January 18, 2017

Alyssa Koeck describes herself as a Food Network junkie who has been a fan of the show Cutthroat Kitchen, where contestant-chefs compete for cash while bidding on various tactics to sabotage their competitors.

But it wasn’t until she was a student in Game Theory, a class led by Matt Rousu, professor of economics at Susquehanna University, that she began to realize there might be some economics principles at play during the game show.

In Game Theory, students attempt to mathematically determine the actions they should take to secure their own best outcomes.

“I wasn’t exactly sure how, but it seemed like the show lent itself to Game Theory,” Koeck said. “So I picked a specific episode and ran with it.”

Koeck, a senior psychology major from Stroudsburg, Pa., is conducting her research on the show in two phases. The first looked at pedagogy, or ways in which Cutthroat Kitchen could be used to teach economics.

Cutthroat Kitchen has a number of strategic situations where economic decisions are made,” Rousu said. “We are helping to develop tools that will allow teachers to use the show to help make economic concepts easier for students to learn.”

Principles thus far identified include expected utility, the predicted value of choosing one of several options-or the benefit of making a gamble. Koeck also identified BATNA at play, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement, which considers the most advantageous alternative course of action a party can take if other negotiations fail.

Koeck was able to present her research alongside Rousu at the national Economics Teaching Association conference in front of other economics educators.

“I’ve learned how to work with my professor, who has treated me like an equal,” Koeck said. “That has given me the confidence to offer my input.”

The second phase of Koeck’s research will analyze the considerable data collected after watching 75 to 100 episodes of Cutthroat Kitchen. She’ll look for trends in race or gender and whether certain sabotage tactics and how they are used predict better results.

“Economics is everywhere,” Koeck said. “Even Cutthroat Kitchen.”