Review of Fool Us Episode "Teller and the Big Dummy"

Spoiler Alert
I reveal who fooled Penn & Teller below. If you don't want to know, don't scroll down!

Penn & Teller: Fool Us is a TV talent show that is filmed in front of a live audience (or, virtual audience during the pandemic). Oh, and we can't forget to mention that Penn and Teller are there too -- they're the judges!

During each episode, four magicians perform a magic act for Penn & Teller which, at the end of each act the magician-comedian duo try to deduce how the trick was done. In very articulate speech, Penn -- as Teller remains characteristically silent -- commends the magician on a job well done. If the magic act fooled Penn & Teller, they win a sweet Fool Us trophy and a trip to Vegas to be the opening act for Penn & Teller's show!

I want my opinions below to reflect those of a spectator who just saw a performance live. To achieve this, I've only watched this episode once. In real time - no pausing. No slow motion. Once through, with commercials and with my kids enjoying it with me too. Did I remember everything I saw? Did I see everything that happened? Do I remember the exact words that were said? Maybe, but likely not -- which means if I over-portray an effect below then it was just that great of a trick. If I under-portray it, well, yeah. So let's see what this episode's got in store for us!

Episode Recap

Danger magic, money money money, cards, and impossible light bulb action! Holy smokes, this episode had a bit of everything. And then, there was a dummy doing sponge ball magic! Whoa. If you don't like danger magic, like I don't, just a heads up that the first performance is of that variety -- while he tries to dull down the danger by using a tiny "blade", the whole vibe is really ick. My description below will help make it a bit more family friendly though.

The fooler of the night's episode was Kolos. A multi-phase card routine that progresses to more and more impossible sleights. It was a really engaging routine that was not only fun to watch but will be fun to try to perform too.

Apollo Riego

Apollo is a New York City based magician who, by looking at his Instagram (@apolloriego), always has a serious game face on. His intro showed off a lot of different types of magic from cards to coins to bills, but he gave an upfront warning that his routine was of the danger-magic kind.

The performance started off with Alyson all decked out in safety gear, the most apparent were the knife gloves. Uh oh!

Apollo sold everything right at the beginning, this was dangerous. It was deadly. It was life threatening! It was, a tiny metal washer and a few envelopes! =P

But for real, this "tiny metal washer" is said to be really sharp. He had Alyson place it in a small envelope and then mix it up with 5 others. He had Alyson put on a pair of safety goggles and then one-by-one clapped his hands on the envelopes, each time running the risk of smashing the blade into his palms. Narrowed down to the final 2, he clapped an envelope and blood went all over his hands! Oh snap, it was just a joke -- it was strawberry jelly!

Apollo Riego, choosing an empty envelope or one with a metal blade in it.
To get a papercut, or to lose a finger... the choice is yours!

The last envelope remaining was opened, it was the tiny metal washer. Phew.

I'm not, and never have been, a fan of danger magic. Apollo's routine was only really made "dangerous" by his words, and by the last envelope he crushed with the jelly. My kids are also not fans of danger magic, so much so that my youngest turned away from the TV scared when Apollo was going to clap the envelopes. To help reassure him that there was no real danger involved, I explained to him how to do the trick. I was careful enough not to explain "magician's choice," but I did tell him that the blade wasn't actually sharp (which may or may not be true) and that the envelopes were marked.

When Penn gave his break-down of how it was done and all of the coded messaging, my kids were super excited because they understood everything he was saying. So that's fun =]

My big remaining question is, did the super reflective googles that Alyson wore play a role in the marking system?

Rachel Wax

Rachel is also a New York City based magician but according to her website ( she isn't locked down to just performing in The Big Apple. She performs all over, and if her Instagram (@rwaxx) has any merit, she loves her some pugs too!

Rachel came out on stage with nothing but a purse. A large purse, mind you. Inside of it was filled with several things, including a money gun!

Armed with a money gun and a stack of bills, she had Alyson provide one more bill and sign it. Rachel then signed the back of it and they put it into the middle of the stack of bills. Loading the stack into the money gun, Rachel was blindfolded and Alyson sprayed money everywhere! On no, the bill is lost...

Rachel Wax, grabbing for money!
My company had a holiday party one year that gave us cash bonuses and whatever you caught, you kept! I didn't stay much longer...

Digging through her purse, Rachel brought out a wrapped piece of candy. When opened and the candy split, the signed bill was right in the middle of it!

She owned the stage, I'm just going to put that out there. She stole it, if I were to use Penn's words. I do kind of disagree with that being the coded message though; it was less of a steal and more of a ditch, but hey, same end result right? Right at the beginning of the routine when she asked Alyson for a bill, my first jump was "she's going to make the dollar appear inside something in the purse, probably that candy." Great minds think alike, right? =P


Kolos, a Hungarian magician who, per his performance's intro, has quite the list of references! His Instagram (@kolosmagic) shows him traveling all over and performing magic in all sorts of places, and if you look hard enough you'll even find him fanning decks of cards! I say this because one thing that stuck out to me was how many times he fanned cards in his intro, and then during the performance. Everyone has their "thing" I guess =P

This routine... where do I start? Well, let's start at the beginning and go from there. I recommend you watch the routine itself though to really see it in action (a link to the video is down below).

Kolos explained how this magic trick was passed down through his family for generations. His grandfather performed it one way, then his father, and now him. He started by demonstrating his grandfather's version of the trick using a very old looking deck of cards. The box was old and used. The deck was dirty and worn. It has seen some action!

The vintage deck, spread for a card to be selected.
"Alyson, please name a card."

Side note, if you're interested in this deck it's the Ellusionist Bicycle 1900 Vintage Series Playing Cards =]

He spread the cards face down, then face up and had Alyson name any card. The 7 of Diamonds was chosen and signed by Alyson. He then threw the card into the deck, fanned the deck, and then magically pulled the back of the card box off, revealing the signed card!

Taking things to the next level, he began showing his father's version of the trick. He cleaned up the table and placed the card back into the deck where Alyson said to stop. Again, fanning the cards in both hands he lifted the card box with the fans and began passing it back and forth from one fan to the other. And then, magically, the box turned into the signed card! But, being a completionist (or perfectionist), he made the box reappear from in between the cards as they dribbled from his hand to the table.

Kolos, fanning the deck before making the box disappear.
Behold, the magical fans of Kolos!

But then, continuing his father's rendition, he took the box and opened it to pull out the signed card, yet again. In almost rapid fire succession, he moved on to his own personal performance where he doesn't want to perform with an old deck and bam, the box changes into a new box. The deck then changes it into a new deck of Bicycle cards! From the box he pulls out a brand new looking card with, you guessed it, Alyson's signature on the front of that new 7 of Diamonds!

Penn's breakdown of the routine honestly matched my breakdown almost exactly. The grandfather's version, pretty straightforward. The father's version, yeah, we could do that too. And then the deck changed and the signed card changed? Whoa!

Unfortunately, or "however", this one didn't fool me overall. I say that Penn's breakdown matched mine not because I was fooled with the deck switch but because I was distracted by the signature on the card in the last portion of his father's trick where he brings the card out from the box that reappeared. It looked very different than the way it looked previously and that was a huge turn-off. The problem is not so much with the alignment of the signature (which was off), but it was that it was clearly signed with a thick Sharpie whereas Alyson's signature was done with a fine-point Sharpie.

I've been learning the finer points of faking or duplicating a spectator's signature off-and-on and it's a fun topic. Deck switches, yeah I know a few. Card forces, not a problem. The problem is combining all of them here. He clearly, very clearly, forged 2 signatures onto two separate 7 of Diamonds. Given that Alyson would be the one assisting him, he could have pre-signed the cards, sure. Whether that's allowed on Fool Us is up for debate though. However, Alyson's selection was very fair, in my opinion. That spread at the beginning, even I picked a different card. The risk would have been too great to rely on a force to pre-sign a specific card and I highly doubt he created an index with 104 cards.

My guess is that the cards were forged during the performance. From what I can tell, there were a lot of cuts away from the performance itself so it's really difficult, or impossible, to say for certain how it was done. I would like to think that he's just really good at thumb-writing but there didn't appear to be enough time for it for a single signature, let alone two. This, and I kind of hope this isn't the case, but this feels to me that there may have been a hidden assistant. That, or his savant does in fact have a 104 card index!

Peter Wood

Peter Wood, collector of the impossible! I've always thought it would be neat to collect obscure and "impossible" things, but Peter here, this guy actually does! I thought that by scrolling through his feed (@theimpossiblepw), I would be able to figure out if he builds any of these impossible contraptions himself or just collects them, but I think that the two kind of go hand-in-hand.

Peter started his routine by introducing a really neat looking wooden box. Inside the box was an "impossible thing." Revealing it to us, it was an interesting looking light display with four vintage style lightbulbs.

Peter Wood's impossible lightbulb display!
But for real, why do they call it a "radio" lightbulb?!

Atop the box were four cards that corresponded to each of the four distinct lightbulbs. Whichever switch the card was above was the bulb that would turn on, when switched. He moved the cards around, the switches followed. Alyson moved them around, they followed still. Then, Alyson mixed the cards and placed them in a box. Pulling them out one-by-one and flipping the switches in order yielded the corresponding bulb to light up!

When I first saw it, I didn't applaud either!
Peter Wood, commenting on the quiet reaction to the first demonstration.

Penn's coded message included hints at a fifth switch and custom programming. As an engineer, the latter part was obvious to me. The "fifth switch" went over my head for a while when it dawned on me that he wasn't referring to a light switch, but a different kind!

Peter did not fool them but I think it was a really fun performance overall. I think that this is one of those cool gadgets you can have on display at your house and when asked about it, you can demonstrate the weird, or impossible, properties of it!

Penn & Teller ended the show with Teller performing a really nice ventriloquism act with a dummy and sponge balls. Actually, can it be called a ventriloquism act if neither of them talk? It was a fun performance regardless, I recommend watching it =]

Teller and the big dummy.
Teller and the big dummy.


I enjoyed this episode, save for the first act. No offense to Apollo, it's just not my genre of magic. If he ever comes back, hopefully he'll perform something a little more audience-friendly. But yeah, the other acts were very enjoyable and showed off so many different types of magic.

The episode flew by, time-wise for me and I'm already excited for the next round of magic!

You can watch this full episode on The CW.

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