Dedicated to Peter Tomarken, the man who started it all – all being “20 hours of trolling the internet for pictures from 1980’s game shows.”
Big money, no Whammies. That about says it all. Honestly, I had to read the Wikipedia entry for “Press Your Luck” to even remember how the game was played besides pressing a red button and trying not to get a Whammy. Apparently, in the beginning of the show they asked trivia questions and for every correct answer a player was awarded a spin on the Big Board. I have absolutely no recollection of this happening. I can only presume that I watched my “Thundercats” video for the first ten minutes of the show and only tuned in when it was time for the Whammies.
The Big Board portion of the game was rather straightforward: you had a certain number of spins and as long as you landed on a prize or a money amount, and not a Whammy, you kept on going until you used up all your spins or decided to pass your spins on to someone else in hopes they land on a Whammy. The player who ended the game with the most money won. It was a game made for ADD before ADD even existed – something was constantly flashing and beeping and actual thinking was kept to a bare minimum.
Peter Tomarken . . . what can I say about him except that I had no memory of him whatsoever until he died and I decided to blog about him (I wonder if they’ve engraved his tombstone yet . . .). But in the world of competitive game shows (trust me I know) the mark of a great host is his ability to make a show about the contestants and about the intrinsic value of the game. Tomarken never tried to upstage the Whammy – he knew that the Whammy was his meal ticket and that it didn’t matter if three-quarters of the audience couldn’t pronounce his name. Because when he died in a valiant plane crash many years later, he would get buried at this very fancy cemetery despite the fact that Alex Trebek once said of him, “Who? Doesn’t ring a bell, you must be making him up.”
Also deceased, Rod Roddy was the announcer on “Press Your Luck” for its entire run. While I could only find a picture of the cemetery that Peter Tomarken is buried at, I found the GPS coordinates of Rod Roddy’s grave. That, my friends, is celebrity. Or stalking. Either celebrity or stalking. But I don’t know if you can technically stalk a dead person. It’s certainly a lot easier, but I think stalking takes effort. You know, you really have to go out of your way to stalk someone. In fact, when they’re dead really it’s just visiting. So we’ll say it’s celebrity.
While there are certainly many things to celebrate about “Press Your Luck,” there is no more impressive highlight than what Michael Larson pulled off on May 19, 1984. An ice cream truck driver by trade, Larson watched “Press Your Luck” religiously and discovered that while the pattern of flashing lights on the Big Board seemed to be random, in fact there were only six different sequences, and by memorizing those six sequences he could, with a bit of good timing, assure himself of never landing on a Whammy.
And that’s exactly what he did. It took two episodes, just about one hour, to tape Larson’s string of winning rounds. Starting with seven spins he won in the trivia round, he parlayed those seven spins into 35 Whammy-less spins and won $110,237.
You have to watch the video clip of this. The crowd is going absolutely nuts, and Tomarken’s reactions are priceless. A game show host doing a complete 360 degree “I can’t believe this is happening” spin? How often do you see that, once every twenty years? Maybe?
Why I Liked It
To a seven year old kid, Whammies were like cartoon crack. I mean, what better way is there to lose in a game show? And the real genius behind the Whammy was that, while the Whammy would take away all your money and do it in a showboating, boastful manner, the Whammy would then incur some sort of karmic retribution where they would invariably end up pounded, splashed, wiped out or blown up. So the Whammy got you, then karma got the Whammy and, in turn, you felt good about yourself again. Plus all the while you’re enjoying a cute little cartoon right in front of you.
(Note: I often wondered what the contestant actually saw, part of me believing that they literally witnessed these scenes take place in front of them in 3D. Not that the Whammies were alive or anything, that would be crazy. But maybe at least they were two dimensional creations that materialized in a 3D format on cue with a person losing all their money. At my age, that was an absolute possibility. Then again, so was Big.)
Looking back, the Whammies were more than just delightful cartoons though. They were symbols for what stood as the driving force of “Press Your Luck” – Greed. Winning wasn’t based on knowledge or merit – but a desire to get more and more based solely on chance with as little work as possible, just like all my real like interactions. In fact, the Buddhists should buy the copyright to Whammies and use them as a visual representation of the pitfalls of greed. Besides, I think Eastern religions could really benefit from some Western influence.
Also, no game show had better reactions from contestants when they lost. It was like all their hopes and dreams were wrapped up in that press of the red button, and landing on a Whammy was like being hit by a truck, hence creating the infamous “constipated grimace of defeat.”
What Was Wrong With It
There was really no climax to the show – no lighting round or ultimate prize. The contestants just played until the spins ran out and whoever had the most money won. On two occasions, the game actually ended in a three-way tie with each contestant finishing at $0. Sure purists and some soccer fans might say that it was just a strong defensive battle, but we all know that the only place you cheer a 0-0 tie is at the Special Olympics. I have no idea where that came from.
And as crazy as the people on “Family Feud” may have been, “Press Your Luck” attracted some of the most insane people I remember from my youth. I mean, one time an older cousin of mine tried to give me a weird back massage, and that was STILL less traumatic than this watching the episode with this woman:
The poor guy on the right looks like he’s ready to draw his sidearm and defend himself.
Oh, and apparently there is a new version of “Press Your Luck” called “Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck.” Here’s a picture of what a new Whammy looks like:
I don’t know who makes the creative decisions for this show, but I’m fairly certain he was molested as a child and has some real issues with anger and some real hate against cash.