Sunday October 9, 2011
An unusual ride
Stories by ELIZABETH TAI
Cash Cab Asia is a mobile TV game show that is full of surprises.
IMAGINE hailing a cab, getting in, only to be told that you’re now a participant of a game show. That’s what more than 200 people in Singapore discovered when they unwittingly got into the “Cash Cab” driven by television personality Oli Pettigrew, 30.
“Essentially, it’s the simplest version of a game show that you’ve ever heard of,” he said.
“I drive a cab around Singapore. When people get into the cab I throw some switches and suddenly it’s a game show. The rules are very simple: the more questions you answer the more money you win,” he said. (The questions are about pop culture and general knowledge on the region.)
The first four questions, if answered correctly, can earn the contestant US$50 (RM150) each. Subsequent questions are pegged at US$100 (RM300) each. Contestants can get help by calling someone on their mobile phone (“Mobile Shout-out”) or by just rolling down the window and asking a stranger (“Street Shout-out”) for help.
Each person gets three “lives” – if you lose three “lives” when you’re in the Cash Cab, then Pettigrew will boot you out of the cab – no matter where you are!
Cash Cab was first developed by Adam Wood and produced in Britain. Since then, there have been several versions in other countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States. AXN’s version, Cash Cab Asia, is “full of surprises”, which suits Pettigrew just fine.
“There’s no script at all – which is what I love to do – and you never know what’s going to happen. They have given me free rein to have as much fun as you want.”
Pettigrew, who has been working in television for nearly a decade, has had the opportunity to work on a variety of shows in that time. There’s Sony Style TV Magazine and Animax’s Technomax. He has also travelled the world making documentaries with Discovery Channel and hosted Miss Earth, a beauty pageant.
In Cash Cab Asia, he’s playing multiple roles.
“I am the driver, the host, the cab driver, GPS and the banker. I am everything,” he said wryly.
“I’m pretty sure that I’ve just about done every (kind of) show by now,” he said, chuckling.
Driving the Cab
Cash Cab Asia is filmed in Singapore because the island republic has the right qualities to make an internationally appealing show that will not just interest someone from the Philippines and Malaysia but also viewers from America.
“In Singapore you get a 99% chance of picking up someone who can speak English.
“And the greatest part about Singapore is that it’s a melting pot,” said Pettigrew.
“Every day I was picking up someone from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and then Australia, America and Finland … it doesn’t matter where, you’re finding people from all over the world, that’s the unique appeal – and everybody spoke English as well.
“As a show, it appeals to the broadest audience possible. And there’s no traffic in Singapore,” he said, smiling.
To prepare for the role, Pettigrew had to first get his Singaporean driving license – which he got three days before the show started filming!
“There was a certain amount of concern from people who said, ‘Don’t fail it’. But it’s okay – I got 49 out of 50 and it took three minutes to do it,” he said.
Then, he spent five days learning to get comfortable with the car, and getting used to people talking into his ear piece. Production members would sit at the back to have trial runs of the game as well.
Then, for 21 days, Pettigrew drove eight to 11 hours a day in the cab, travelling over 500km and using up over 200 litres of diesel.
“It was actually like being a real cab driver. There would be a couple of hours where you just couldn’t get anybody. But we figured out very quickly where we should be and where we shouldn’t be, what time we should be places and what time you shouldn’t be places,” he said.
Eventually, they got so good at knowing where to get the fares that they would start at 3pm and finish by 9pm.
Pettigrew loves to see how his passengers react when they are told that they’re in a game show.
“A lot of the time people just jump straight out of the cab and run for it,” he said, chuckling. “But we get people who get really excited and want to play every now and again because the show has been so successful in so many other countries.”
A few times, people he knew got into the cab!
“It’s just such a small world. I had a lot of fun messing with them when they suddenly got into the cab and started freaking out that I was the driver. That was fun for me,” he laughed.
Some contestants were entertaining because they were just so bad at answering the questions. Some were entertaining because they were just plain funny.
“My favourite one is this guy we picked up – he was the last ride of the night. He was a middle-aged English bloke and he was a little drunk.
“It was a great ride. That’s one I’m really looking forward to see. I could hear everybody on the bus (the production vehicle followingthe cab) laughing. I was laughing. The guy at the back was laughing because he was making fun of me. He was being mean, in a funny way,” he said, laughing.
Pettigrew believes that while Cash Cab Asia has the same rules as the other Cash Cabs, it is a better show. “We decided that we didn’t want to make the Asian version of the show. We wanted to make the best version – that just so happened to be made in Asia,” he said.
Not only is the show shot using full HD cameras, Cash Cab Asia is a more fun show.
“Some of the shows can be a bit straighter. On ours, we say: Let’s go out and have fun. We have a variety of people in the cab like you just don’t get in the other ones,” said Pettigrew with a satisfied smile.
■ Cash Cab Asia premieres on Oct 12 and will be shown every Wednesday at 8.05pm on AXN (Astro channel 701).