Sometimes the difference between cheating and winning fair and square is knowing the rules. When Michael Larson won $110,237 on the game show “Press Your Luck” in 1984 viewers were floored. Nearly every move he made during the broadcast earned him large sums of cash from the show’s seemingly random prize board. His winnings represented the largest single day prize in the history of TV game shows up until that time. The audience went wild.
In the production booth, however, it was chaos. Producers scrambled to figure out exactly how Larson was managing to buzz in at just the right moment to cash in. For a game of chance, Larson’s luck seemed too good to be true.
After carefully reviewing the tapes, the producers noticed something odd; after hitting his buzzer Larson would start celebrating before the prize amount was actually displayed. Larson spun the prize board 31 times without ever landing on a “whammy,” a penalty box which would take a contestant’s winnings back to zero. It was as if he already knew what the prize would be.
CBS soon discovered the secret to Larson’s success. The prize board on “Press Your Luck” followed a series of five seemingly random patterns, which Larson had memorized thanks to countless viewings of the show. The network tried to figure out a way to get out of paying Larson his prize money, but the rules were clear; Larson technically hadn’t done anything wrong. While he kept his money Larson never returned to network TV.
Normally the game’s winner was invited back to the show for another episode, but due to Larson winning well over the network’s $25,000 earnings cap he was not welcomed back to press his luck again. The winning streak was aired once, split across two episodes which aired in June of 1984. Afterward, the network buried the episodes. They wouldn’t be aired again until March of 2003 when the Game Show Network rebroadcast them as part of the documentary Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal.
Larson’s sweep of the board led to major changes on “Press Your Luck.” The game board’s five patterns were erased and replaced with 32 new patterns, effectively making a repeat of the contestant’s feat impossible.
You can watch Michael Larson’s incredible run on “Press Your Luck” at the top of this page. If you’d like to learn more about Michael Larson you can watch the documentary Big Buck: The Press Your Luck Scandal for free on YouTube.