Michael Larson – genius or cheater?
Michael Larson was just an ice-cream truck driver who applied to be a contestant on the CBS’ quiz show – Press Your Luck back in 1984. What happened after the quiz show finished taping that day’s episode caused a big furore, with the public split into admiring what he had accomplished while the rest were calling him a cheater.
It was because, at the end of his romp, he had won a total of $110,237, with over $100,000 of that in cash.
First, a little background on the show itself.
The contestants on the game show need to collect “spins” by answering trivia questions, and then used the “spins” on an 18-space gameboard full of cash and prizes. On top of that, contestants can also get free spins along with the prize. To win something, the contestant must hit a buzzer as the “random” pattern are shown on the screen and wish that the light will stop at a spot with cash and/or spin.
However, there is also a whammy spots where the red cartoon creature takes away all of the contestant’s money. The person who amassed the most in cash and prizes at the end of the game won.
During the taping of the show, the host couldn’t believe what was going on as Larson kept on winning the big bucks with free spins and avoided the whammy along the way, effectively building his money and kept the other 2 contestants with nothing to do except watch. They even had to split the show into two episodes as Larson took close to an hour to amassed all that money.
Behind the scenes, the producers of the show panicked as they knew something was wrong but they couldn’t stop him. He finally stopped after passing the $100,000 mark and passed on his spins to the other contestants. The other contestants of course couldn’t matched his total and he ended up with all those money.
His secret was simple, he saw something which even the creators of the show didn’t notice. The “random” blinking lights behind the spaces were not random after all – for months before the show, Larson had been taping episodes of the show on his VCR and studied the patterns. He saw there were only five patterns involved and he was able to figure out when and where to stop to get the money and extra spins.
After the show, the network’s lawyer threatened to bring him to court to prevent him getting the money but Larson argued that he didn’t cheated and no illegal acts were committed. Larson had a valid point and the network gave him his money.
So Larson won because of his power of observation and memory power but was he a cheater? Could his acts be deemed as the same as someone who knows the combination to a bank’s safe and took away the money. Well yes ONLY if the bank challenges that anyone who can break their security can get the money.
However, Larson’s determination in getting “fast” money as a life motto was truly evident after he became rich. He got into trouble with the law, went through a divorce and lost his money to a ponzi-scheme (get rick quick) and also to a burglar. Broke, he called up CBS and challenged them to put him back on the show and see if he could crack the board patterns again.
Of course by now, the creators of the show had added more patterns to the lighted boards to make it harder for anyone to memorize them. But still the producers of course declined.
Larson died of throat cancer in 1999, 15 years after his claim to fame but with nothing to show for after his amazing feat on the game show.
So what do you think? Is he a cheater or a PYL legend?
Videos of his feat (aired only once – so only available to those who taped the shows back then so that’s why quite blurry)
Michael Larson’s PYL romp part 1
Michael Larson’s PYL romp part 2