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TV O.D. / It’s All About Me / Meltdown Post #1 : The World Series of Pop Culture Finale

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 19, 2007

“Hi, I’m Victor Lee of Twisted Misters, from New York…and we’re the team that’s going to beat you all.”

Such was the prophetic (in more ways than the obvious one) introduction that fellow Twisted Mister, and as you all probably know by now, series MVP Victor Lee made to a banquet room full of World Series of Pop Culture hopefuls on March 21st, 2007, the first day of the competition. Me and my other teammate, Andrew Weber, were not given much warning that this pronouncement was about to be made–and in retrospect, why we thought it would be a good idea to let Victor be the one to introduce our team is sort of lost on me–but the quote would go on to define our role in the WSOPC in just about every way possible (and has, in fact, been already quoted in numerous places by other teams as the defining Twisted Mister moment of the tournament).

I don’t know if I was exactly expecting to be one of the villains of this tournament when we sat down to that breakfast the first morning, but with that statement, our lot had been cast. From then on, arrogance was the name of the game for Twisted Misters, and was reflected as such in every interview we did, every category we took on, and for the most part, every backstage conversation we had with the other teams (which, naturally, was not many). Before Victor’s quote, we could’ve just as easily been the loveable underdogs. We ended up careening from possible Mighty Ducks status into Snidely Whiplash (or at least, that evil kid from Robocop 2) status in about one sentence.

It really surprised me just how much the other teams seemed to react to Victor’s boasting, though. Not so much at the time–no one was ever outwardly unfriendly to us as a result, at least–but since then, a whole number of teams have come out of the woodwork through webboards and e-mails to talk about just how much his pronouncements bothered them. Considering that just about every promo that every team did for the show consisted of them talking about how badly they were going to crush the competition, I can’t imagine why it was deemed so shocking that Victor would continue this arrogance onto the actual show (which, by the way, he was far from the only one to do, even besides me and Weber). And what’s more, everyone took it so seriously, never even acknowledging the possibility that we were just doing it for show–I mean, was this not TELEVISION that we were performing for? Considering how much of the medium everyone there undoubtedly had watched, I thought they’d be a little more understanding.

Not that I’m necessarily complaining about this, though. In some ways, I suppose playing this role was somehwat routine for us–as College Bowl players, we’ve been one of the most obnoxious teams in the country for about as long as I can remember (a half-conscious, half-subconscious decision), and it’d be hard to sublimate that dynamic, the one which the three of us know best, just because we were going on national TV. Plus, having a persona already carved out for us was kind of nice, and I think that we–Victor especially–were able to play it pretty close to perfection. I’ve always said that in most matters of my life, I’d rather be hated than forgotten, and, well, even if we had gone out in that first round, I don’t think people would’ve forgotten about that breakfast pronouncement too soon.

I walked up to that stage for the final round feeling like I had already won. I was so worried that Three Men and a Little Lazy were going to 1-2-3 us and that I’d have to take the walk of shame an 0-3 loser, that having been the star of our semis was enough reward that had Wocka Wocka swept us in the most embarrassing way possible, I think I still could’ve gone home with a smile on my face. I wasn’t exactly planning on laying down for Robert, Kelly and Rachel, but as I’d been told of their previous giant-slaying in the tournament from all corners, and as Robert’s cold, analytical hundred-yard stare made him look like a Pop Culture TI-83, I had come surprisingly close to making peace with the fact that we were probably going home with the silver.

Pat announced that the first category was The Simpsons, and I bet everyone on both sides instantly knew that that category was going to a tiebreaker. We selected Victor to go up for the category, as he was the only one that had watched the show consistently since it dropped so dramatically in quality near the turn of the millennium, and Weber and I didn’t want to get tripped up on a question solely about one of the newer episodes. Of course, it turned out that the three of us could’ve 6/6ed the category without a second’s thought, as I’m sure everyone on Wocka Wocka could’ve as well. The producers vastly underestimated the geekiness of Simpsons buffs, and the hardest questions were about the Bouvier twins loving MacGyver and Maggie having shot Mr. Burns–almost insultingly easy “hard” questions for anyone who considers themself a fan of the show (especially when compared with some of those Seinfeld or Friends cappers).

Each side aced their half of the category, and so we moved into the tiebreaker: the 14 Winners of the Emmy for Best TV Drama since Lou Grant won in 1980. Instantly, Weber and I cursed ourselves for sending Victor up for the category–we had long since made a point of memorizing enough of these to clinch such a tiebreaker, should it come up, but while Weber and I actually crammed for such an occasion, Victor’s attitude was far more laconic. I knew he would be able to at least go 8 or 9 deep (we had just gone over them in the hotel room the night before), and I hoped that would be enough, but having heard reports of the rigorous training Wocka Wocka had subjected themselves to over the year since they failed to make the 2006 tournament, I feared that it wouldn’t.

Sure enough, Kelly was rattling off correct TV titles with the confidence that only comes from having recently studied the source material. I prayed that Victor had absorbed enough from our force-fed cram sessions that he’d somehow be able to go the distance, but as he started to stumble somewhat as they got into the last half of the shows, and most of the shows left were the older ones, I thought we were done for. Somehow, though, he managed to get to an 11th show (Picket Fences), before Kelly tied it up with a 12th (Hill Street Blues, the only one I wasn’t positive about). There were only two left, and Weber and I knew which they were. We started chanting to ourselves, using all the telekinetic powers known to man, to send Victor the message:

The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey.”

NYPD Blue?” Victor answered.

“I’m sorry, NYPD Blue has already been named,” Pat responded. Luckily, new tournament rules stated that players repeating tiebreak answers would no longer be eliminated for doing so. Victor was given another chance, and we went back to work:

The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey.

The Practice?” Victor answered.

I couldn’t believe it. Miracles don’t happen to NYU undergrads every day. We asked Victor about it later, and he couldn’t believe it either–considering that The Practice was completely skipped over by both contestants (who were mostly moving in backwards chronological order), that his mind even thought to return to that time period to fill in the blank was astounding, that he was able to pull the missing show was a shooting star. As someone wiser than myself once said, I don’t know if it was divine intervention or the kinship of all living things, but at that moment, we were WSOPC champions. But first, there was still one show left, and it was Kelly’s turn for some magic.

St. Elsewhere?” Kelly answered.

For a second, my world turned upside down. Her answer sounded so right, so logical–there was no way a show with that kind of critical respect, with that kind of above-average-but-not-incredible Nielsens, and with that kind of cast, could possibly have been denied an Outstanding Drama Series Emmy. Her answer even fit the right time period for the missing show. But I was certain, absolutely positive, that Cagney & Lacey had won at least once–in fact, I was pretty sure it had won a couple times. What the hell was going on? I looked over at Weber and saw that he was having a similar dilemma, so we had no choice but to look to Pat Kiernan for guidance:

I’m sorry Kelly, that is incorrect,” Pat announced.

Unbelievable. Suddenly, we didn’t have to feel so resigned to our fate. We had stuck a wrench in their unstoppable Pop Culture machine. If it bled, we could kill it. A hundred other maxims and cliches popped into my head as Victor triumphantly returned to his seat, and Pat told us about our next category: “Spoiler Alert,” a movie spoilers category. Between me and Weber, I knew I should probably go up, as movies is generally Weber’s weakest category. I would rather have had a music one, but I remembered going 6/6 at home when they had the category at last year’s series, so I figured my chances of at least getting to a tiebreaker were decent.

Rachel nailed her first, a gimme Pretty Woman spoiler. I hesitated for a second on my first, Hoosiers, because I hadn’t seen the movie in close to 15 years, but luckily only so many movies about High School basketball were made in 1986, so I was able to guess it pretty confidently. Rachel then breezed through her Lost Boys spoiler with no problem, and I similarly knocked down one for Beaches (never seen the movie in my life, but I was looking up the plot on Wikipedia just the night before, and all the females and death was a pretty dead giveaway anyway). Then came Rachel’s third question, something about Billy Ray and Winthorpe returning to corner the frozen orange juice market. I sighed a little, knowing Rachel would certainly know the ending to Trading Places, which anyone who’s ever received Comedy Central has surely seen at least four or five times. And of course, she did know the answer.

Trading Spaces 2,” she responded.

Wait, what? My head snapped up, realizing there was at least one thing wrong with her answer. And so did she, quickly correcting herself: “Trading Places 2?

But there was still something wrong with her answer, and I knew that even if they accepted her stutter-step into the “Trading Places” part of the answer, the 2 was going to be a dealbreaker. “That is incorrect,” Pat replied. “Andrew, you have a chance to steal.”

“It’s just Trading Places,” I squeaked out, my excitement probably making me sound more smug than I would’ve liked.

“That’s correct,” Pat responded.

I was overjoyed. So much of the competition for me had been a struggle to gain any sort of breathing room, as with the exception of the lyric category I got in the Semis, every one of my matches saw my opponent get all three of his or her questions with no struggle whatsoever. At least now, even if I got my last Q wrong and Rachel stole, I had the tiebreaker as a safety net. (For the record, Rachel, if you’re reading this, I think I understand what tripped you up–it was the “returning” part of the question, right? Totally understandable, and sorry it had to go down like that on an answer you clearly did know)

Anyway, it was time for my last question, and as Pat started to read it–something from 1996, about some dudes named Roy and Aaron–I panicked, as nothing was forming in my head. But he kept reading, and is it did, more elements from the movie started to come into place (lawyers, faked split personality, twist ending) until it was recognizable as a movie that in fact, I’d seen several times before. Ignoring the lessons I had tried to impose on my teammates about always taking a second to think your answer over, I lurched towards the microphone:

“That’s Primal Fear,” I answered.

“Correct,” Pat said. 4-2, the category was mine. Two down, one to go.

Of course, that one happened to be the PC TI-83 himself, Mr. Robert Bishop, and we knew that our work was very, very fucking far from over. Pat was sure to remind us of this fact, proclaiming that “if anyone could come back from two down to win the whole thing, it’s Robert.” Great. As Pat announced the third category: “Bite Me,” a category about food in movies, we had no choice but to send Victor, our official movie guy, back to the microphone.

Victor cinched his first question about 9 1/2 Weeks, but Robert hesitated for a good 15 seconds or so before correctly answering City Slickers for his–I don’t know if he was stretching to pull the answer or checking it against other possible answers in his head to make sure it was the best one, but I chose to believe that he was pausing just to psyche us out, ‘coz for me at least, that’s exactly what happened. Victor and Robert then both made it easily through the next two questions, about Veruca Salt turning into a blueberry and Hannibal Lecter eating someone’s liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti, before Victor got his final question, about what item Chunk offered a bite of to Sloth in Goonies. I was totally clueless, and couldn’t remember if Victor had ever even seen the movie–I knew he got a question about the Truffle Shuffle on the audition test, but c’mon, everyone knows that, even if they hadn’t seen the movie. Much love to Family Guy and their endless stream of pointless 80s pop culture references, as apparently one they made to the Goonies scene in question guided Victor to the correct answer: A Baby Ruth bar.

Now it was time for Robert’s question–something about a John Candy movie from 1988, which had something to do with what hot dogs were made from. The whole world was quiet as Robert faced his question of great significance, which once again, I hadn’t the faintest idea of the answer to. Weber and I debated it from our chairs: Uncle Buck? No, pretty sure that was ’89. Plains, Trains & Automobiles? ’87, right? Could there possibly have been a John Candy movie released in between those two? I don’t know any more late-80s John Candy movies. Robert was still in a deep pause, as 15 seconds went by, 20, 25 (could we possibly win the whole thing right here????), until he leaned into the microphone:

The Great Outdoors?” he answered.

I had no idea how to react–I’d never heard of it before, but the fact that I didn’t definitely know that he was wrong was concerning me. Meanwhile, I saw Victor on stage doing a minor freakout. After a split-second’s consideration, I barely even needed Pat’s confirmation:

“That’s correct,” he responded, of course. “With both teams tied at three, we go into our tiebreaker…”

And so the tiebreaker was announced: Name the six people on the bus to the pageant in Little Miss Sunshine. After thinking about it a few seconds, I realized that like the earlier Breakfast Club tiebreaker, this round contained five very easy answers and one significantly hard one, and that as the person going second, it would ultimately be on Robert to identify the sixth member. But as Tomi from Fragilay was able to identify Paul Gleason, I was sure Robert could round out the answers to this one with Paul Dano, forcing a second, possibly harder tiebreaker. And so it began:

“Alan Arkin,” Victor answered. Correct.
“Abigail Breslin,” Robert countered. Correct.
“Steve Carrell,” Victor answered. Correct.
“Greg Kinnear,” Robert countered. Correct.
“Toni Colette,” Victor answered, the only one of the easy five that I had any doubt Victor could identify. Correct.

Nope, I wasn’t falling for this trick again. He got me once with City Slickers, and a second time with The Great Outdoors, but I was on his game now. I knew exactly what he was doing, he was just being careful, going through every possible permutation of the answer in his head, making sure he got the name’s pronunciation exactly right (all I knew was that it was roughly the same name as original Iron Maiden singer Paul Di’Anno, so who knows if they would’ve accepted my answer), and knowing that every second he waited to respond was a second of Victor’s sanity he was ticking away, already gearing up for the second tiebreaker.

That one guy,” he finally responded.

No. No way. Impossible. This was Robert from Wocka Wocka, the human trivia machine, the dragonslayer, the drill sergeant, the guy behind the guy behind the guy. Was it possible that he actually doesn’t know the last name in this tiebreaker? Not that it’s by any means an easy name, but…this is Robert from WOCKA FUCKING WOCKA, fer chrisssake!! Was he just stalling for time to psyche us out more? Was he just playing the crowd, making it seem like he doesn’t know the answer when actually he’s had it in his pocket the whole time? Were we about to win the World Series of Pop Culture?

“I don’t have an answer,” he finally admitted.

From there, the next ten minutes or so are a complete blur. I know Pat announced something about that meaning we had won the category and the game, and that he said something about inviting us back for next year, and at some point, we got that heavy trophy and carried it on stage. But writing this before having watched the finals, I’m sort of curious as to what actually happens, because I have no distinct memory of those ten minutes at all. The next thing I definitely remember after Robert missed Paul Dano was talking with Weber on the way backstage: “Holy fuck, did we just win $250,000?”

So as it turned out, nearly all the boastful predictions we made over the course of three days, four rounds and dozens upon dozens of questions about movies, music and TV, somehow came true–especially the one Victor made at that fateful opening breakfast. And that’s probably a good thing, since the only thing worse than a bunch of arrogant assholes is a bunch of arrogant assholes that can’t even back their shit-talking up. Hey, look at us–Pop Culture trivia’s very own Kanye Wests!

Yet, mixed with the rapture of having won an insane amount of money on national TV, in the venue you knew you were born to take part in and with two of your closest friends sharing the joy with you, would come for me a slow-creeping sense of depression. See, while I’d like to believe that it was just Victor’s initial comment, and the ensuing interviews and trash-talking, that alienated us from the great majority of the rest of the teams–resulting in us not being invited to the bar & karaoke nights other teams had, receiving only mild applause from the eliminated teams versus the standing ovation and “LA-ZY, LA-ZY, LA-ZY!!” chants Three Men and a Little Lazy got in the semis, up to being trash-talked by some of the other teams on various web-forums in the last couple weeks–I know that’s not the case.

Fact is, we were probably always going to be the odd ones out in that tournament. I could tell after a half-hour in the waiting room backstage that there was something separating us from the other teams, and it wasn’t just our age–it was our state of mind, and our stage of life. The great, great majority of the other teams–Wocka Wocka, Three Men and a Little Lazy, El Chupacabra, Westerburg High, Carlton Banks Dance Academy, hell, even the Lucky Stars and the Truffle Shuffles–were people with jobs, people with spouses, people with kids and mortgages and hardly any social awkwardness. Basically, they were Adults, and they acted like it. Meanwhile, here we were, a bunch of loud, obnoxious pop-culture spewing college students, with no jobs, no wives, no real responsibilities, no real ambitions, and a whole lot of social awkwardness. Basically, we were Kids, and we acted like it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still had a great time, I still loved every single second of being on stage there, even the ones that were totally heartbreaking, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, especially since we (probably) get to do it all over again next year. And a whole bunch of the teams were still perfectly friendly to us–especially the guys and gals from Three Men and Wocka Wocka, who are all warm, cool, and just all around awesome people, some of whom I’ve even kept in touch with a bit since the tournament ended and who I hope to see again someday if I’m ever in the midwest. But as I’ve posted about several times on this blog, I turned 21 about a month ago, meaning that unless I’m trying to rent a car or run for president, in just about any context, I’m now considerable as an adult, so to still be sitting at the kids table…it’s a little bit sobering.

What’s more, I think a whole lot of people are going to object to our winning, partly because of our arrogance, but at least partly for these reasons as well. So much of the appeal of the World Series of Pop Culture has always been how do-it-yourself the whole thing seemed–only a very small percentage of people can play along with Jeopardy at home and honestly think to themselves “these idiots, I could do so much better,” but that’s pretty much exactly what everyone watching the World Series is thinking (google the phrase “World Series of Pop Culture” and bask in the thousands and thousands of blog and livejournal entries evidencing this). It’s accessible to pretty much anyone with a radio, an account at Blockbuster and an HBO subscription, which means that most of the teams seem like everyday people–the sort of people who might sell you a house, or help you in customer service, or teach your kids’ elementary school class. Basically, the WSOPC is so appealing because it seems like normal, functional human beings can win it–and indeed they have, as the very normal and functional-seeming El Chupacabra took home the trophy last year.

We, on the other hand, are not normal, functional human beings. We are very much geeks–or “power-geeks,” as one of our competitors put it. A disturbing part of our lives is devoted to the viewing, listening, study and appreciation of pop culture. We met over pop culture, we bonded over pop culture, and when we hang out, guess what we’re talking about 95% of the time. We have a good deal of other friends, and a semblance of outside lives, sure, but–and I should probably stop talking for Victor and Weber here, and just say for myself–the great majority of negative assumptions that could be and have been made about me and my social life in general from the way I looked, acted and performed at the WSOPC are mostly, if not completely, true. And while it’s hard to admit that, and while there’s even a part of me that still takes pride in being a pop culture loser, it definitely disqualifies me from “normal, functional” status. And it wouldn’t surprise me if people thought that our win went against the whole spirit of the thing.

But, you know what? We deserved to win this thing just as much as El Chupacabra did. Yeah, maybe we trash-talked and annoyed a little more than we should have, maybe we don’t have the kind of everyman appeal that some of the other, more adult teams had, and maybe a lot of viewers are gonna be really disappointed when they see us take Wocka Wocka down in that final match (especially considering it so easily could have gone the other way, which I’m the first to admit). And that’s fair enough–hell, if enough people watched our finals in the hopes that someone put us in our place that it means the show can get renewed for a third season, then more power to the haters.

But I gotta believe that for all of the WSOPC’s normal, functional viewership, there’s gonna be a fraction, however small, of kids like us watching, who see us taking all this useless information that never did us any favors socially, aside from bringing us together, and actually putting it towards something positive and concrete–just a year and a half ago, I would’ve thought the idea nearly impossible myself–and they’ll be rooting for us as hard as anyone. And this has borne out somewhat, in the form of the dozens of high school and college-age chicks and dudes (mostly the former) who have taken the time to friend us or write on our walls on Facebook since we first appeared (God bless Facebook–how did we ever gauge social success before it?)–all of whom have been incredibly supportive and wonderful. Plus, who says the villains can’t win every once in a while? Even Snidely Whiplash deserves some love now and then, and I always preferred him to Dudley Do-Right myself.

And you know what else? We–or, I should probably stick to myself again on this–I needed this win as much as anyone. Because I don’t have a wife, a job, a house, or much of anything in the way of responsibilities or ambitions, and I do still have a lot of that damned social awkwardness. I needed that extra something in my life–that opening line to drop at parties, that feat to maybe make my resume stand out from others, that reason to not wonder if I might’ve done better at a different college, that ace in the hole. It’s nice to have something that can always make me smile when I think about it. You wouldn’t believe the difference it makes.

And so I give a big shout out to my all-star, all-class teammates Victor and Weber (who by the way, are perfectly nice and friendly people in real life), and to all the other teams that competed in the 2007 World Series of Pop Culture–the ones we beat and the ones we never played, the ones that liked us and even the ones that hated us. You guys all rocked the fucking house this year, and I don’t know if there’s a single team we could say that we were definitely better than–at least half of it was always gonna be luck, and for whatever reason, the stars were in alignment for us this year. And I’m going to use this win to do a couple things with my life that’ll hopefully enable me to hold my own with the adults, both on and off-screen, at next year’s show. $250,000 says I got a pretty good shot.

-Andrew Unterberger, Twisted Misters

(Note: Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be on hiatus from now until Sunday, as the Twisted Misters take their show on the road)

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