s the popularity of the 2005 United States version that expanded the show’s influence.
A lot of the American Cash Cab’s lasting appeal has to do with its host, Ben Bailey. He started out as a limo chauffeur who did comedy gigs as a side hustle. For his audition as Cash Cab host, he became a licensed taxi driver in New York, knowing the street layout from his upbringing in nearby New Jersey.
The show’s original run on the Discovery Channel spanned seven seasons from 2005 to 2012. It returned to Discovery Channel in 2017, then moved to Bravo in 2019. However, Bravo did not renew the show, making the 2019 season its last for the foreseeable future. In total, there have been 10 seasons, all with Ben Bailey driving contestants to their destination. In that stretch, the show has received three Daytime Emmys, with Bailey himself getting three awards for Outstanding Game Show Host.
Fitting for a game show that takes contestants by surprise, the objectives of Cash Cab are simple to get used to on the fly: to win, you must correctly answer as many general knowledge questions as you can before reaching your destination. Unlike other game shows, there’s no cap on what riders can win, although the payout is usually small enough to fit in Ben Bailey’s hand. (Notably, the cash in the show is a prop: contestants get paid by check a few weeks after their trip.) For reference, the biggest winner in Cash Cab history took home $6,200.
However, as with any game show, there is a catch with Cash Cab, and that is the three-strike rule. If contestants answer three questions incorrectly, they are eliminated from the game, and the cab pulls over to eject them wherever they are, even if they haven’t yet reached their destination. While that may seem upsetting, one benefit of riding in the Cash Cab is that customers do not pay a fare: thus, if they reach their destination, but happen to strike out as they get there, their cab ride will be free.
Set and Contestants
Cash Cab’s title is also its set: a taxi that looks normal on the outside but is lit with ceiling panels on the inside. The reboot on Bravo upgraded the ceiling display, so now the Cash Cab more closely resembles the limousines Bailey used to drive. Beyond the lights, the Cash Cab has all the functionality of a regular taxi, including a taximeter display (though contestants never need to pay the fare).
Other than the lights, the small, mobile set is simple enough that the viewer can look out the cab’s windows at the New York buildings passing by the camera. The staging is much cozier than most American game shows, even though the set is, in a way, as large as an entire city.
About half the contestants on the show become participants without ever signing up for it. Often, the only requirement for playing is to be lucky enough to hail the right taxi. Some riders opt out of the game, and other contestants sign paperwork beforehand for what they think is a different reality show that they’ve been invited to. In almost all cases, though, the horn blaring and ceiling light display which announces that the contestants are on the show take the players by pleasant surprise.
How to Play
In Cash Cab, the host asks general knowledge questions to the riders. The first four questions are worth $50 for each correct answer (in early seasons, this amount was $25), the next four are worth $100 (previously $50), and finally, all subsequent questions are worth $200 (previously $100). Consistently with most game shows, questions worth more money are meant to be more challenging. Cash Cab uses a three-strike system: get three questions wrong, and you’ll get dropped off on the side of the road, wherever you are.
If a passenger is stuck on a question, they might opt to use a Mobile Shoutout or a Street Shoutout. The Mobile Shoutout allows the contestant to call a family member or friend for help, while in the Street Shoutout, the contestant relies on a random pedestrian to aid them with a question.
When the cab stops at a red light, it triggers a “Red Light Challenge,” where the passenger has to list five correct answers to a prompt within 30 seconds. These questions don’t have one correct answer but instead take the form of something like, “Name Asia’s five most populous cities.” There’s no strike penalty for failing the challenge, but there’s a hefty cash reward for completing it: an extra $250 added to the contestants’ winnings.
Each successful ride, where the contestants reach their destination and win the money, ends with an optional final question: a double-or-nothing “Video Bonus” round in which Ben Bailey asks a question related to a video clip. This question isn’t significantly harder than the rest of them, but it’s a risk not all contestants are willing to take because if they answer this one question wrong, they lose everything they have previously won.
Occasionally, and by random selection, some Cash Cab contestants are chosen by the producers to play a “Cash Cab Double Ride,” which is the same as a normal game, except that those contestants have the monetary value of every question doubled (i.e., $50 questions become worth $100, $100 becomes $200, etc.). This allows the contestant to win even more money. In fact, the biggest payout in Cash Cab history, $6,200, occurred on a Double Ride, when contestant Sam Meyer took a solo cab ride in 2009 and correctly answered the Video Bonus question to double his total winnings of $3,100.
Summary of Rules
- Cash Cab is a game show that takes place in a taxi, where contestants are asked general knowledge questions in order to win money.
- If contestants choose to play, they must answer as many questions as they can before reaching their destination.
- If contestants get three questions wrong, they are eliminated and ejected from the cab wherever they currently are.
- Questions start at $50 apiece, and as they get harder, they’re worth more.
- A party of multiple passengers can and often does play together. The payout per question does not increase to accommodate more passengers, so a group of three would have to figure out how to split the winnings.
- During their ride, contestants get one Mobile Shoutout and one Street Shoutout. The cab pulls over at the curb for street shoutouts but keeps moving for mobile shoutouts.
- Cell phones aren’t allowed, except for the mobile shoutout. The production assistant riding shotgun ensures that the passengers aren’t looking up answers on their phones.
- There are other perks that can occur when riding in the Cash Cab, such as Red Light Challenges and randomly selected “Double Rides.”
- Players don’t have to pay any fare to ride the Cash Cab. However, those who reach three strikes are kicked out of the Cash Cab and have to hail another ride.
What is Cash Cab?
Cash Cab is a worldwide game show whose title is also its set. New York passengers ride in the backseat of a souped-up taxi and answer as many general knowledge questions as they can before they’re dropped off at their destination. The show has been around since the mid-200s, starting on Discovery Channel but moving to Bravo in 2019 before it was not renewed in 2020.
How do you play Cash Cab?
The rules of Cash Cab are simple: if you just so happen to hail the right New York taxi, you and your group of passengers will get money by answering questions correctly. The show runs on a three-strikes-and-you’re-out format, but Mobile and Street Shoutouts can keep you in the game long enough to make it to whatever museum, theater, or restaurant you were going to. Red Light Challenges and the optional Video Bonus Round can also increase or even double your winnings.
Who hosts Cash Cab?
Ben Bailey hosts the American version of Cash Cab and has done so since the show’s beginning in 2005. A standup comedian and licensed New York taxi driver, Bailey has the two areas of expertise necessary to get off some jokes in a fast-paced game show environment, interacting with his passengers in a way only he’d know how to. Without Bailey’s Emmy-winning blend of wit and driving skills, Cash Cab wouldn’t have become the international game show staple it is today.