30 years ago, game show history was made on CBS' Press Your Luck, hosted by Peter Tomarken. Having been on the air for quite some time, viewers were testing their knowledge with the questions that could earn players 3 spins for a correct buzz-in answer, or 1 spin for a correct multiple-choice answer. Those spins could then be turned into big bucks on the Big Board, which was loaded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and prizes; some of which offered additional spins. As with every game show there was the element of risk: the dreaded Whammy, which, in various ways, would come out and take away a player's loot; with 4 of them eliminating them from the game. If a player didn't want to risk losing their money/prizes to a Whammy, they could pass their spins to another player, with the caveat that whoever got those spins had to take them and take them first when their turn came (passed spins could become earned spins by either hitting a whammy or getting cash and a spin). Whoever had the most money at the end of the game won and got to keep all the cash and prizes they earned throughout and returned the next day until they either met or exceeded the $25,000 limit set by CBS that was raised to $50,000 in late 1984, or if they won 5 days in a row.
Enter one of the greatest contestants to play the game: Michael Larson. He was an unemployed ice cream truck driver from Lebanon, Ohio when he came to the show. He first began watching the show since the show's debut in September 1983 and figured out the board's patterns, realizing they were not random to begin with. With that knowledge, he traveled to LA to be on the show.
After his interview, contestant supervisor Bobby Edwards was suspicious about Larsen; but Bill Carruthers, the show's creator, director, and executive producer, was not.
Larsen faced returning champion Ed Long, a minister, who won $11,516 in cash and prizes in his previous game; and Janie Litras, a dental assistant.
The first question round did not fare so well for Larson. In fact, on the second question, "You've probably got President Franklin D. Roosevelt in your pocket or purse right now, because his likeness is on the headside ...", he buzzed in with "$50 bill" towards Peter's ending of the question, which was "..of what American coin?" The other two choices were "nickel" and "dime"; obviously, "dime" was the correct answer. By the end of the round, Michael ended with 3 spins to Ed's 4 and Janie's 10.
The first Big Board round also did not fare so well for Larson. He hit a Whammy on his first spin then hit $1,250 on each of his next 2 to finish with $2,500 to Ed's $4,080 and Janie's $4,608. As a result, he would go first in the second round.
Round 2 was where the excitement began. With 7 spins to Janie's 3 and Ed's 2, Michael had first crack at the board, where over $100,000 in cash and prizes was up for grabs. He mostly focused on squares #4 and #8, which always offered cash and a spin. One of the main patterns he focused on -- 2-12-1-9-4 (as seen here)-- helped propel his total. He even won $1,000 for Michael Landry of Jenerette, Louisiana for the show's "Home Player Spin" contest (Larson hit "$1,000 + ONE SPIN"; the rules say that if hit, the home viewer only got the money while the studio player got the money and the spin; if a Whammy was hit, the viewer got $500 in cash as a consolation prize). Along the way, he picked up a couple of prizes: a sailboat worth $1,015 and a trip to Kauai worth $1,636.
When the total pased the $30,000 and $40,000 marks respectively, it was becoming increasingly clear that Ed and Janie had no way to catch him. In fact, by the end of the first show, which aired on Friday, June 8, Michael had $40,851 in his bank.
The second show aired on Monday, June 11. Michael eventually became the Energizer Bunny of the game. He kept going and going, not even giving up any of the 4 earned spins he had. By the time he exceeded the $50,000 mark, Peter gave a remark that said it all: "Michael, I've never seen anyone press their luck like you are, and YOU ARE PRESSING YOUR LUCK." Indeed,he was. He eventually passed the $60,000, $70,000, $80,000, and $90,000 marks with ease. As he closed in on $100,000; Peter was doing his best to get Michael to stop before he hit a Whammy. But THAT didn't stop Michael. He eventually got his total to $102,851 before passing his 4 spins to Janie. Finally getting a chance to play, Ed hit a Whammy on his first spin, then racked up $10,000 due to two consecutive "$5,000 + ONE SPIN" hits; he would then hit another Whammy and all that cash was history.
Then all the pressure was on Janie. Like Ed, she hit a Whammy on her first spin; but since she was taking a passed spin, the remaining 3 passed spins were transferred to the earned column giving her 6 spins to play with. She used 3 of them to build her total to $9,385 before giving the other 3 to Larsen. Per the rules, since those were 3 passed spins, he had to take them. He aimed for his two target squares of 4 and 8 again, and racked up some more cash and even a Bahamas vacation worth $2,636; eventually bring his total to $110,237. He had 2 earned spins to do whatever he pleased, and he passed them to Janie. Peter's words said it all:
"Hold everything. You're at $10,135, Janie. Michael's at $110,237! To say the least, you're going to have to get something that gives you an additional spin in order to stay in this game and continue because CBS will relinquish its entire daytime schedule for this show to go on if you keep going."
So with those words of wisdom from Peter, she took the last spin of the game and landed on a Mexican Cruise, which, regardless of how much it was worth, would not have been enough to win. Again, the words say it all:
Janie: "Come on, Big Bucks and a spin; come on, STOP!" Peter: "Stop at a Mexican Cruise! What's the difference, 88? IT IS MICHAEL, WITH $110,237! We'll be back. We'll be back sometime."
Larsen's total came out to $5,287 in prizes and $104,950 in cash. In the post-game interview, Peter asked Michael why he did what he did, and he simply answered, "Well, two things: one, it felt right, and second, I still had seven spins and if I passed them, somebody could've done what I did." And that led Peter to quip, "How does it feel to be the part-owner of CBS?"
Now to the point of this post: There are those who think he cheated. There is absolutely NO proof he cheated whatsoever. He just used the patterns to his advantage. In fact, the producers tried to deny him his winnings, but Michael Brockman, then head of CBS daytime, said there was no clause to do so. He said there was no proof that Michael cheated. However, to prevent another duplication of his success, the board's programmers re-randomized the board.
As seen in the GSN documentary, Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal, it seems that Larson was consumed by greed. He got into a lot of get-rich-quick schemes, including a bad real estate deal, and even a radio contest that involved $30,000 to a person who could find the matching serial number on a $1 bill (he withdrew all his winnings in Washingtons to find the magic bill). At one point, he and his wife Teresa left for a Christmas party, with $40,000-$50,000 left to count. They came back to find the back door kicked in, and all the money stolen. He accused her of the theft and was eventually kicked out.
In 1994, to help promote the movie Quiz Show and to even educate us about the game show scandals, Larsen was interviewed on Good Morning America about his time in the limelight. You could tell his voice was considerably weakened; after yet another run from the law regarding illegal schemes, he died of throat cancer on February 16, 1999; leaving behind three children from three different women.
On March 18, 2003, to celebrate the historic event and the second season of Whammy! (the GSN revival of PYL), his brother James was invited to play, and won a digital grand piano worth $6,695.
I've said it before and I will say it again: There is ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF that Michael cheated. Using the patterns to your advantage takes formulas, like in math and science; and a keen eye, if you study the patterns hard enough, you can figure out where the light will go next. Michael had a keen eye, and he used the formula (pattern, if you will) of "2-12-1-9-4" to his advantage. Enough said. If you guys have anything to add to this, comment below. Gameshowguy2000 (talk) 00:17, June 3, 2014 (UTC)