I’ve never had a salad with just raisins and croutons before Saturday night and probably won’t ever indulge in such an unusual combination ever again. That’s what happens when you are in a recliner for more than 30 hours watching television.
I finished in second place over the weekend in the Ultimate Couch Potato contest at ESPN Zone in Baltimore. First place took home over $4,000 in prizes. I won a goody bag.
To understand the depths of the unique situation, I need to give the back story on how I made it to the final four on New Year’s Day. About two months ago, I wrote a short essay to the folks at the Zone that detailed my desire to become the Ultimate Couch Potato. A week later I was interviewed by Leigh Friedman, who acts as the coordinator of the event. Performing her job like a textbook hostess, Leigh comes across as the person you want to stand next to at a party. Mixing the rare combination of fun and attentiveness, Leigh, as James Lipton would say, is “a delight.”
Needing to watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, I headed into the competition on Friday morning with more grogginess than a bottle of NyQuil. None of this was alcohol induced, I assure you.
A quick look at the grand prize will make you understand why someone would act this crazy for an extended period of time. The winner received a $1,000 gift card to Best Buy, $1,000 in gift cards to ESPN Zone, an extremely nice recliner and they pay your cable bill for a year. Not a bad deal, huh?
Meeting the competitors for the first time was an eye-opening experience. The other three members of the final four (Jessica Mosley, Chad Jones & Alex Pyzik) brought extra clothes and toiletries for the multi-day excursion. I did not. In retrospect, I probably should of considered to bring something, anything, but just the clothes on my back.
The contestants for this unusual event were an interesting breed. Jessica, the defending champion, lives for this. She’s the ultimate competitor and someone who will challenge you at anything. Jess is obviously “in the zone” at ESPN Zone. She’s comfortable here. A winner in the ’09 event, Jess smells fear from the other three competitors and her orange Tennessee Volunteers jersey shines past the rest of the pack.
Meeting Chad in the parking lot before the start of the endless television watching, we both must have looked like freshman waiting for orientation to start. It was the first time for both of us in this contest and we were clueless on how the event would unravel. Then again, Chad had more important things on his mind. His wife woke him up at 5:00 that morning with a special delivery on the way. They were about to welcome a baby into the world. Without a baby by 10:00 AM and with a blessing that his wife will surely remind him for years to come, Chad arrived at the competition on time.
Alex still kicks himself over losing the Couch Potato contest last year. Lasting more than 70 hours without sleep and minimal restroom use, Alex finally cut his losses and finished in second place. It requires a special amount of crazy to even apply to participate in this contest. Alex was working on his second attempt to win the trophy. Crazy? Maybe. The funniest person in the final four? Absolutely.
Walking into the Zone, I didn’t realize that the Screening Room area would actually act as my home for the next 33 hours. For those of you not familiar with the makeup of ESPN Zone, let’s just say it’s a man cave on steroids. Keeping tabs on 13 games at any time, I had the opportunity to eat or drink whatever I wanted – free of charge. Not a bad way to ring in 2010. The rules for the contest were very simple: stay the longest in your chair without falling asleep or using the restroom. The contestants got a stretch break at the top of every hour for five minutes and a restroom break every eight hours. That means you have to “hold it in” for eight hours. Digest that one for a second.
In order to last into the first break, I decided to sip on a vanilla milkshake for the first four hours and then to nibble on some fries towards the backend of the first segment. The encouragement of my support system – everyone from my aunt and uncle to co-workers to friends – really perked me up as the games started to run into each other.
At about the 10 hour mark, all four of us were still going strong. A number of good football games gave us extra motivation to ignore the elapsed time and concentrate on enjoying sports. After Leigh left us for the evening, a new proctor emerged for the overnight hours. Sabrina, a transplant from Michigan, spent the majority of the evening on her cell phone. Drinking gallons of coffee in her brief stint with the foursome, Sabrina became our favorite sarcastic aunt. She didn’t really care about sports and made sure everyone knew about it. In one wonderful exchange, she matter-of-factly said that she didn’t know who “any of these people are” while pointing to the mammoth screens of famous college football players in the background of the restaurant.
Our next restroom break clocked in at three in the morning. Looking like a scene out of “The Breakfast Club,” I gladly took the opportunity to run up and down stairs at a closed ESPN Zone. It’s one of those things that doesn’t sound as cool as it actually played itself out in the process, but man, was it fun! After keeping my heart rate up for another couple of hours, I watched rugby for the first time in my life. I still don’t understand the majority of the rules, but I gained a tremendous amount of respect for the game.
At hour 19, with some help from his wife, Chad became the first one to leave us. Showing obvious signs of exhaustion and leaving a fun competition for more important things, Chad took his goody bag and walked out of a restaurant at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning. Only three of us remained for the title.
At the 21 hour mark, we started to lose it. I led a five minute interpretation of Neil Diamond’s classic hit “Sweet Caroline.” If you are ever in a situation where you want to sing in front of a group of strangers in an empty restaurant, I strongly encourage you to scratch that itch. Coming back from a 15-minute break at hour 24, we suffered our second casualty. Citing a new job starting in a few days, Alex shocked everyone after he bowed out after one day. In the competitive sitting world, it’s the equivalent of Boise State’s surprising win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Stunned by the latest development, we were down to two. The defending champion and myself.
I didn’t stand (or sit) a chance.
Surrounded by a close knit group of supporters, along with her fan club president, Jess gave off the aura of an unbeatable opponent. She’s the Michael Jordan of watching televised sports. And she has a fan club president who desperately wants Jess to win this event every time – at any cost. Offering hugs, unlimited drink and any other way that would eliminate me and crown Jess, Leann took the role of the friend to another level. Showing a wealth of sports knowledge along with an obsessive desire to win, Leann actually typed Facebook updates on my condition as viewers checked into their laptops and cell phones for updates.
Leann thought I would last until the middle of the night and then give up. She was wrong. I couldn’t go after 8:00 PM on Saturday. Suffering from extreme dehydration, I got up just before the 33-hour mark. After congratulating Jess and gulping an energy drink to bring me back to life, I realized that the experience of the competition was the true grand prize.
Then again, a new recliner would be pretty cool.