There’s no arguing that Derren Brown has brought the art of mentalism screaming back into public view over the last few years, with a number of hugely successful TV series behind him, The psychological illusionist has amazed, confused, entertained and in some cases shocked the public with his abilities to mix magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship to create something very clever and unique in todays entertainment world.
The System which aired last night on Channel 4, was the latest of the hour long specials, joining previous specials such as Messiah, The Gathering, The Heist, Seance, Russian Roulette, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. In The System Derren plants the seeds that probably everyone wants to believe in, that there is a sure fire, guaranteed way to predict the outcome of horse races, and win every single time.
The show was fairly enjoyable, from a pure ‘magic’ point of view there was very little in there except for one section involving a nice prediction, given most have probably already already seen the show, this involved four people shuffling and taking a large envelope, then freely choosing photos from about 500, they then selected a order in which to stand (each of them having a number stick to their chests). Derren correctly predicted the order they would stand in (ala a chair prediction), then pointed out the initials of the name on each of the polaroid photos matched the initials of the person that selected it, and also matched a photo in that each one of them held in the envelope they were holding (a nice double kicker prediction). Then explaining the odds of this happening, he revealed that the odds (14 billion odd to 1) were also listed on the back of the photo (each photo of the four making up 3 digits of the 12 digit number).
The rest of the show was purely then around the journey of one woman, who, receiving anonymous race tips from Derren, moved from merely confirming that the horses won, through placing small bets, to finally placing £4,000 on the final race.
To be honest, although the show was good, an excellent concept, it left me slightly flat, from the outset it was fairly obvious what The System was, and how it worked. The ability to predict 6 races without failure, from one viewpoint is simple, and Derren explains this at the end of the show.
Given that his ‘system’ is explained, I don’t see a problem talking about it here.. however, if you’ve not see the show, you may want to stop reading now..
The system is very straightforward, based around the simple idea of ‘if you do something often enough, it’s bound to come out in the end’. This was shown to be true very early in the show, where a coin was tossed repeatedly, each toss coming up heads ten times in a row. Now basically if you tried this, you end up not succeeding.
However Derren explained, and showed towards the end of the show, that actually if you tossed a coin repeatedly, over and over, for as in this case over nine hours, you would given the odds, end up with a successful run of 10 heads in a row eventually.
So, how does that relate to correctly predicting the outcome of 6 horse races? Well, again, in the show Derren explained the process they used to get the film of one person winning all 6 races with the predictions they gave them. Objective productions had almost 8,000 people that applied for the show. Those 8,000 were divided into lets say 5 groups.
Each one of those groups was assigned a different horse within that same race, for instance, in the first race predicted, group one, got horse one, group two, horse two and so on… One horse in that race had to win, so for the group that had been assigned that horse, the tip was correct. For the other groups, they lost, and it was explained to them that the system obviously didn’t work. They then went away blissfully unaware of the others taking part.
The people in the winning group, were then divided again, into separate groups for the next race, each group again, getting a different horse. Just as before, one group would have come up trumps by receiving the correct winning horse, the others, would have been told the system had flaws and gone away thinking nothing of it. This continued for each of the groups, until finally six people remained.
Each of these six were filmed at the penultimate race, believing that they were the only person taking part in this, as did the viewer, not knowing about the cover all your options method being employed. Of those six people, one would again win..
The final kicker here is that Derren invited this last person to bet a sizable amount of money on the final race. The single mother of two scraped up over £4,000 (ironically she actually borrowed £1,000 from her father and the rest from a loan company!) to place on the final race, but it was only after Derren placed the bet on the horse, did he reveal true method of The System to her, basically admitting that this wasn’t any sort of system, but pure logic in that you can cover all options with enough outlay…
..The horse didn’t win, but with a final twist in the tale, Derren asked her to look at the ticket, to reveal that he’d changed his mind at the last moment to a different horse, the winner, netting her over £13,000 of winnings.
As to how he did actually correctly predict the final horse… well that’s the secret that wasn’t explained and obviously isn’t going to be discussed here..
The show itself was a different turn from previous shows, very little suggestion or mentalism as such (unless you count the section with the photographs), it was more about how we perceive things, and how a single view of something (without all the facts) can distort, and provide us with the belief that something is possible (the prediction of all the races without fail) when, in fact, it is not..
Derren Brown can be seen on tour starting 26th February 2008Tags: Betting, Channel4, DerrenBrown, HorseRacing, Magic, Mentalism, Showmanship, TheSystem