Friday, March 16, 2007

"The Cash Cab" possibly debunked

A friend of mine and I were walking around Union Square the other day, when I noticed "The Cash Cab". I was sure this was "The Cash Cab" because I had on several occasions seen this same taxi, parked or driving slowly with visual recording equipment both in the trunk, and following closely behind in a large grey van.

Before I continue, "The Cash Cab" is a reality quiz show where passengers are picked up and asked New York trivia questions as they travel to their destination. Each question may be worth 100 or 200 even 500 to 1000 dollars I think. What an amazing idea, I thought as I watched one episode.

Upon watching the show, there seemed only one lie in the program. Upon receiving a destination, 7th avenue and 23rd street, from 6th avenue and west 4th, the driver chose to take Greenwich Avenue west to 8th avenue, and then he made a right on 23rd street, when he could have taken 6th avenue to 23rd street. The passengers didn't mind, because they were not paying a fare. Still taxi rules are to take the most direct path. This fare had gotten extra traffic lights, and extra miles, and extra questions. The driver had an earpiece or a Bluetooth set in his left ear, so it was clear that management was telling him the directions.

A few months later I had begun seeing "The Cash Cab." Of course it took me a while to believe that this very taxi was it. After all, this taxi could have been set up for a commercial. But, the driver of the van was the same driver in the show, the meter inside had extra doohickeys, the windows were covered with dark tint, and there were fluorescent bulbs running up the a-pillars. I am sorry I digress so much, but I get to my point eventually. I saw it twice more, one of those times I saw the camera crew hoping in and out of the cab to test the metering and focus I suppose. The trunk was wide open and inside was a whole smorgasbord of electricals. I wondered how they could ever take someone to the airport. I also found it strange that a cab was waiting at times with it's engine running and therefore, with it's light on. Why wasn't anyone asking for a ride? How come I have seen this cab several times, but each time, it never rides empty? If they were really taking people from the street randomly, wouldn't they just ask people to hop in? I never got up the nerve to ask for a ride. New York works on a fabulous system where if you raise a hand or even point too much, three cabs play chicken to serve you. So I felt as though asking for a ride would be an embarrassment to my tenure as a New Yorker, besides the fact that I drive a taxi might make me ineligible.

So, I saw the taxi van with the black tinted windows followed by a large grey van, make the left on to 16th street from Union Square East. The front passenger in the van held his video camera out the side and aimed it as best he could at the taxi. Another noticeable difference in this taxi is its advertisement. This taxi has a light on top with a cone advertiser like so many others, but the ad is merely a nice picture of the city skyline, with no words, no actual advertisement. It also has some sort of mark on the ad, possibly for holding the camera on the roof.

We followed the car like it was a Leprechaun. Luckily it was headed for more red lights of course! We walked at a fast pace, but we soon realized how close we were, and we started to run. The grey van put on a right turn signal. So we J-ran across 16th and then I ran to the corner or 14th street and Irving Place. My friend kept pace with the two vehicles. The taxi pulled up at the corner, and we watched. Compared to a real taxi driver’s lifestyle, the pace of this program was ridiculously slow. I had just beaten the taxi to it's own destination, and now it stood there at the "No Standing" corner, waiting, for what I wasn't sure. I couldn't see through the passenger windows because they were too dark. A second crewmember sat in the front of the taxi. About 5 minutes later, the man in the grey van came out and started shooting the taxi, the door slid open, and two men who looked to be around 23, came out with their briefcases and headphones.

"Shit!" The taller doofier one shouted. He kicked his right rear leg to the sidewalk. The other didn't express much.

We got bored of watching the fake show and walked west. I pointed out the two contestants to my friend as we were walking. He had enough guts to ask them about the show. So we approached them.

Friend- So how was the "Cash Cab"?

Contestant- It's rigged man, and we lost 700 dollars.

Me- Well you didn't lose 700 dollars right? You just didn't win any money?

Contestant- I guess I could look at it more positively like that.

Friend- How can you get on the show?

Contestant- It is totally rigged. We answered a call somewhere, and someone told us that when the lady from "Cash Cab" calls us, we have to pretend we're surprised. A friend of mine told me about it.

So there you have it folks. Another show with a good idea, but lies from every angle. At least somebody can win a lot of money, but it's too bad it's not as random as it should be. It would be a much better show if it were.


Anonymous said...

I'll be honest I love watching "Cash Cab". And, as cynical as I am, I knew the thing was rigged but couldn't help but love it anyway. Thanks for the excellent reporting Noah.

NYC taxi photo said...

thank you, if i saw the show again, i'd watch it still, but I'd yell at the tv more.

Eugene Salomon said...

Wow, good detective work! A few years ago they were filming new episodes of Taxicab Confessions in NYC. I spotted the cab several times. It also drove very, very slowly. And it was followed by a van which contained a director who watches the progress of the ride and makes suggestions to the driver through an earpiece in the driver's ear. But as far as I could tell the passengers were for real, although they may have suspected that something was up with the situation.

Anonymous said...

after the show, it does say that the contestants are briefed before playing. so it tells you right there.