Identity was a short-lived primetime game show where players have to match 12 people up with their occupation based on just by looking at them.
A contestant is introduced to twelve strangers. After seeing the strangers, the contestant is presented with a list of 12 identities (facts including occupations, hobbies, ages, etc.), each of which applies to at least one of the 12 strangers. While an identity may match multiple strangers, there is only one way to assign the identities uniquely to each stranger. Based primarily on visual observation, the contestant chooses an identity and tries to match it to the correct stranger. In order to make a decision final, the contestant must "seal the identity" by pressing his/her palm down on a provided podium after saying which stranger matches that identity. Penn, sometimes after finding out the stranger's first name, then asks the stranger "Is that your identity?" The stranger confirms or denies his or her identity. Confirmation is often made in a manner pertinent to the identity, either through a statement (e.g., a baseball umpire saying "Safe!"), or by demonstration (e.g., jumping rope). Penn would often tease the stranger for going to commercial by saying either, "Isn't it a good time to take a break?" or "It's time to take a break." On one episode, Penn would be too shy to say "Is that your identity?" and would cut to commercial. For each correct match made, the contestant's potential winnings increases.
|Correct matches||Amount won|
|11 (and 12)||$500,000|
After a contestant makes two correct matches, or makes a mistake, (s)he is informed of the three "helps" available to him/her (although they are, in fact, available at any point in the game). One of these helps is simply a rule of the game:
- Mistaken Identity: A player receives one "free pass" if (s)he incorrectly seals an identity at any point prior to the final decision between the two remaining strangers, i.e., before s/he has won $250,000. If a player wins $250,000 and reaches the final decision without using the Mistaken Identity "help," it is simply revoked.
- Once a contestant either incorrectly seals an identity or reaches the final decision, the contestant may "take the money and run" at any point before sealing another identity. If a contestant makes a second mistake or error when making the final decision (actually a pair of decisions, with each implying the other via process of elimination; hence the 11-level money ladder), the game is over and the contestant leaves with nothing.
The other two helps can be invoked by the contestant to aid in making a decision:
- Tri-dentity: The contestant chooses an identity and the number of strangers to choose from is narrowed down to three: the correct stranger and two incorrect strangers. Once the player has chosen to use their Tri-dentity, he or she must solve that identity (or stop and take his or her winnings, if Mistaken Identity was already used); they cannot choose a different identity. The Tri-dentity help is revoked, if not used, once only four strangers remain.
- Ask The Experts: The contestant chooses an identity and a panel of three experts gives their individual informed opinions on which stranger matches it. In the first week of shows, the panel included a body language expert (Mark Edgar Stephens), a psychologist (Dr. Deborah Anderson), and an FBI behavioural expert (Christopher Whitcomb), although private investigator Bill Stanton has substituted for Whitcomb in some episodes. The experts have no inside information about the strangers. They rely solely on professional training and personal experience to make educated guesses. The contestant is not bound to solve that identity once the Experts have given their opinions—nor is the contestant required to abide by those decisions—and may solve another identity or choose to go home. This help is available at any point in the game.
In addition to the three explained helps, there are several other points of assistance offered to the contestant:
- During Identity’s premiere week, Jillette would ask the contestant which stranger he or she wanted to know more about. He would then ask that stranger their first name and several pieces of information which are not directly related to any of the identities, such as whether they had any pets. When Identity debuted as a weekly series, this was formalized: at the beginning of the game, the contestant may ask for the first names and a biographical fact about three of the twelve strangers. After the third correct match, the contestant could ask about two of the remaining nine strangers, and after the sixth match, may ask about one of the remaining six.
- After the fourth correct match, Jillette would introduce the contestant's friends and/or family members (in much the same way as Howie Mandel does on Deal or No Deal). The friends and family typically have a suggestion prepared as to the identity of one of the strangers after they are introduced. However, the friends or family members may sometimes lead a person to match an identity to the wrong stranger or take the money when they would have won the grand prize.
- The audience is not obligated to remain silent until an identity is sealed. The audience often voices their opinion on a selection. Occasionally when a contestant fails to recognize a celebrity of some sort and tries to select him or her for the wrong identity, the audience can dissuade the contestant with their reaction.
- Jillette himself, particularly on early identities, has shown apparent intention on warning, or hinting at the contestants when they are making a blatantly-erroneous selection, though he also sometimes is prevented from doing so by a contestant's quick sealing of an identity.
Identities and strangers
The 12 strangers stand on individually numbered podiums and are referred to mainly by number, though names are often revealed in the progress of the show.
Usually at least one identity is made blatantly obvious from physical appearance alone (blatant examples include a "Sumo wrestler" in fighting garb, and a "George W. Bush impersonator"). Celebrity strangers may be easily recognizable by the contestant or the contestant's friends (once they are allowed to help). There were no intentionally misleading costumes (e.g., a physicist dressed as a sumo wrestler when both "physicist" and "sumo wrestler" were possible identities), although strangers often break stereotypes (e.g., a female prison guard, a goateed, long-haired nuclear physicist wearing a leather jacket, or a preschool teacher dressed in a bikini). There was even a missionary wearing a bikini in one episode.
Strangers have confirmed their identities in a variety of ways; musicians, for example, have been handed instruments and asked to play if they can (similarly, opera singer Jennifer Wallace revealed her identity by holding a very high note). Some "skill" identities have been confirmed by demonstration; for example, a (male) go-go dancer danced on stage. Sometimes strangers perform from their podiums, while others are brought to the front of the main stage. Other strangers confirm their identities with a remark which pertains to their identity. An NFL player hesitated and then signaled "It's good" with his hands signaling a field goal, while a mall Santa laughed "ho ho ho". Most follow their comment up with "Yes, I am [the identity]" (though the audience reaction often masks this), and some strangers say only that.
In cases where the stranger is prepared to demonstrate his or her identity, but the contestant selects the wrong stranger for that identity, the mistaken stranger will be asked to try to demonstrate that identity, only to refuse at the last moment and confirm he is not that identity. Strangers that were prepared to demonstrate their identity but were not given the opportunity (the player loses or quits the game) may be asked to demonstrate this when the full answers are revealed to the player.
- On the first night, there were two contestants, private investigator Herb Irvine from Boston, Massachusetts, and Andrea Brown from Atlanta, Georgia. Irvine won US$75,000 after guessing seven of the twelve strangers correctly and choosing to quit the game; Brown won US$50,000 after guessing six strangers correctly and choosing to go home.
- On the second night, Robert Talon of Chula Vista, California, became the first winner of the show's top prize of $500,000 by guessing all 12 identities correctly. Talon, a loan officer, correctly identified, among others, a National Football League player (Ray Crockett), a reality television starlet (Brittny Gastineau), an immigrant from Russia, a blackjack]dealer (named Pamela), and a belly dancer (named Ava), which was his final correct answer. The remaining unguessed identity was that of violinist. When the week ended, Talon was the only winner of the top prize.
- In contrast, fire fighter Matthew Gatewood, the first contestant of the third night, left without winning money after failing twice. He thought that No. 9 was a circus performer (she was actually a professional wrestler) and that No. 5 was a power lifter (he was really a U.S. Army Ranger) He was convinced that Erin Murphy (Tabitha from Bewitched) was an Army Ranger. He was followed by Nickie Malouf of Burbank, California, who won $50,000 after guessing six identities correctly.
- The fourth night of the run brought a $250,000 win for Nicci Guzik of Streamwood, Illinois. She stopped just short of the grand prize because she had an uneasy feeling about her guess at the final identity. She thought that No. 11 was a crime scene investigator, but she was actually a kidney donor; No. 9 was the CSI. This final scenario is a prime example of how better strategic thinking might have helped a contestant: No. 9 was wearing a knee-length dress, whereas No. 11 was wearing a shirt and separate skirt. Had she thought about dramatic ways for the strangers to reveal their identities, Guzik might have realized that a person wearing separates, but not a person in a dress, could lift her shirt to reveal the scar from her donation surgery, such that producers might have planned such a "reveal" and advised the kidney donor to wear separates; therefore, all else being equal, the person wearing separates would be more likely to be the kidney donor.
- The fifth night involved two games. In the first game, math educator Seth Cutler from Massapequa, New York, chose to walk away the prize money at $50,000. He used his Mistaken Identity early in the game thinking that Bruce Jenner was a ventriloquist. The second game ended with Tami Jones of West Hills, California, losing the game and receiving no prize money.
- When the series returned on March 16, 2007, Christina Howard of Sacramento, California, won the top prize of $500,000 by correctly identifying stranger No. 11 as a prison guard (the remaining stranger, #6, was an astronomer). She became the second player to win the top prize, and managed to do so without using her Mistaken Identity help during the game.
- This episode was noteworthy for an incident that happened during the final identity. The female prison guard was obvious due to her stance and demeanor, and Christina was all set to seal the identity...which would have ended the game too soon. Penn Jillette managed to pad out the show by cutting to commercial, and then stalling her with questions about whether she was ready throughout an entire segment until cutting to commercial again... after which the identity was finally revealed.
- This episode also introduced a revamped set, featuring larger, blue platforms for the strangers, as well as three TV screens near the contestant, which displayed each of the contestant's helps.
- On April 13, 2007, Christian Saulnier of Norwood, Massachusetts, won the top prize of $500,000 by correctly identifying stranger No. 3 as a chimney sweep (the remaining stranger, #6, was a pickpocket). He became the 3rd player to win the top prize. He used his Mistaken identity thinking that No. 6 was an air guitar champion when No. 1 is an air guitar champion.
The twelve people on the show whose identities are being guessed are known as strangers. The following are some famous strangers that have appeared:
- The voice of Mr. Moviefone, Russ Leatherman
- Eve Plumb of The Brady Bunch; her identity was "painter"
- Michelle Banzer, Miss Kentucky USA 2007; her identity was "speaks Vietnamese"
- Cara Gorges, Miss Kansas USA 2007; her identity was "mortician's apprentice"
- Amber Seyer, Miss Missouri USA 2007; her identity was "pig farmer"
- Frank Marino, Female impersonator in Las Vegas; his identity was "had a nose job"
- Layla El, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) diva
- Suzanne Stonebarger, pro beach volleyball player
- Tami Lane, an Academy Award winner (Best Makeup for The Chronicles of Narnia)
- Brian Gorman, a veteran MLB official who served as home plate umpire for one of the games of the 2004 World Series.
- Franklin Ruehl, certified UFOlogist.
- Ray Crockett, who played with the Denver Broncos in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.
- Brittny Gastineau, who co-starred on the reality show The Gastineau Girls on E!.
- Country musician Aaron Tippin
- Jordan Knight, former member of New Kids on the Block
- Kara Monaco, 2006 Playmate of the Year, future Big Brother houseguest
- The Price is Right model Phire Dawson (The contestant playing that game successfully matched Phire's occupation with her.)
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's son, Kareem, Jr.
- Erin Murphy, who played Tabitha on the 1960s television sitcom Bewitched.
- Stan Lee, founder of Marvel comics, writer co-creator of Spider-Man, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, and The Fantastic Four.
- Maurice Greene (stranger #10), former holder of the 100-meter world record. He is also engaged to Deal or No Deal AND The Price is Right model Claudia Jordan. (Guzik correctly identified him as the world's fastest man, although she incorrectly named him as Marion Jones).
- Bruce Jenner, Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, host of the Celebrity Double Dare pilot
- Jerry Mathers, Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver in the television show Leave it to Beaver
- Tara Conner, Miss USA 2006. (Her appearance on the show was taped prior to her announcement that she would go into drug rehabilitation.)
- Brent Mendenhall, a George W. Bush impersonator featured on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
- Celebrity stylist Jonathan Antin
- Jason Allen Alexander, former and first husband of Britney Spears
- Roger "Trey" Wright, 2004 National Scrabble Championship winner, he was also a contestant on Lingo ironically hosted by the former host of Scrabble Chuck Woolery
- Mike Escamilla, X-Games Gold Medalist, pro BMXer
- Michael McCary, one of the four members of the R&B group Boyz II Men
- Jamie Kennedy, actor/comedian
- Mary Lou Retton, Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics' all-around and the first woman to appear on a Wheaties box
- Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist
- Jessica Sutta, member of The Pussycat Dolls
- John Moschitta Jr., the world's fastest talker and the final announcer on Hollywood Squares (Formerly known as "H2" during the Bergeron era).
- Billy Blanks, creator of Tae-Bo
- Bonnie Fuller, magazine editor of Star and Former editor in chief of Glamour Magazine
- Richard Brodie, the original author of Microsoft Word
- The Enigma, a heavily tattooed side-show actor with the identity "Eats bugs"
- Steve Wilkos, Jerry Springer's former security guard on Jerry's show, and host of his own self-named talk show.
- Cindy Margolis, most downloaded woman on the Internet.
- Lance Burton, magician
- Peter Mayhew, actor who played Chewbacca in Star Wars
- Kim Estrada, former Deal or No Deal case holder and actress (identified as 35 years old)
- Christopher Lowell, a home design guru
- Phil Varone, a rock and roll drummer from Skid Row
- Mikalah Gordon, American Idol finalist from season 4
- Tila Tequila, over 1,000,000 MySpace friends
- Tyson Mao, a past world record holder for solving a Rubik's Cube
- Misty May-Treanor, professional beach volleyball player and Olympic athlete (identified as "born in 1977")
- Frank Stallone, Sylvester Stallone's brother
- Bridget Marquardt, Playboy model, Hugh Hefner's girlfriend, TV personality and contestant on The Search for the Next Elvira
- Eugene Edgerson, a Harlem Globetrotter
- Perez Hilton, celebrity blogger
- James "Buster" Douglas, first boxer to knock out Mike Tyson
- Joey Chestnut, competitive eater
- Abigail Kintanar, Red Oyster from Flavor of Love
- Andrew "William Ocean" Litz, Air Guitar Champion
- Tony Hawk, professional skateboarder (identified as person who designed a roller coaster)
- Mike "The Miz" Mizanin, WWE superstar
- Dayna Devon, co-anchor of Extra
- Lil' Jon, a platinum recording artist
- CariDee English, winner of America's Next Top Model
- Raye Hollitt, a former member of American Gladiators (where she was "Zap") and bodybuilding Champ.
- Sara Payne Hayden, a World War II test pilot
- Matthew Lesko, infomercial millionaire
- David Joyner, the original Barney
- Mike Jones, a jazz pianist in Penn Jillette's Las Vegas show
- Debbie Matenopoulos, former co-host of The View
- Joe Maloof, NBA team co-owner of the Sacramento Kings
- Jim Barton, co-inventor of TiVo
- Joanna Krupa, supermodel
- Tyler Baze, Horse Racing jockey
During the first season, in addition to the regular game, like two other NBC game shows, Deal or No Deal and 1 vs 100, there was an at-home game open to residents of the continental United States called "The Identity Challenge", where an at-home player chosen at random won $10,000 (US$) by choosing which of five strangers represents a product, or a profession related to the advertised product.
On the first two nights, three of the five were revealed to be incorrect throughout the game, and the answer was revealed before the final commercial break. On the next three, there was no such narrowing; all five strangers remained throughout the show.
To encourage viewers to watch television commercials during the show, the correct answer to the "Identity Challenge" question was revealed during a related commercial within the first 20 minutes of the show.
The first episode of the regular run, on March 16, 2007, did not have an interactive feature. It appeared that all subsequent episodes did not have an interactive game like the trial run.
Counties that have done their own versions of Identity include:
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
Although Australia had never aired their version of the show, Network Ten did rerun all 12 episodes of the original American version at the time.
The U.K. version of the show which aired on BBC 2 was hosted by Donny Osmond in 2007. Prior to this, he also hosted the British version of Pyramid for Challenge TV (UK's GSN) in the same year.
A board game including a tin version was released by Pressman in 2007.
Am SMS Game was released at a time.
Identity was placed on hiatus as of May 1, 2007. NBC said it would bring the program back later in the year, but never did.
All music cues would later be used on the unsold remake of Run for the Money as American Know-it-All (an American adaptation of British game show Going for Gold and French game show Questions pour un Champion/Questions for a Champion) hosted by Neil Patrick Harris in 2008.
"Is that your identity?" - Penn Jillette
"This is Penn Jillette saying good night, and don't be a stranger!" - Penn Jillette