I was watching a special about America’s oldest amusement parks over the weekend that featured the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster in San Diego’s Belmont Park.
Back in the summer of 1997, a local radio station held a contest called “Whirl Till You Hurl”. As if the name alone wasn’t enticing enough (not), the grand prize was $50,000 to the rider who held out the longest by riding the Giant Dipper roller coaster non-stop, without getting sick.
Contestants had to stay on the Giant Dipper from 7am until 12 pm, every single day, sleeping in their seat as the ride was parked at the gate, without a pillow or blanket. They were permitted a 30 minute break and two 10 minute breaks each day, but other than that, they had to stay on the coaster as it raced around the track, over and over and over again.
The contest went on an astonishing 77 days, until the radio station running the event decided to throw in the towel. The remaining contestants split the prize money, each receiving $12,000. Naturally, as someone with an interest in personal finance, I wanted to figure out how much this prize money worked out to in terms of hourly rate. Let’s do the math, shall we?
So let’s say that the coaster riding time is hours worked- that’s 17 hours of work per day, for 77 days:
77 days x 17 hours per day of coaster riding = 1,309 hours
That equals 1,309 hours of “work” for the contestants. They received $12,000 pre-tax, so next we take that “pay” and divide it by hours “worked”:
$12,000 earned divided by 1,309 hours= $9.17 per hour
That means that the contestants ended up making just $9.17 per hour, and that isn’t even accounting for the hours that they spent sleeping on the ride!
Worth it? I’d have to say that’s a big, fat nope!
Now, the federal minimum wage in the summer of 1997 was just $4.75 an hour, so $9.17 is better than what the winners could have earned at a minimum wage job. But the fact that they gave up over 2 months of their lives to sit on a roller coaster, away from their friends and family, while missing out on the chance to do anything else that summer, hardly seems worth a paltry $12,000 prize. And let’s not forget that this money was taxed, so at the end of the day, they received even less.
I think the takeaway here is that you’re far better off trying to earn money the old-fashioned way, through hard work and effort, as opposed to trying to win big. When you actually sit down and do the math, it’s clearly not as great as the promise of 50k for riding a coaster sounds.
What do you think, was it worth it for the contestants after all? Would you be willing to do that for a shot at $50k?