What Is Deal or No Deal?

What Is Deal or No Deal

Deal or No Deal is an international game show franchise that, across every language, centers on its title question. Contestants aim to win as much money as they can by outlasting the banker’s offers for their briefcase, and these offers get higher the more money remains on the board. A game of “luck, timing, and guts,” as host Howie Mandel puts it, Deal or No Deal combines probability theory with the emotional element of possibly turning down life-changing sums of money.


Deal or No Deal started in the Netherlands in 2000 as Miljoenenjacht (Dutch for “Hunt for Millions”). It was created by John de Mol, half the namesake of the Endemol media company that spread the show across new global markets. In Miljoenenjacht, hundreds of Dutch players faced off in trivia competitions for the right to play the game with 26 briefcases. 

When the show came to America, the Canadian Howie Mandel got slotted in as host. NBC’s big-budget production swapped out the 26 players for professional female models, one for each briefcase. In season two, Briefcase #24 belonged to Meghan Markle, future Duchess of Sussex, who’s since reflected on feeling objectified as a Briefcase Model. 

The show’s initial run lasted for four seasons and was brought back for a fifth season on CNBC in 2018, with some slight but significant alterations made to its formula. 

In America, there have been two winners of the million-dollar prize: Jessica Robinson and Tomorrow Rodriguez. Both played during Million Dollar Mission: Robinson had five million-dollar cases in play, and Rodriguez had nine. 

Across the first four seasons, the highest prize won on a regular board was arcade master and “rich pirate” Thorpe Schoenle’s $464,000 deal. In the fifth season, social worker Courtney Schlaud broke his record when the banker accepted her $500,000 counteroffer: something Schoenle couldn’t have made back when he played the game.


In theory, the objective of Deal or No Deal is to walk away a millionaire, but the practical objective is to keep briefcases with large amounts of money in play long enough to get a good offer. What counts as a “good” offer depends on the contestant, but a deal is usually made when a contestant believes they’ll have enough money to accomplish something for themselves or their families.

In the American version of Deal or No Deal, the top prize has only been won twice, by Jessica Robinson and Tomorrow Rodriguez, and never with a standard board. The odds of picking the briefcase with $1,000,000 are 1-in-26, and even then, a player would have to keep other big amounts in play too.


In all editions of Deal or No Deal, 22 to 26 boxes are arranged in rows (starting from 1 and going up to 26). Nobody on set knows what’s in any of the boxes until they’re opened, raising the tension of each reveal.

Deal or No Deal’s setup in America is far glitzier than what it’s like in other countries. On Mandel’s oft-imitated cue “Ladies, please,” 26 models in matching dresses strut to their places on the stairs, each carrying shiny briefcases. In most other countries, the boxes are held by the potential contestants, one of whom is selected to play that week. 

The set of the American version of Deal or No Deal also includes a couch where a contestant’s family and/or friends sit and persuade the contestant to take or reject a deal.

How to Play

In each round of the American version of Deal or No Deal, contestants must select a certain number of cases to open before hearing the banker’s offer. This starts at six cases, then decreases by one in all subsequent rounds up to round six, where one case is opened at a time. This gives each case a higher gravity in the later rounds, where not many values are left on the board, and an unlucky pick can be devastating. 

After each round, the banker calls with an offer aimed at the contestant (sometimes packaged with a “low blow” that Howie Mandel will relay to the player first). In the early rounds of the game, the offers are just a formality, an introduction to the banker’s antagonistic role: “buy the player’s briefcase for as little as possible.” In later rounds, as the pressure mounts, the banker makes more enticing offers: they need that player’s case, and they’ll offer above the average value of the cases to get it. When the bank offers get harder to ignore, so does the advice offered by the contestant’s family.

The Season 5 reboot of Deal or No Deal introduced the counteroffer, which further exploits the show’s emotional aspect. In a counteroffer, the player attempts to negotiate a higher price for their own briefcase, throwing the question of “deal or no deal?” back at the banker. The player only gets one counteroffer per game, and if the banker vetoes it, the player has to keep on opening cases until the next offer rolls around. 

A majority of Deal or No Deal contestants have gotten to round six before taking the deal. And while the idea of contestants who go all the way sounds heroic, usually these players just flew too close to the sun: knocking out all the big amounts of money and deciding to play out the game at lower stakes.

In the Australian version of Deal or No Deal, the people holding briefcases can predict what amount’s inside their case before opening it. If they guess correctly, they win somewhere from $1,000 to $6,000, depending on how many amounts are left. This leads to some awkward moments where someone who predicted their case had a high amount needs to decide if they’re happy for themselves or feel bad for the main contestant.

Summary of Rules

  • Nobody on set knows what’s in any of the 26 briefcases.
  • On versions of the show where contestants hold the boxes, they can’t peek inside to see what their box is worth.
  • The player has one counteroffer they can make. If the banker turns it down, the player has to continue picking briefcases until the next offer.
  • The game ends either when the player takes the deal or when there are two cases remaining and the player’s briefcase is opened.
  • The contents of every briefcase must be revealed by the end of the show, even after the player has taken a deal. This is to guarantee that the player was given a fair game.


What is Deal or No Deal?

Deal or No Deal is an international game show franchise in which contestants try to make it as far as they can without selling the banker their briefcase. Since its inception in the Netherlands in 2000, Deal or No Deal has become a global phenomenon. In the American edition, the top prize is most often $1,000,000, though the unlikely odds of the player having it in their briefcase means they almost always settle on a deal beforehand.

How do you play Deal or No Deal?

Contestants pick a certain number of cases a round, starting with six and whittling down to tense rounds where only one case is picked at a time. At the end of every round, the shadowy banker phones in from above and offers an amount of money for the player to “sell” their briefcase. The offers tend to be calculated for the average amount of money left on the board, the state of the game, and the individual player’s boldness. The counteroffer, usable once per game, puts the banker in a position to accept or decline a player’s deal.

Who hosts Deal or No Deal?

Howie Mandel hosted the American version of Deal or No Deal from 2004 to 2009 and again from 2018 to 2019. Although the briefcase models have constantly been replaced, especially in the near-decade-long jump from Season 4 to Season 5, Mandel remained the host for every single episode, becoming the show’s biggest staple in the process.