THE SIMPSONS Ultimate Fan Marathon – 500th Episode : A View From The Tent


“Simpson, eh? I’ll remember that name.”  –Mr. Burns, The Simpsons

There’s very little doubt that the above quote from Mr. Burns resoundingly applies to the 100 contestants who participated in The Simpsons Ultimate Fan Marathon, held in Hollywood last week.  Not only will those 100 contestants remember the name Simpson, they’ll also remember every minute detail of “The Simpsons” opening theme song, Simpsons quotables, Simpsons musical numbers, Simpsons catchphrases and pretty much anything else that can be gleaned from being subjected to hours upon hours of watching “The Simpsons.”

Early morning preparations are underway for 'The Simpsons' Ultimate Fan Marathon.

By the end of the 4-day competition, only two contestants remained and broke the Guinness World Record for the Longest Marathon Watching Television.  They accomplished this feat early Sunday morning after viewing “The Simpsons” episodes in order for 86 hours, 37 mins, and 2 seconds.  For those who are trying to do the math, it comes out to having watched a total of 236 episodes.  For the Comic Book Guys out there, that means they ended on Season 11, Episode 10 – Little Big Mom (BABF04).  (That’s the one where Homer and Bart end up in Hawaii after Lisa convinces them they have leprosy).

The fun began on January 27 when FOX opened up online registration for the marathon on The Simpsons Facebook page to celebrate the 500th episode of The Simpsons.  The window to enter wasn’t open long and by the time registration had closed, multitudes of Simpsons fans were left wondering if they had gotten in.  They wouldn’t find out for another week when FOX finally sent a long-awaited e-mail to those eligible to register in person.  They were told to report to the Hollywood & Highland Center (next to the Kodak Theater where the Academy Awards are held) on Wednesday, February 8that 9AM on a first-come, first-serve entry basis.  Potential contestants began arriving at 3 in the morning to stake out a spot on Hollywood Blvd.  The first to show up, Carin Shreve, was Contestant #1 and went on to win the marathon.

Contestants line up early on Hollywood Blvd. to register for The Simpsons Ultimate Fan Marathon.

From 6:30AM onward, a small group of contestants began to gather waiting for FOX representatives to start the registration process.  As the morning rolled on, they were soon joined by questioning tourists and Hollywood Blvd. costumed characters including the Hollywood Superman – a.k.a. Christopher Dennis – who would also compete in the marathon.  A good majority of contestants were local from California, but there were several who had traveled from states such as Michigan, Indiana, New York and New Jersey to take part.  Talk in the line ranged from die-hard fans quoting Simpsons one-liners back and forth to one another, discussing what they would do with the $10,500 prize and almost every individual proclaiming with very little humility that they were going to win it.

“Bart, with $10,000 we’d be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things like…love!”  – Homer

FOX representatives showed up right on time to begin registration and dole out badges to 100 eligible contestants.  For the locals of Southern California, most would head back to their homes to catch a few hours of sleep before having to return in the afternoon.  Those from out of town would try to make due finding a comfortable spot to camp out among the stores and restaurants of Hollywood Blvd.; little realizing how important it was to catch those much needed hours of rest.

Yeardley Smith, Nancy Cartwright and Al Jean show up at the Marathon to encourage the contestants.

4PM in the afternoon – the event begins.  The Simpsons producer, Al Jean, along with voice actors, Nancy Cartwright (Bart) and Yeardley Smith (Lisa), were on hand to speak to the press about the upcoming 500th episode of the show and to welcome everyone to the marathon.  Kevin Coon, the then-current Guinness World Record-holder for having survived 86 hours, 6 minutes and 41 seconds watching the FOX show, 24, was also present to encourage the contestants and offer his sage advice for surviving the grueling ordeal.  Each of the 100 contestants were escorted into the viewing tent and given a complimentary Homer Simpson T-shirt before finding a seat.  It became apparent from the start that FOX was not going to make the marathon easy as contestants found the provided chairs and couches way too comfortable and sleep-inducing.

 

“When will I learn? The answers to life’s problems aren’t at the bottom of a bottle, they’re on TV!”  – Homer

FOX representatives clarified the rules of the marathon by stating:

* All eyes must always be on the TV monitor at the front of the tent – look away or fall asleep and you’re disqualified.

* Every two hours a 10-minute break was allowed and could be used by the contestant whichever way they wanted.  Contestants were split into five groups initially based on numbered badges.  The only bathroom facilities provided were those located within the Hollywood & Highland Center.  During peak daylight hours, contestants would just have to deal with getting around the tourists.

* Food and drink would be supplied throughout the day and evening and could be consumed in the tent as long as contestants’ eyes did not look away from the TV.

Ultimate fans fill the tent and stake out their positions before the Marathon begins.

A video-taped greeting from The Simpsons creator, Matt Groening, was played and he jokingly warned everyone not to venture out to Hollywood Blvd. if eliminated from the competition.  Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith and Al Jean shared some final words of encouragement with the contestants and, using large, yellow Simpsonized remote controls, officially started the marathon with Season 1, Episode 1  The Simpsons Christmas Special.

“Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.” -Homer

And then they watched TV and enjoyed it … for the first few hours.  The atmosphere in the tent was almost electric as contestants got themselves into a party mode enjoying each and every episode of the early seasons.  People left and right were quoting or singing right along with the show and clapping for each one making it evident that the vast majority of contestants were die-hard Simpsons fans who belonged there.  All the while, FOX representatives were set up at the front and sides of the tent vigilantly watching to catch anyone who veered away from the screen or dozed off.  The first contestant to bow out happened only a couple hours into the marathon and started a steady progression of people being disqualified throughout early Thursday morning – mostly from falling asleep.

The tent starting to look a little thinner on contestants on Thursday morning, 15 hours into the Marathon.

Contestants faced several major battles aside from just trying to stay awake.  Cold during the night crept in and those who did not prepare ahead of time by bringing extra layers of clothing soon found themselves shivering and standing or running in place to stay warm.  Socks quickly fell victim to swamp-foot: sweaty or freezing wet discomfort.  The potty dance became a ritual (most just suffering in silence until the next break rolled around).  Mad dashes to the bathrooms were common in the early hours before major numbers of contestants fell away allowing more time and space to use the facilities.

The tent itself, bathed in glorious Simpsons yellow, had the smell of one too many vinyl Bart dolls and added to the growing smell of body odor and miscellaneous stink.  To caffeinate or not to caffeinate was the question on everybody’s mind.  Those who chose to take energy drinks early-on risked their bodies becoming acclimated to the stimulant and losing its effectiveness over time.  Food became an issue as the meals provided had the potential to be ‘heavy’ (requiring more bodily energy to digest).  Most contestants adopted fruit and water as their means of sustenance while steering clear of the boxes upon boxes of sprinkled, pink-frosting donuts provided.  Homer would have been in heaven.

Thursday afternoon brought about what many of the eliminated contestants considered the hardest test of physical endurance – sweltering heat.  The bright yellow tent became a magnet for the hot California sun and by noon, the temperature inside had reached over 80 degrees.  FOX staff waited two hours before publicly informing contestants that the air conditioning system had blown the fuses in the Hollywood & Highland Center and that they were waiting for generators to arrive to get the AC running.

Carin Shreve holds up her lucky Contestant #1 badge which foretold her subsequent win of the Marathon.

By the time cooling fans were brought in to clear out the heat, the battle had been lost for that afternoon and the tent didn’t cool down until well after 7PM.  Despite those setbacks, the contestants who remained were still full of energy and positive outlooks that they could survive.  Then early Friday morning showed up …

Many contestants could not stay awake during the early hours of Friday morning and a combination of those who were eliminated by FOX staff and those who decided to leave by their own choice rapidly thinned out the numbers in the tent.  Several contestants managed to stay in the competition by learning how to tune out the environment, yet keep their eyes open.  Others chose to stand for long periods of time accompanied by stretching or rocking back and forth to stay awake.  Many debated whether to use their 10-minute break to run to the bathroom and get their heart-rate up or stay in the tent and sleep to rebuild some of their lost energy.  By 6PM on Friday, less than 30 contestants remained.  By Saturday afternoon, that number was down to 11.

“Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” – Homer

As Sunday morning rolled around nearing the 86 hour mark, only two contestants remained – Carin Shreve from Lodi, California and Jeremiah Franco from West LA (who had just moved to LA three weeks prior).  Carin spent her final hours in the tent standing and staying active by throwing an orange back and forth to stay awake.  Jeremiah was seen both sitting and standing to stay awake and despite having a dazed look on his face, was fully aware of how close he was to the prize.  After a third contestant had been eliminated after literally laying down with only four hours to go, Carin decided, “I’m not sitting after that.  I’m going to run, I’m going to do jumping jacks, I’ll dance.  I will dance if I have to…I will do whatever it takes not to fall asleep!”

Jeremiah Franco and Carin Shreve wait out the last few minutes before The Simpsons Ultimate Fan Marathon is officially ended.

Guinness World Records Adjudicator Phillip Robertson was standing in the tent with FOX officials as the Marathon clock was officially stopped at 86 hours, 37 minutes and 2 seconds.  Carin jumped up and down yelling “Yay!” while Jeremiah gave a fist pump and breathed a sign of relief.  They were presented with T-shirts emblazoned with ‘The Simpsons 500 Episodes’ on the front and a declaration on the back that they had survived The Simpsons Ultimate Fan Marathon.  The official Guinness plaque was presented to both winners outside the tent and after a few interviews were conducted, the previous world record holders, Kevin Coon, Faris Hodo, and Victor Lopez, posed for pictures congratulating the record breakers while passing the baton.

“Well, all that money sounds mighty tempting, Marty, but I think I’m going to have to go with the elephant.” – Bart

Carin and Jeremiah will each receive a $10,500 dollar check (including a big novelty check), exclusive Simpsons merchandise and invites to future Simpsons events including the premiere of The Simpsons 500th episode held in Hollywood tonight, February 13th.

Both managed to survive a marathon that was determined not by physical dexterity, but by mental willpower; something on which they both agreed.  However, summing up their feelings about the experience, they left with contrasting viewpoints.  Jeremiah stated, “Before I came in, I was saying this is going to be like the Ludovico Treatment (A Clockwork Orange), that every time I hear The Simpsons theme song from now on, I’m just going to get nauseous.”  Carin said, “I’m just the opposite.  Every time I hear it I’m going to go, Yay, I won!

Kevin Coon, Victor Lopez and Faris Hodo hand over the new Guinness World Record for Longest Marathon Watching Television to Carin Shreve and Jeremiah Franco.

For those who are wondering how Beyond the Marquee managed to get such an inside look at The Simpsons Ultimate Fan Marathon; yours truly was Contestant #33 and kept dutiful tabs on everything that happened while awake.  I lasted for 38 hours before throwing in the towel due to a lack of energy to stay in the game.  I had not originally planned to report on the Marathon, but since BTM staff members are committed to a great story and I had pictures of the event as well, we were glad to bring this information to our viewers.  Beyond the Marquee is grateful to FOX for allowing us this unique opportunity to report on the event.

I think work like this is what they call Embedded Journalism, however, I don’t recall any bed being available while I was in the Marathon.  I hope I didn’t brain my damage.

How most contestants felt during the Marathon ... except not in their underwear.

 

Check out Beyond the Marquee’s earlier coverage of the Marathon here:

 http://beyondthemarquee.com/?p=4022

 

And here:

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