Sunday, June 28, 2009

Luck, consider yourself pressed...

I'm a bit of a game show nut--I spend a lot of time writing and working at home, and GSN is often on in the background. I know I'm not supposed to be watching the channel (every commercial is for denture creme or erection medication), but I always find myself enchanted by families feuding, the dipshits of Chain Reaction, Woolery and his Lingo, and the drunk celebs of Match Game. Heck, it's unfairly hard to find an episode of Card Sharks when you need one. One of the greatest of my game show pleasures is Press Your Luck, the Whammy-infested random board manned by the late great Peter Tomarken. It was always a pleasure to see the Whammys break-dance over and snatch contestants' money away (animated, btw, by Better Off Dead Director Savage Steve Holland, who may be the nicest guy in the history of the world). One particular episode in 1984 will live on in infamy, as PYL met its match in ice cream truck driver Michael Larson.

The bearded, sad-sack Larson was a super fan of the show, but more importantly, a student of it. Larson had discovered that the seemingly random boards were, in fact, five set boards (which he figured out after taping episodes and pausing the VCR, then progressing frame by frame). After a couple of seconds, Larson knew which board he had, and could always stop on big-money squares, and ones with extra spins. What started off as a normal episode soon spiraled out of control. Tomarken, caught up in the excitement, kept the show moving, but panic was ensuing backstage. By the time the super-long show wrapped, Larson had racked up the single biggest total in the history of PYL: $110, 237 in cash and prizes (with just over 100k in cash!)

The network tried to get out of paying Larson, considering him a cheater, but they had no legal ground to stand on. Larson was paid out his winnings--which he promptly blew on ponzi schemes. The episode itself (which I have included in 5 pieces lifted from YouTube, below) is truly mesmerizing. Once Larson really goes on his seemingly never-ending tear, you can't take your eyes off of it--it's that rare occurrence of real life drama that feels like fiction but isn't. So enjoy it--trust me, it's worth it. And whatever you do, don't a WHAMMY.

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