P4C Stimulus: Split or Steal?

This week’s stimulus comes from Goldenballs, a popular British gameshow from the noughties. 

The format was simple: two contestants spend much of the episode building a cash prize pot, before a nailbiting finale in which they have to secretly choose whether to “Split” or to “Steal” the fund.

If both Split, they each take away half. 

If both Steal, they each go home with nothing. 

If one Steals, but one Splits, the Stealer takes everything.

It’s a version of the famous Prisoners’ Dilemma, but unlike that one, communicaton is allowed, which opens up questions about lying.

The internet is littered with clips of greed, treachery and deceit and you can easily lose a good hour down a Youtube rabbithole. The biggest jackpot in the show’s history was built between Sarah and Stephen – click here, or the image below for the video.

(It’s embedded within Facebook, no login required, but if it’s blocked in your school here’s a Youtube link to a longer clip –  just skip to 4 minutes in).

If you can, making children part of a stimulus is generally more powerful than just watching one. So why not set up a quiz (either playing 1 v 1, or in teams) whereby the final round involves choosing between two pieces of folded up paper – Split or Steal. This way they feel a version of the jeopardy, emotions and reactions as the contestants. But keep your the questions below about the gameshow, as that had £100k riding on it!

Practical, warm-up questions:

  • What would be your strategy in this game?
  • Is there a way to make sure you get what you want?*

Philosophical questions:

  • Would stealing make you feel guilty? Or would you just be playing the game?
  • It’s a game, but the money is real. So is this actually stealing?
  • “If you share, you get nothing or half. But if you steal, you get nothing or everything. So you might as well steal.” Do you agree?
  • Is the risk of being stolen-from a good enough reason to steal?
  • Would Sarah’s action have been any less bad if she’d told Stephen she was going to steal?
  • It was reported that Sarah made no attempt to contact Stephen afterwards. Does she have any obligations to him after the show?
  • It was also later revealed that Sarah was a victim of a steal in an earlier episode (as was Stephen). Does this change anything?

Stephen was interviewed years later by a newspaper. It can be difficult reading, but one quote stands out for me: “At the end of the day, she played the game. I went with nothing and I left with nothing, but now she has to live with that decision”. What do your pupils make of this quote? 

Best wishes,


*The closest I’ve seen to a strategy is this from contestant Nick – whereby he tells Ibrahim he will definitely steal, but will split the money in half-afterwards. Is Nick telling the truth? Does Ibrahim agree? I won’t spoil the ending!

P.S. from Jason: I sometimes do a whole-group version of this in my Designing an Evilometer workshops in schools. A £2 coin is placed in a box outside the room. One at a time (while the rest of the workshop continues), participants go out of the room and choose to split or steal. The only rule is that if you are not a “thief”, you don’t look in the box. If nobody steals, everyone gets a share of some communual prize such as a box of chocolates; if anybody steals, nobody gets chocolate. A strategy that occurred a few times was for someone who was certain that someone would steal, but wanted everyone to get chocolate, would go early, steal, and then give the coin back to a friend who went last…

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