Whirl ‘Til You Hurl

WhirlRecently I was watching a documentary on “Great Old Amusement Parks” because… well, why wouldn’t you want to know more about the great old parks?

One segment that caught my attention in particular was Belmont Park in San Diego. I was drawn to a story that took place there. Way back in 1998 there was a well-publicized radio station event held on one of Belmont’s roller coasters: the second “Whirl ‘til you hurl” contest (apparently the first contest was successful enough to warrant a follow-up).

Instead of summarizing it myself, I thought I’d present John Wilkens’ 2007 excerpt as a basic synopsis:

Star 100.7 took San Diegans for a wild ride

San Diego’s biggest brush with radio-stunt infamy came in 1998, when Star 100.7 sponsored a roller-coaster riding contest at Belmont Park that threatened to never end.

Twenty-two riders boarded the Giant Dipper [on] June 30 for the “Whirl ’til You Hurl” contest, vying for a $50,000 jackpot. They were required to stay aboard 22½ hours each day, with three 10-minute breaks and two half-hour rests. At night, when the coaster stopped, they had to stay in the seats to sleep, without blankets or pillows.

Ten weeks later, five contestants were still holding on for dear life (and the money). Public fascination with the stunt had turned to disgust in some quarters.

Finally, with doctors expressing concern about the impacts of all that jostling on the contestants, and with park officials grumbling about the wear-and-tear on their 73-year-old coaster, the radio station ended the contest and split the money five ways.

Station executives pronounced their promotion a “huge success.” The survivors were less enthusiastic. “My body feels like it’s literally been trampled on,” one told a reporter.

Added another: “I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but I feel stupid.”

Ya think?

Let’s take a look at what went on here.

If you ride a roller coaster once it can be fun (for some people). If you ride it 5 more times it can still be fun, but perhaps it loses the novelty a bit. After 18,000 rides I’d imagine that the ride loses pretty much anything it ever had going for it.

Just look at the outcomes:

There were 22 people that attempted this. That means 17 people quit before day 70. 17 people lost moments, hours, days perhaps weeks of their lives for absolutely nothing (save for a lasting taste aversion to fair food, potential back / neck problems and a rational phobia of getting stuck on a roller coaster).

Even the “lucky” 5 weren’t exactly winners in my book. They ended up splitting the prize (which for some odd reason, according to my quick page searches, appeared to be closer to $12k and a trip rather than $10k). We’ll call it a “value” of $15,000. Would you make that trade? That’s kind of like asking if you’d make a deal to get paid $10 an hour to go to jail for the next 2 months.

The riders were required to stay on the roller coaster for 22.5 hours per day. The contest lasted 70 days for a total “working time” of 1,575 hours – or about $9.50 per hour (before considering taxes). Worse, you have the possibility for immediate and lingering physical injury. You can’t move more than a couple of feet. And they weren’t allowed a simple blanket or pillow. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but it just doesn’t seem like a very compelling value proposition.

When it comes down to it, you have a very finite resource: time, the moments to do what you please. These people traded time to do what they wanted for something that they ultimately didn’t want to do.

And for what?

In hopes of getting money.

What would they wish to use this money for?

Presumably they might purchase luxuries or items or experiences. In essence, they would purchase things that could benefit their lives, things that would either save or provide the option of time.

Now how tricky is this money concept that it can swindle people into sacrificing for something they already have?

Clearly the “winners” already had 70 straight days to do whatever they wanted. They chose to ride the same roller coaster 18,000 times, but they could have done anything – they had the time. Yet they threw away those 70 days in the hope to get money. To what end? Just so that they might be able to finally take a vacation.

Money is not the antagonist of this story, but failed logic very well could be. Realize that currency is simply a tool in the life you are trying to live.  It has uses and practicalities, yet it is not the end-all goal. Quite the contrary actually: money is simply the middleman, often between trading and gaining discretionary time. So before you embark on a journey for an arbitrary measure, consider the possibility that you already possess what you desire.

10 thoughts on “Whirl ‘Til You Hurl

  • October 15, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Our stupidity and our greed know very few bounds and it shows how little thought we give to how much time we are willing to spend chasing money instead of living our lives. We don’t plan and we don’t consider the value of our time.

    • October 15, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Hi Myles, thanks for your comment. I’d probably classify it as not being cognizant or else ignorance, but our sentiment is roughly the same. Just thinking about something can often lead to impressive realizations. Money isn’t the goal, it’s just an intermediate step towards the lives we want to live.

      P.S. I think the RealVision concept is a good one and I hope it takes off. I just watched the video / commented. All the best.

  • October 15, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Damn I wrote this long and thoughtful (who have thought it) comment then the PC I’m on wouldn’t let me submit it :O, oh well haha.. Wanted to say thanks for posting this! Initally when I saw the article and started reading I thought what has this got to do with finance or personal finance, not that you always need to write about this :).. It has a lot to do with it though as I continued to read and tells us a lot about the way we think about money, how we value it and how desparate some people are!

    An important question I’d like to ask the “winners” would be what they actually did with their winnings. Personally I would have invested it, paid off debt (depending on the interest rate) and made sure it got put to building wealth! Of course it’s nice to spoil yourself but at the same time I look to factor this into what I spend already, not that I’m being crazy frugal 🙂

    On a side note, I’m curious do you have a website developer or VA who’s helped you out? I’m looking to start off a new blog, more aligned to interests and what I feel I’m passionate about and like the look of yours..

    Cheers and keep writing!

    • October 16, 2014 at 8:48 am

      Hi Jef, thanks for your message and kind words. Computer troubles are no good. Yeah, sometimes I’d like to step away from finance a bit, but alas I’m always drawn back. It seems it reverberates throughout our lives.

      As indicated in the article, I believe “winners” with the air quotes is a good way to think about the situation. All too often people set off for a path without first considering additional or more advantageous possibilities. In this instance, it could have very well been the case that the people already had what they desired only to needlessly sacrifice 10 weeks of their lives.

      No website developer or VA, just me. I use Bluehost (affiliate link if you’d like: http://www.bluehost.com/track/currencyoftime/1) for hosting and a free theme. It took a little bit to play around with, but I like the look as well.

      All the best, and I’ll keep writing if you keep reading.

      • October 16, 2014 at 6:13 pm

        Yes, agree on the personal finance side of things, it is pretty interested to learn and probably comes back to my interest in psychology as well!

        Okay, cool, likely that I will need that affliate link as I’m looking into starting a new blog about millenials and mastery.. Watch this space! 🙂

  • October 15, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Enjoyed this one. I remember hearing about that in the news long ago. I had no idea it lasted 70 days. Funny way to put a price on time.

    • October 16, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Hi RBD, thanks for stopping by! I agree, and I suppose that’s why I like talking about finance and the relative trade-offs. Without considering an end goal it can be all too easy to needlessly strive towards an otherwise arbitrary goal.

  • October 20, 2014 at 11:21 am

    This is a really great metaphor and a really great article—with lots of ups and downs! 😉
    All of us are indeed riding on a Big Roller Coaster that over and over presents us with a fundamental choice. Which do we value more: incremental hours or incremental dollars?

    • October 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm

      HI Noonan, thanks for your comment and kind words. I agree. There’s a balance that needs to be struck between money and time – something that many people are not cognizant of, it seems.

      P.S. I just read the guest post on your site about diamonds. Good stuff. I’ve always questioned that particular value proposition. For anyone reading here, I’d recommend going over there (http://www.frugalfringe.com/war-stories/diamonds-nothing-but-a-brilliant-illusion/) to give it a read. All the best and thanks for stopping by!

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