Practical Philosophy and American Idol

You’ve probably heard of the unexpected hanging paradox in which a man is ordered to be hanged during a certain week but must not know in advance the day of his hanging. The last possible day is Saturday. He must be hanged before Saturday because if he’s not hanged by then he will know that he is going to be hanged on Saturday. By the same logic he can’t be hanged on Friday . . . and so on. Yet he is hung on Wednesday.

American Idol producers have a similar problem during recent eliminations: There must be suspense. From six guys and six girls one guy, one girl, and one runner-up will be selected. This week, the first person selected, out of two girls and a guy, was a girl. This meant that at the next step — one person chosen from one girl and one guy — the guy would be selected because if the girl was selected, the remaining girls would have no chance. Making the remaining portion of the program much less interesting. As an commenter put it:

There was no suspense in the Kris Allen/Megan Corkey stand-off last nite. Allison had already gone through & if Megan had it would automatically eliminate the rest of the females. Wasn’t going to happen halfway through the show. That’s what they call a ‘gimme’.

The Wikipedia article on the paradox gives no practical applications.

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