6 Amazing Prizes That Sucked When They Read The Fine Print
As great and satisfying as it is to earn things through hard work and perseverance, we can all agree that winning free shit is way better. Whether it's appearing on a degrading TV game show or wolfing down sugary breakfast cereals that turn your bodily waste into a neon rainbow of toxicity, people will do anything for an awesome prize (except pay for it).
Unfortunately, those prizes sometimes come with a catch. Since Americans seem to read long passages of meaningless text only if the words "Dan" and "Brown" are plastered on the front, people rarely bother to take the time to examine the fine print. That's how they end up "winning" things like ...
A Replica Of The Simpsons' House (That Can't Legally Look Like The Simpsons' House)
Beloved animated series/immortal TV overlord The Simpsons has staged a lot of crazy contests over the years: from soliciting viewers to do the writers' work for them to a "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" contest in which no one guessed the killer, so Fox just sent the prize money to some random woman who solved absolutely nothing.
The most epic Simpsons giveaway, though, came in the '90s, when you could win a life-size replica of the family's house -- presumably for those die-hard fans who wanted to live out a deranged fantasy in which they've murdered the Simpsons and moved into their vacant home.
And then forced their family to wear their skins.
Well, for starters, the architect admitted that the house, situated in Henderson, Nevada, was only "90 percent normal," with concrete and plywood floors.
So, yeah, they accidentally reenacted this episode.
Also, although the interior of the house had been decked out in a loving re-creation of the titular family's home -- including the iconic couch, a fridge stuffed with Duff beer, the eerie feeling that you're being watched by millions of unseen people, etc. -- all of that attention to detail had to go, because "furnishings do not convey." After all, what Simpsons fan would want to keep Simpsons stuff in their Simpsons house?
"Oh, you can keep the insane boy we locked in the attic, though."
Not only would the distinctive interior be stripped barren, but winners were "contractually required to paint over the cartoon-like colors on the exterior of the house" to appease the local homeowners' association. It's a little like winning the Batcave and then finding out it's in the process of being turned into a Starbucks.
One with weirdly large windows.
Not surprisingly, the winner decided to take the $75,000 alternate prize rather than uproot her life and move to Nevada to occupy a beige shell of a real house.
A Life-Size Batmobile (With No Engine)
Is there any cooler car in the entire universe than the Batmobile? It's sleek, tricked out with gadgets, and even manages to look badass with an improbably dressed orphan sitting shotgun. In 1989, MTV held a "Steal the Batmobile" contest, in which one lucky winner would be awarded an actual Batmobile from the Tim Burton movie, thus legally making him or her about 500 percent more awesome.
And more likely to end up orphaned, but still. Totally worth it.
In the commercial, in between shots of the Batmobile speeding around and looking wicked, the guy who plays the annoying reporter in the movie casually mentions, in a jokey tone, that the car has no goddamn engine. As the winner soon found out, that was true. It's not so much a Batmobile as it is a BatSitsThereAndDoesFuckAll.
"It's to a real car what I am to Michael Keaton."
According to the winner, the brakes and steering wheel worked, but everything that would actually make the car run had been gutted. Hoping to put the prop to some use, the winner intended to display the car at some local festivals, but was forced to sign a contract stating he wouldn't exhibit the car for money. At one point he lent it to a museum, where someone who may or may not have been working for the Penguin stole the shift lever.
It turns out that the Batmobile was basically like some kind of cursed monkey's paw that turned everything it touched to shit. Since the Batmobile was basically a stylishly designed, oversized paperweight, the contest winner used the prize money to purchase a motorcycle -- which he wrecked within a few years. Also, the car was taxable, which led to an audit from the IRS, the League of Assassins of government agencies.
Eventually, he had to sell the Batmobile for "not a lot of money" because he couldn't afford the $10,000 insurance premium. Yeah, there's a reason only a millionaire could be Batman.
A Role In Your Favorite Movie (Is Embarrassing ... If It Happens At All)
There's probably no greater prize for a cinephile than winning a role in a movie. Who wouldn't want to swap lines with Superman, or stroll the halls of Hogwarts, or awkwardly stand in front of the intensely miserable Enterprise crew?
Why does that feel like a threat?
Since Hollywood is a vacuum of sadness and disappointment, the fact that you won a role in a movie doesn't mean it's going to happen. For instance, Sony auctioned off a part in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 -- but since the third one was a slap in the face to every comic book fan who didn't want emo dance-offs in a Spider-Man movie, the series was canceled and replaced with a reboot that surely will never sink that low.
Sony's seller rating has yet to recover.
Similarly, in the '90s, Nintendo Power magazine held a contest to appear in the next Jim Carrey masterpiece: The Mask 2. In hindsight, Nintendo Power may have jumped the Zapper Light Gun in offering a role for a movie that wasn't 100 percent locked down. While everyone waited to see if Carrey even wanted to put on all that fucking makeup again, the kid who won the contest was sent some video games and a crew jacket for The Mask 2 -- which at that moment was seemingly composed entirely of a title and some crew jackets.
We haven't mentioned the exact year, yet you instinctively know it was 1995.
Since the movie never happened (or, more accurately, slowly devolved into a Jamie Kennedy vehicle), the winner was eventually given 5 grand and a public apology in lieu of his prize, aka the same things that should be given to everyone who watched Son Of The Mask.
One movie that sure as hell happened: Masters Of The Universe, which successfully gave away a part to an 8-year-old boy.
That's like the 10th most terrifying mall Santa we've ever seen.
But who did they cast this adorable bright-eyed young lad as? Fucking "Pigboy." Yeah, good luck bragging to your friends about how you're in the new He-Man movie (that looks nothing like a He-Man movie) when your big role is as Skeletor's pig-faced slave. His family seemed pretty proud, though.
"We always wanted a Pigboy, to be honest."
Winning a pig-faced role also meant that the poor kid had to have extensive prosthetics applied. And since this movie was made by the cheap-asses at Cannon Films, who probably bought their face-glue out of the back of a tinted van, his skin felt like it was "on fire for days" afterward. His role was also cut down to the point that he missed his own cameo at the premiere party Mattel threw for him. We're sure the experience was still worth probably being called "Pigboy" all the way to college, though.
An MTV "Party House" (Right Next To A Toxic Waste Dump)
This one was stopped before the prize could actually be given away, but it's still worth a mention because of the astonishing (and potentially dangerous) cheapness involved. MTV staged a lot of contests in its heyday, from giving away a date with Prince to letting one lucky winner take ownership of Axl Rose's apartment -- which would probably necessitate simultaneously entering some sort of "Lifetime Supply of Disinfectant" contest.
In 1984, the then-music channel teamed with John "Sometimes Cougar" Mellencamp to give away a sweet "Party House" in Bloomington, Indiana, Mellencamp's hometown (which, if that local government has any sense, will someday be renamed "Cougartown"). Winners got an actual house, the "first rock and roll estate," according to the commercial, which featured Mellencamp himself at his absolute '80s-est.
He was either trying to start a "one sleeve up" fashion trend, or casually doing heroin between takes.
The house was painted pink to tie-in with Mellencamp's song "Pink Houses," and would be officially christened at a raging party in which Mellencamp himself would perform. Sleeves optional.
Well, for starters, the house was less of a house and more of a "shack," probably more ideal for penning an anti-government manifesto than staging a kick-ass party. Also, looking to spend as little as possible on this Party Shack, MTV bought the property for just 20 grand -- a good deal, except for the fact that it was next to one of the country's worst toxic waste dumps.
No, not New Jersey. Not yet.
Mellencamp found out about MTV's cost-cutting and understandably lost his shit (probably because he didn't want to think that the pink houses of his song were steeped in toxic waste). He insisted MTV find another house to paint pink, hopefully one with no glaringly obvious environmental hazards. Even after all of that effort, the contest winner still decided to sell the house one day after the televised shindig, presumably disappointed that he didn't develop the mutant powers he'd been expecting.
A "VIP" Trip To The Belgian Grand Prix (Sent Winners To The Wrong Country)
For those living life too far on the edge to drink Pepsi but who are too conservative to have a full-blown maniacal cocaine-fueled meltdown, there's Red Bull. Perhaps to distract from the fact that their product tastes like cough syrup mixed with a ruined Christmas, Red Bull has a shit-ton of sponsorships and promotions. While we all remember the time they plastered their logo on a skydiver freefalling from goddamn space, a less famous venture involved a contest to win a "VIP trip" to the Grand Prix in Belgium.
According to the contest, winners would receive tickets to the event, flights, and accommodations at a four-star hotel. Of course, we all probably should have suspected that Red Bull was up to no good, considering that at a previous Grand Prix their CEO showed up flanked by armed stormtroopers.
Because everyone's favorite part of Star Wars was the racing.
Red Bull provided the hotel and flight, but they never specified which country each would be in. The two lucky "VIPs" were flown into Germany (which you might recognize as "not Belgium," despite Germany's best efforts), then had to make their own travel arrangements to the promised four-star hotel ... which was in the fucking Netherlands. Oh, and despite requesting twin beds, the contest winner was forced to share a bed with his brother -- forced incestuous bedding likely being what cost them that extra star.
Since, like Germany, the Netherlands is distinctly not in Belgium, the winner was once again forced to hastily make their own travel plans (presumably while also being annoyed by, but ultimately befriending, John Candy) to get to the damn Grand Prix.
*From your hotel room.
If all that wasn't enough of a shit sandwich of a vacation, the scheduling of the return flight meant that they had to drag their luggage to the event and leave before the race was over. The whole contest was such a clusterfuck, the winner filed a complaint with the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority -- who upheld most of the complaints, but stopped short of pointing out that the trip was about as fun as ingesting a Red Bull.
A Trip To Space (Will Bankrupt You With Taxes)
For a long time, it seemed like the only way to get to space was to become an astronaut or have some kind of insane plan in store for your cremated remains. In recent years, however, the concept of space tourism has captured the attention of everyone who ever gazed into the heavens and dreamed of getting hammered and watching censored versions of Hollywood movies among the stars.
Naturally, a lot of contests have been getting in on the excitement, giving away tickets to space with companies such as Space Adventures, whose spaceship safety features hopefully aren't handled by the same person who proofreads their website.
We expect free tickets for the whole Cracked staff for pointing this out, guys.
First off, all contest winnings are considered taxable income, so winning the crazy expensive space ticket could really screw over your taxes. While some contests to send people to the cosmos have compensated for that, one poor guy won a contest with Space Adventures that didn't cover that cost. Since he didn't have the $25,000 in tax money lying (soon to be floating) around, he was forced to give up his seat -- literally, his childhood dream.
After the story hit the press, a rival company looking to get into the space tourism biz offered to cover the cost ... if the contest winner would work for them, reporting back on his trip. It's kind of the galactic equivalent of washing dishes to pay for a restaurant bill.
Another man won a free trip with Virgin Galactic ... in 2005; a search for his name and "Virgin" tells us that he's still waiting for his cosmic cherry to be popped. This is no surprise, since Virgin doesn't even have a working spacecraft right now (their first one blew up during a test flight in 2014, and they're building another one). When, exactly, these contest winners will actually get to claim their prize is thousands of feet up in the air, unless the companies start getting creative and come up with "alternative" methods.
Just saying, nowhere on the ticket does it say it can't be for a very big catapult.
J.M. McNab co-hosts the pop culture nostalgia podcast Rewatchability, which can also be found on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @Rewatchability.
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