Celia Rivenbark

You can't make a deal with greed

I 've been watching "Deal or No Deal" for the past couple of weeks and I've decided that America's going straight to h-e-double hockey sticks.

And soon.

Greeting us at the door, and wearing an oily grin, will be Howie Mandel, whom I liked much better with hair on "St. Elsewhere" a gazillion years ago.

I'm not saying Howie's a bad host - actually, he couldn't be better at the job of saucy repartee with the pathetic greedmongers from middle America. But his flirty manner just encourages the parade of idiots that crosses his stage.

In all fairness, I did read an interview in which Howie said he couldn't believe it either when these polyester-clad contestants who appear to have not enough money to pay attention, blithely skip about the stage howling "No Deal!" and pumping their fat fists in the air while their stunned family members look haplessly on.

Most recently, I watched a silly woman with a penchant for tossing NASCAR lingo about for no real reason give up a sure $82,000 for a chance to win $500,000 despite overwhelming odds against her. She said she needed "big money" to build a shelter for homeless animals 'cause she just "looooooves little animals."

While her husband writhed in pain on the sidelines wondering exactly at what moment $82,000 ceased to be big money in this woman's eyes, and the audience shouted encouragement a la Christians v. Lions, the woman triumphantly shrieked "No Deal!"

After a few more tortured minutes of stupefying greed, she left the show with total winnings of $1,000, the modern-day equivalent of the old case of Snap-E-Tom tomato juice cocktail they used to give losers on "The Match Game."

I guess those poor homeless animals will just have to get by on their own somehow.

When it was all over, Howie looked as if he couldn't wait to get out of the studio and take a really hot shower.

The contestants on "Deal or No Deal" are carefully culled to represent the Real America, from the devoted soccer mom to the rancher and father of two who playfully lassoed the host. Real Greedy, that is.

The whole thing reminds me of the long-ago game show "Queen for a Day," in which contestants told the most awful sob stories of their tortured lives. The person with the saddest story was crowned queen and rewarded with a nice cash prize.

It took away from the concept a tad when one memorable sob sister, asked what she would do with the money, choked the answer out between tears of happiness: "I'm gonna buy me a new set of golf clubs!"

Well. She probably didn't know any homeless animals.