Forget Monte Carlo. What about the man who beat a network game show?

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I love game shows. I’ve watched them since I was a child — I can still remember being held rapt by “Split Second” with Tom Kennedy — and I’ve been fortunate enough to appear on two.

My dream job would be to host one; my almost-dream job would be to write questions for (a smart) one. (This is why my Sunday nights hosting a weekly Team Trivia game at Manuel’s Tavern are so rewarding, even if they don’t pay much.)

So I find this story of the guy who beat the bank on “Press Your Luck” fascinating.

You may have heard it before; it’s been featured on both “This American Life” and GSN. (I saw it on Priceonomics via Your Tiny Daily.) But it’s still an amazing tale: In 1984, a man named Michael Larson won more than $110,000 on “Press Your Luck,” a game show that featured an allegedly randomly programmed board. But it wasn’t so random — it turned out that patterns repeated themselves.

Larson, apparently a eccentric character to start with, figured that out by watching “Press Your Luck” over and over and over. How obsessive was he? Here’s his future wife, then his girlfriend:

“He had an entire wall of 25-inch televisions stacked one on top of the other,” recalled his then-girlfriend, Teresa Dinwitty. “He watched them all at once, and it got so hot, the paint peeled off the wall.”

Imagine if he’d devoted such attention to other things.

Here’s his first episode, which left him well on the way to six figures:

It gets really interesting at around the 14-minute mark.

Larson’s victory paid off — in the short run. He didn’t break any rules, so he kept the money. But live by the sword, die by the sword: Always keen for another get-rich-quick scheme, he ended up starting a Ponzi scheme. He died, one step ahead of the law, in 1999.

Other game shows have had their moments of being — or seeming — fixed. Once some marketers accidentally forgot to reset the “Plinko” board on “The Price Is Right.” That allowed a contestant — who had no idea — to walk away with more than $30,000. (It wasn’t her fault the game was rigged, even if inadvertently.)

And then there was “Twenty-One.” But that’s a subject for another post — or a whole movie.


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