Tragically, Peter Tomarken died the other day, but it gave me the opportunity to see the GSN special about the infamous Michael Larson, who took the game for an astonishing $110,237, a record at the time.
Now, in watching the game, the man (with a few exceptions) got something and a spin. He never spoke, he took an inordinate amount of time hitting the button, he looked like he was in a trance, he acted surprised when things didn’t go quite right, and he cheered immediately after hitting the button, as if he knew that he was going to win. Which, of course, he did.
What strikes me as funny is that it took them nearly 20 years to figure out how he did it. From casual observation it was obvious that the fix was in. Peter HAD to know it about 10 spins in because he kept catching spins, but in typical professional showman fashion he played it straight, even though he had no idea how Larson was doing it.
Seriously, though, just watch the game. It’s so obvious that it’s amazing that nobody had figured it out before. I’m sitting here watching the games, both in awe of the man that figured it out and in amusement at the discomfort the PYL people had to be in. It’s always cool to see a guy get over legally, and it’s easier to watch knowing the end results, but if I were watching the game in 1984 I’d have been going nuts too. It’s just nerve-wracking even to watch.
Here’s to Peter, the host of one of the best game shows ever, and to Michael, one of the smartest people ever to appear on a game show. And thanks for the memories, especially this one.
I think I remember reading an article about the whole Larson incident where the producers admitted that A) they knew someone would do it eventually and B) there were about 5 or 6 people right after Larson who could do basically the same thing, but didn’t get on the show or did after they changed the patterns.
The most amazing thing about the whole thing is that he managed to stay cool enough to recognize the patterns even with an audience and the stage lights.
Wherever did you read that? The producers knew almost immediately how he did it. They knew that the board did not work randomly. They just hadn’t thought anyone would do it. The shows computer programmer talked about it all on the Game Show Network special, which introduced the unfortunate word “scandal” in its title.
I guess the producers and CBS knew pretty much right away, so I’m wrong in that regard, but I remember telling my grandmother that there was a pattern even back then. How is it that nbody else figured it out? I didn’t because I was 8 and I didn’t have a VCR and a lot of time, but seriously, it’s striking how obvious it is when you see it. All I could say was “Aha! So that was the pattern!” when I saw it. I just never quite recognized it for what it was, even though I was fairly good at predicting where the people would stop.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that some contestants intuitively knew what was up because they did exceptionally well, albeit not as well as Michael. When the people he played against found out they acted like they were stunned again. I have the feeling that when we were let in on the secret it was rather deflating, because it made you realize that anybody could have done it.
I mean, if a pitcher always did some little thing, made some little gesture that gave away that the fastball was coming, it wouldn’t be a “scandal” if some smart hitter figured it out, and was always ready to pounce on it.
Nor would it be a scandal if some smart poker player picked up on certain signals his opponent always gave off.
The contestant in this case didn’t cheat- he was just smart enough to figure out something that, in theory, anybody could have seen.
I remember watching when the Larson episode originally aired. It didn’t take us long to realize that he had somehow detected the light sequences and was using that knowledge brilliantly. We just loved that show back then and it was really fun seeing him win that large jackpot!
I can sympathize with everyone in the booth watching helplessly as he racked up such a huge amount, but I thought it was totally unfair and completely misleading to refer to it as a “scandal” in the GSN program. There were no rules against what he did and he cheated no one. But they made it seem like “Quiz Show” when they aired the GSN special.
Did anyone watch the new show Whammy when they brought back the contestants from that fateful Press Your Luck show (except for Larson himself, who had died. His brother appeared in his place) for a rematch? Peter Tomarken guest-hosted the question and answer segment. It must have been a relief to the two losing contestants to know that at least there would be no way to tweak the board this time. Unfortunately–they both lost again, to Mr. Larson’s brother!
And I was very saddened to learn of Peter Tomarken’s (and his wife’s) death. I always thought he was great as the host of Press Your Luck.
The only scandal was the character assassination of Larson in the special (assuming I’m remembering the special correctly…it’s been a long time since I watched it). Way to kick a dead man who can’t sue you for slander.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the special as well, so what is this “slander” of which you speak? Beyond the use of the word “scandal” to set the mood for intrigue, I don’t recall the show saying anything particularly bad about they guy.
What do you believe they said or did that would make the producers of the special libel for slander?
I remember a very negative portrayal of his play. The portrait was that he was a criminal picking on the poor game show and the other contestants. After his 10 minutes of fame were up, after his death, they produced a special for a private citizen long out of the spotlight talking about his personal and financial dealings.
The man beat the system fair and square; rather than admit defeat, they assassinated him publicly when he couldn’t defend himself.
Am I the only one who’s never heard of “Press Your Luck”? Then or now?
Come on, you can tell, are you people making this up? Is this one of those threads where you try to keep it going as long as you can till someone comes in and goes, “Hey wait a minute . . . Will Ferrell ain’t dead!”
There is a fantastic summary of what happened here. (Warning: PDF file) Complete with pictures and a blow-by-blow account of what happened. The most interesting part is the very end, where Larson realized he diodn’t know how to end the game, and ended up having to gamble the entire jackpot on one spin!
It wasn’t like that at all. They had his ex-common law wife on and she taked about the lead-up and aftermath, they had the brother on and he talked about his brother’s personal life and how it affected their lives, and they had the CBS people on who expressed a certain amount of admiration for the man for the way he gamed them legitimately.
The few people that spoke ill of him were related to him in some way, and the contestants were naturally nonplussed. The talent guy said he thought something wasn’t right about the guy, and he was right. None of that amounts to character assassination as I understand it. It was a pretty good documentary about the guy.
Let’s face it. Michael Larson was shady, both before and after, but in the one hour that he played the game he was master of all he surveyed. How many people can say that? For that reason it was a hell of a story, a nobody who comes out of nowhere to do what nobody else had ever done and then fades back into obscurity. That’s the stuff movies are made of.
Okay, I’m sorry… I misunderstood what brianjedi was saying. Yes, according to this site you can’t pass a spin that is acquired by hitting “$X + Spin” on the board. Therefore he was up a creek because he had only memorized how to hit squares that give him a free spin as well.