What Would You Do for $50,000?

what would you do

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?

32 thoughts on “What Would You Do for $50,000?”

  1. My college buddy, Lee Vath, was one of the final 5 contestants. It got crazy. After a certain point, you’ve invested so much time into it that you’re not willing to give up and each thinking they will outlast the other. My friend was the youngest (the college student mentioned above) would probably make it as the final2 contestants.

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  3. I wouldn’t ride that giant dipper, I hate roller coaster or even a Ferris wheel! I have a height phobia and thinking that I would join that kind of contest really makes me sick.

    1. I’m not a fan of ferris wheels, either. Something about being in that open bucket up in the air makes me really nervous!

  4. I’ve never thought of looking at those types of contests in terms of hourly wages!! In our state, that 12K would’ve been taxed at 45%, essentially cutting their hourly wage in half. Yep, what a waste!

  5. I think you should have mentioned the fact that it’s really (really) easy for us to analyze the contest now that it’s over. I’m sure no one – the radio station, the contestants, etc. – thought the contest would run 77 days. They probably thought it would run a few days, tops. Also, the contestants expected to win 50k, not 12.5k. That’s a huge difference in the calculation.

    But yeah, with 20/20 hindsight I think everyone would agree the contest participants misjudged it, as did everyone else.

    1. Well, this was actually the 2nd time that the radio station held the contest- the first one lasted 10 days. Apparently it was written in the waiver that the prize money would be split if the contest was ended and there were multiple finalists, so I’m sure the contestants had at least some idea of what they were getting into. But yeah, 10 days versus 70 is a big difference. I just thought it would be interesting to break it down and see what it came out to. Still, spending 23 hours a day on a roller coaster, indefinitely, doesn’t sound like the best use of time to me, hindsight or not.

  6. It’s crazy what it is when broken down by the hour. Regardless, I would not have done it. I like money but I wasn’t about to give up half of my days riding a roller-coaster in the hopes of winning. I’d rather ramp up my own efforts to produce $50K more in income.

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  8. What a way to earn a living! LOL No thank you, and I like roller coasters! Great analysis, Lauren. In this case I think they really did earn it. Of course, here’s me thinking… but what happened to their day jobs? {snicker}

  9. John @ Sprout Wealth

    Wow, just wow. I’d be hacked if I did that and ended up not winning the $50k. But, I hate roller coasters not to mention the fact I’d be mad at myself for wasting so much time.

  10. That’s pretty interesting, especially when broken down by the hour. Where I live $10 an hour really isn’t a bad wage so I think if it were here that many people would prefer to ride a roller coaster for $9 an hour instead of doing actual work.

    Plus getting the lump sum of 12k would be nice 🙂 I definitely wouldn’t do it though.

  11. I have a weak stomach, so the thought of doing this makes me queazy. I totally agree regarding the time. It’s sort of how I feel about couponing. I’d rather spend that time working. I hate boring, repetitive tasks.

    1. I tend to agree that if you’re hardcore couponing and spending a lot of time on it just to save money, it may not actually be worth it when you get down to the numbers.

  12. My stomach churned just reading that description and looking at the pic, lol! Gross. Yeah, minimum wage hours to get 50k? Nah. I’ll work at doing something else!

  13. Holy crap. That’s insane and terrible and a huge waste of time. I would have imagined it lasting maybe like 3 days. I think after that much time, I would have given up. You must not have a lot going on to be willing to dedicate 77 days of your life to that…

    1. 1 of the contestants was a recent college grad who wanted to pay off his loans, another was a single mom who wanted to start a business, and another wanted to donate the money to charity. Still, there had to be better ways to make money for all of these things!

  14. I hate roller coasters, so I don’t think I would have even bothered, especially not for $50k. 77 days is insane, considering they had to sleep there and had tiny breaks. Sounds like torture to me! It stinks that they all ended up splitting the prize, too. I would have been so upset.

    1. Apparently some of the contestants suffered from neck and back pain from the ride. Such a stupid thing to do, risking your health for such little money!

  15. 77 days! That is just insane. I’m sure there’s a better way to make some money. And like you said, it really doesn’t come out to a lot of money. Plus, it was only a CHANCE of winning…no guarantees!

    1. I know, I can’t imagine how many people made it to 30 or 50 days before giving up. What a total waste of time!

    1. I did read that it was in the contest contract/waiver that they had to sign that they would have to split the winnings if the contest was ended, so I hope they knew in advance!

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