In entertainment, an awful lot of stuff happens behind closed doors, from canceling TV shows to organizing music festival lineups. While the public sees the end product on TVs, movie screens, paper, or radio dials, they don’t see what it took to get there. In Expert Witness, The A.V. Club talks to industry insiders about the actual business of entertainment in hopes of shedding some light on how the pop-culture sausage gets made.
Held annually throughout the ’80s and ’90s and subject to insane amounts of frothing rapture from kids everywhere, the Nickelodeon Super Toy Run gave one lucky winner five minutes to run rampant over a toy store. Whatever they took home, they kept, and that was that. It was a commercial-hungry kid’s dream come true, and a great bit of brand synergy between Nickelodeon, Kay Bee Toy Stores (now the essentially defunct KB Toys), and Toys “R” Us, depending on the year of the run.
The envy of all their peers to this day, Douglas Berry and Andrew Moose were two Super Toy Run winners. Berry ran all over a Hawaiian Kay Bee Toys in 1993, while Moose destroyed a Sacramento area Toys “R” Us in 1995. The A.V. Club talked to them about the process, their sweet winnings, and whether or not they hooked up their friends.
The A.V. Club: You guys both won, but how did you originally enter?
Andrew Moose: I saw a cardboard advertising stand at a Kids “R” Us, which was kind of like a Baby Gap for children’s clothing. I was at the store with my parents, and they were buying clothes for my newborn baby sister. I was running around being a little ADD child while my parents were at the register, and I saw the display. I remember very clearly that I filled out seven entry forms in the short time frame my parents were in line. I was able to get those seven entry forms in, and I completely forgot about it until seven or eight months later when I got the call.
Douglas Berry: I actually just asked my mother to send off a postcard to enter, and she sent off one and we forgot about it as well. But I remember I was talking to her and thinking whoever wins that is just going to be the luckiest kid in the world.
Nickelodeon called us about eight months later, and my mom actually thought they were a telemarketer service trying to sell her a vacuum cleaner or something. And they said, “No, no, no, ma’am. This is Nickelodeon Studios. We’re calling to inform you that you won the grand prize.” My mom started doing a little math in her head. She started to believe. She said she actually almost hung up on the grand prize call.
AVC: How did she tell you?
DB: They actually called during school hours. They called around 10 a.m., and once they got her settled down, they said, “We want to surprise him. We’d like this to be a thing we’re all in on. So while he’s at school, we don’t want you to say anything. Just wait ’til he comes home, and we can all celebrate together.” And my mom, I don’t think she could resist the desire to share that with her son, so as soon as they got off the phone, she thought about it, and I think about an hour later, she drove to school and she called me out to the hallway. And of course any time your mom calls you out in the hallway in the middle of class you think, “Uh oh, what happened. Is everyone okay in the family?”
AVC: Someone died.
DB: I went to a very, very small school, too. There were only 28 kids in my class, and it wasn’t a private school or anything. That was the entire county’s population in that grade. So it was a huge deal, and there was really no class for the rest of the day because even the teachers couldn’t keep order.
AVC: And was it just kids hitting you up for toys?
DB: There was definitely a little bit of that. I think mostly it was just initial shock that something like that had happened to such a small community. I think the kids—and even the teachers—were a little bit bewildered. They didn’t know how to handle it. There were just repeated discussions about where I’m going, and what I’m going to do, that sort of thing.
AVC: And then Andrew, you got a phone call as well, right?
AM: I had just gotten home from school. I was in the other room when my mom got the initial phone call. It’s one of the sharpest memories I have from my childhood years. I was watching an episode of Power Rangers. The episode escapes me obviously, but I remember getting called into the other room. And this is a story that my mother has told with great glee at many cocktail parties and family gatherings. She gets the phone call and she answers and the voice on the other end of the line says, “Are you the mother of Andrew Moose?” And she always laughs telling the story, because her kneejerk response was to say, “Oh my God. What has he done?” She thought it was either the police department or the school calling about something I’d done. But she gets the whole gist and gets told what the situation was. She calls me into the room and she tells me, “Andrew, this is going to be one of the most important phone calls of your young life.” And sure enough, as I got on the other end of the line and found out what was happening, my knees got pretty weak. I had to sit down. I was in a state of disbelief.
I called my two best friends right after that, after the initial shock and jumping around the house died down. They both flat-out called me a liar. They totally didn’t believe me at all. They just verbatim said, “You are the biggest liar in the world.” And I didn’t have any proof yet, but the next day—and I don’t know how this happened—I was in class and over the PA system, there was an announcement. I can’t remember what was said, but the gist of it was that I had won this contest and that Nickelodeon was going to be providing a bunch of stuff to the school. The memory fades more and more, but some guy came to the school and did an assembly with exciting science experiments that wowed the whole school and all that. And the school made a big deal out of making a carnival day out around the run for my classmates. When that day came, they got a double-decker bus. Nickelodeon brought my classmates out and gave them signs with my name on them. It was quite believable after that.
AVC: Douglas, you went to Hawaii for your run. How did that work?
DB: I actually got doubly lucky because that was the year they sent the winner to Hawaii. I don’t know what possessed them to change for that one year because I think every year before ’93, they’d sent them to the Mall Of America in Minneapolis. It was the largest mall in the country. So that would have been great and all and obviously no one would ever think twice about taking that great trip. But Hawaii, my parents were pretty thrilled about it.
As far as the school aspect, we really didn’t get any kind of stuff like that. That sounds awesome that Nickelodeon went to that extent for your school, Andrew, because my school really did everything itself. They put up a huge map of Hawaii in the entryway. They had a huge banner that said, “Congratulations, Doug.” But that was the extent of it other that just the talk caused by someone you know winning a major contest. Nickelodeon invested everything in plane tickets, so there wasn’t a lot on the school side of things. Still, my town made a big deal out of it just because we were such a small community.
I guess the only real thing that happened is that Nickelodeon sent a representative to us to have all the papers signed. And they did that in school, so that was kind of cool.
AM: I was quite the celebrity for that one week because I had gifted my entire third-grade class a day off from school to go off to Toys “R” Us for the day.
[Note: Andrew’s run starts at about 3:50 below. —ed.]
AVC: Douglas, you ran first, so let’s talk about your experience.
DB: Well, I got the call at the beginning of the school year. And then we actually flew out in February, so there was probably about a six-month time waiting period. I have a very small nuclear family, so it was just my dad, myself, and my mother, though the trip was actually for four people. My brother was in the armed forces at the time in Colorado and was unable to go, so I ended up taking my best friend, who was a little bit older than me. That definitely made it a little bit more special, being able to take someone who wasn’t part of the family because that’s a pretty awesome present for him.
AVC: Do you remember how long the trip was?
DB: It was six days and seven nights. We were there for almost an entire week.
AVC: In your video on YouTube, Nick has you running through tires and stuff like that for the commercials. Were two of those days committed to Nickelodeon and the rest was free time or something like that?
DB: I actually have a really good memory of all of this because that was probably the hardest I ever worked as a kid. As a kid, you don’t do a lot of manual labor.
It was actually four days of filming for the commercial. I know it’s only a 60-second commercial, but it was four days of filming, and it was probably five to six hours a day of camera work. They would move us around to different spots for the shoot, and then we would have to shoot it about 20 times. This guy Peter was the set director, and he’d always want one or two more takes. And he’d repeat that about 10 more times. He would need that for a backup in case they lost that footage. For little old me, that was kind of laborious, not having any work experience.
It was probably about 20 hours of work total to create a 60-second commercial, but looking back on it, that was all pretty amazing as well. I was just very tired of repetitively doing the same thing over and over and over.
AVC: Andrew, you filmed in your hometown. How was that different?
AM: Mine was about the same in terms of duration from the initial call to when the actual date took place. I got the phone call in the springtime, so I think it was around April or May, and it was cold when the actual day of the run took place. I think it must have been in November or December.
I guess the first hurdle was finding a Toys “R” Us that was willing to participate in this whole charade because it was a huge ordeal for any particular department store to host this type of event, and I imagine it was a huge disruption for the employees and the manager. My hometown is Sacramento, but we had to go maybe 15 miles outside of the area to a town in Citrus Heights that had a Toys “R” Us that agreed to it.
There was tons of preparation involved in the sense that Toys “R” Us is a huge department store for a little 4-foot child to be pushing a big shopping cart through at high speed. I was actually pretty shocked—and I still can’t believe to this day—but they allowed me to rearrange the store into a format that would be the most advantageous for me. Imagine the store being blocked into four quadrants and then reduce those four areas into one block that contained all the stuff that I wanted. I was pretty shocked that they facilitated it like that. That allowed me to really cover ground in a short time period.
There was tons of preparation work in terms of getting the store ready to go and going out a couple days beforehand to actually check it out and meet some of the people who were going to be on the Nickelodeon production side of things to tell me what to expect and all that jazz. My entire family came out, my grandparents on both sides, my aunts, uncles. It was definitely the big headline in my family for that year.
AVC: That speaks to one of the big questions that people have about the Toy Run. Did you guys scout? Had you been casing Toys “R” Us locations and Kay Bee stores trying to pick what you wanted?
DB: Well, in the interest of full disclosure, some of the shots from the commercial that look like they’re from the toy run are actually staged, and I guess that makes sense because you don’t want a cameraman swarming around a kid when he’s racing through a store. We actually shot that stuff the day prior, so I had a really good idea of the layout. Then Nickelodeon went way above and beyond, just like with Andrew. I didn’t get to rearrange the store, per se, but, for instance, if there was something on a high shelf that I wanted, they would bring it down. If there was something heavy that I wanted, they would just put a tag to it that I could grab and throw in the cart. My dad insisted on me picking up this giant Barney plush doll that was about four feet tall. I asked him why he wanted that, and he said, “Because it’s $500, so get it.”
Really, the only stipulation they placed on me was, “Don’t spend too much time in any one section.” You could just rack up $45,000 if you just spent the entire time in video games, but they wanted more footage that that. Other than that, though, they let me have a full survey of the store, where do I want empty carts, how many carts do I think I’ll need, stuff like that. Any objects that I specifically wanted easy access to. In that sense, there was a full scouting mission.
I think they actually shut the store down. I’ve never thought about this, but Andrew brought up a good point about store disruption. I have to believe that they shut down the store for at least a couple of days to get it all prepped. It wasn’t at a mall, so it was a smaller store.
AVC: You mentioned carts. Was there a limit? How did you get them?
DB: There were as many carts as I wanted all throughout the store. As soon as one was full, there was another one right there. You could just grab and keep tearing through.
AVC: Kay Bee was a smaller store than a Toys “R” Us. They probably had a lot of the same items, but did you feel like you had the choices that you would have at a Toys “R” Us?
DB: Everyone insisted that it was going to be at a Toys “R” Us, and so I had to show them the paperwork because Toys “R” Us was just the biggest name, I guess.
Something I didn’t realize is that toys are very dense. All the kids were just telling me, “put your arms out and just rake toys off the shelf into your cart.” And I actually tried that during testing. I put my arm out and I tried to test running down. I was 11 and Andrew was 9, but I was small for 11. There was no way that I could move more than three or four boxes with my arm out. It would just pull my arm back. So all that stuff went out the window.
Really as dense as the toys were and as many as there were, even in a small store, I don’t feel like it was appreciably different from Andrew’s experience. I actually got to the line with about 45 seconds left, and I felt like I had gone through pretty much the entire store. I’m sure I could have gotten more if I would have spent the extra time, but as it was, I definitely didn’t feel like the store was too small.
AVC: Andrew, what was your strategy? In your Reddit AMA you said you went through the store the day before with Mike O’Malley and picked out all the video games you wanted and stuff.
AM: My experience was pretty surreal when I think about. It was the night before the actual event, and I was really started to get nervous, like, “Oh my God, this is real and it’s actually taking place.” The last couple hours before closing, my mother and I and Mike O’Malley and another official from Nickelodeon were wandering around the store. My parents were talking some details with the Nickelodeon guys, but Mike was talking to me.
With things like Douglas referenced, the big ticket items, those were things that would obviously need two adults to pick up and bring up to the front register, so they would just bring out a big cardboard tag to represent that. So that was the time when I was like, “Okay, those.” I remember I got four bicycles. Four easy pieces of paper that you just had to pick up and throw in the cart. That was really where I should have gone nuts.
AVC: Well, even four bikes seems a little ridiculous.
AM: I’ll never forget wandering around with my mother in the last few hours before the store closed. Anybody who shopped at Toys “R” Us in the ’90s would remember that the video game section was just kind of an empty aisle with a bunch of pieces of paper in little plastic pockets on the wall, and you’d take that piece of paper to the register and you would purchase it and then you would go pick up the game from the security cage in the front. So that was when I selected all the games I wanted, and it was an absolute surreal experience. Any video game that relatively piqued my interest, piqued anything, if it caught my attention, I grabbed it. I had this big phone-book-size stack of pieces of paper, each one representing a video game. I’ll never forget this one woman looked at me and saw the stack of paper and then looked at my mother and just made that judgment, like, “This is the worst parent in the world.” She thought my mom was just taking me on a wild Richie Rich shopping trip or something like that.
Mike O’Malley really was a huge help to me, though. It was strange. It was an adult talking to a child like he was talking to another adult, giving me strategy. Like, “Okay, the actual rules are, if things fall on the floor, that’s just as good in the carts.” I couldn’t believe that he was like, “Literally just knock things on the ground.” On the actual day of the run, I was so overwhelmed with the fanfare going on that I didn’t remember that until I was in the third or fourth aisle. Then, I just started punching things off the shelf and knocked action figures on the ground and things like that. It was a mess, really.
AVC: Douglas, did they tell you the same thing?
DB: Yeah, from what I’m hearing from Andrew, it sounds like very much the same thing.
Anything on the ground, I got to keep. Video games were a little different. Since it was at Kay Bee, there weren’t tags. I actually had to rake them off into the cart. So that was probably a little bit more difficult.
Mike O’Malley was really awesome. Anytime that I felt a little bit anxious about the situation or a little too energetic, he calmed me down and looked at me in the eye and talked to me.
AM: I sort of had to do that with the video games, too. Just for filming. I picked up the piece of paper, but on the actual day those all translated into the games themselves laid out in boxes. I had to grab 12 at a time and drop them in the cart. They made me work for it.
AVC: If you were just raking games off the shelf, Douglas, did you end up with multiple copies of things? Did you come home with 10 Sonic The Hedgehogs?
DB: Games are very lightweight, so it was easy to reach back and rake them off into a cart. With larger stuff like Lego boxes, that wasn’t going to happen. I did end up with a bunch of copies of the same game and Kay Bee and Toys “R” Us were both really great about exchanging them. It wasn’t a problem. They were still new and wrapped. I got some looks too when I would bring eight games at a time to exchange.
AVC: It’s awesome that you could exchange them.
DB: Oh, yeah. It wasn’t a problem. They were brand new games, so technically they hadn’t even been touched.
AVC: And you didn’t need a receipt? Or did they give you one?
DB: In the early ’90s, receipts weren’t such a big deal. It was a different era.
AVC: Andrew, you mentioned you got four bikes. Can you tell that story?
AM: I got a BMX bike, a mountain bike, a low-rider bike, and then another generic kind of mountain bike. The BMX bike was stolen out from underneath my nose when I was at soccer practice. Another bike was taken out of a backyard when I was at a slumber party at another friend’s house. Sold the low rider.
Those were just an example of the big-ticket items that were very easy to throw in the cart because of the nature of how the store and Nickelodeon set it up. There was also a combo pool and air-hockey table and ping-pong table. There were several Power Wheels. Big playhouses. Stuff like that. Thinking back on it, I really should have just gone to town on those. If my dad had put that in my ear, I would have thought about that. But I didn’t think about that at all.
AVC: Were you guys going for stuff you wanted, or more for value? And were you shopping for other people?
AM: I definitely had an idea going in of what stuff I wanted. I wasn’t going to waste my time with other stuff. Having said that, I have two little sisters. I think at the time they were 6 and 3, so my parents wanted me to get them a handful of things. I got them a hot pink Barbie Lamborghini Power Wheels car that they drove around for many years around the neighborhood and a couple playhouses and things for them, and I think a couple dolls and Barbies and things like that. I strategically made sure that I went and tagged that area real fast in a non-specific way.
I also had a couple best friends who asked me to get them some action figures and stuff like that. For my inner circle, I made sure that I got a couple things, but I think Douglas would agree with me that once news got outside of your friend group, all of a sudden people would be like, “You’re my best friend.” People wanted to get things from you, and that was an interesting experience as a child.
DB: Absolutely. I had kids that I barely talked to ask me for stuff. I knew everyone in my school because there were only about 200 kids in my school, but I had kids that never talked to me coming and chatting me up.
For example, dodgeball was so huge back then—I don’t think it’s played anymore. If a school even has recess, I doubt they play dodgeball. But we were playing dodgeball and I have this really distinct memory of every single kid, as soon as they caught a dodgeball, they’d just pass it to me. Like, “Here. I hope I get a toy someday for this.” I didn’t realize it at the time and when you’re that young, you really have no idea how to handle that kind of attention. But every second I was in school there was someone coming up to me and wanting to talk to me and be really good friends with me all of a sudden.
AVC: Did you talk to your parents about that?
DB: I don’t really recall having that conversation with my parents. I think it was so beyond what normally happens to an 11-year-old or a 9-year-old that they were along for the ride just like I was, and they had no idea how things were going to shake out.
AM: I remember having that talk with my mom because I was very, very overwhelmed once the news started breaking out in my class and my friend group and my soccer team and my friends’ parents. I remember my mom very clearly talking to me, but not in a heavy-handed way. I mean, obviously I hadn’t won the lottery. It wasn’t that much. But she told me there were going to be people asking for stuff, and my friends were going to want things from me and I was able to see that in practice right in front of me. I was able to thankfully deal with it as much as I could and not be too put off by it. But at the same time, it was a little bit surprising.
AVC: Was Nickelodeon strict about the five-minute time limit?
DB: They didn’t really give me any time updates. Like I said, I actually crossed the line early. I had no idea how much time I had left. That was unfortunate, because it would have been cool to do the 10-second countdown.
It was five minutes, but they weren’t strict about anything. The only thing Nickelodeon was strict about was the commercial shoot because they absolutely needed that. Everything else was very, “We’ll work with you on this and if it doesn’t work for you, we’ll figure something else out.” They were phenomenally accommodating for anyone, not just an 11-year-old. They did the same for my parents. They went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable in our lodgings and everything, and they even took us to a luau that they paid for. It was way above and beyond what I would expect even for someone giving me a trip. They did everything possible to make sure we had the best time.
AVC: Did they give you guys outfits to wear? Douglas, it looks like you’re wearing Reebok Pumps in the commercial, and Andrew, you have a racing suit.
AM: They made me dress in what is hanging up in my closet in a plastic bag right now. It was like an F1 black-and-white checkerboard shirt with a flag with my name on it.
They really played up my name. They got the biggest kick out of that and just thought it was the coolest thing in the world. So there was a tag on the left that said Moose in big red letters. I thought that was pretty cool.
DB: It is a cool name.
For me, the only outfit they gave me was the shirts and the hats. They’re visible in everything. Bright yellow shirt with a neon orange hat. The shorts, as incredibly stylish as they were, were mine. Actual Pumps back in the day were black, and they had an orange basketball on them. I had the cheap L.A. Gear knockoffs, which were fine.
They actually gave out probably 100 or 200 shirts to kids in the audience. If you watch, at about 20 seconds deep in the video, you can see a bunch of kids chanting to get the same shirt I was wearing when I did the toy run.
AVC: You both ended up with about $10,000 worth of merchandise. How did you actually get the stuff? You couldn’t bring it back on the plane with you from Hawaii.
AM: I got mine the same day. I was actually shocked how quickly they got it all over.
As Douglas said, the biggest thing in terms of the strictness of Nickelodeon was with the actual commercial shoot. That was the most fatiguing part of the day in terms of actual takes over and over again. With the actual morning, waking up and getting over there and all the prep and the actual event itself, the commercial shoots, and then getting home, I was the most exhausted kid that there ever was. I remember going into my parents’ room and flopping onto their big queen-size bed and passing out into a deep, deep childhood nap for a couple hours. I remember very acutely that my mom came to wake me up and I was like, “Was all that a dream?” And she was kind of scratching my head and rubbing her hand through my hair and she was like, “You might want to come outside right now. There’s a truck out in the driveway.” I immediately perked up and ran outside, and there was an enormous UPS truck backing up into our driveway. It was a team of four or five guys just unloading piles and piles of boxes onto our driveway. It was pretty fast delivery. I was shocked.
AVC: And then you put it all in the house and just looked at it like, “Holy shit?” What did you do?
AM: I can’t remember. I think I must have been so shell-shocked from having it all there that I can’t remember exactly. I think I played a lot of video games in that first week, and it was just blur of fun and having my friends over.
My parents were the real superstars in all of this because they were so willing to let me go through with this. They brought it up years later, but one of the things a lot of people don’t realize is that they had to pay taxes on all the actual toys themselves. So they had to pay a pretty good chunk of change for the actual sales tax. Anytime I’d be acting up and being a shoddy teenager, they’d be like, “Remember when you were in third grade, that we let you go through with that?”
But they allowed me to have all kinds of sleepovers and have my friends over to enjoy all the spoils. It was real fun for a couple months afterward.
AVC: What about you, Douglas? How did you get your stuff?
DB: They actually shipped mine across the ocean and then took it by train, so it actually took probably close to two months to arrive. Maybe three months. I think I got my toys in May, right around my birthday. That actually worked out pretty well.
I have a very good memory of them coming, but I don’t know if that’s actually from the pictures I’ve seen afterward. When the toys arrived, there were two or three UPS trucks outside. We have a fairly large living room, but it was just 3 feet of toys all the way across the living room on every piece of furniture we have. Thank goodness we didn’t have any pets that were indoors at the time because they would have been completely confused.
I don’t know how true this is, but we got a report that the train that had all the toys on it derailed. And I can’t complain, but from what I remember I only got about $6,000 worth of toys because some of them were lost or looted. I’m not sure about that because it seems like I got all the toys. It’s really hard to look at the video and say, “Did I get that? Did I get that?” That’s just what I remember my dad telling me, and that might have been why it took so long for it arrive but again, at that point, $6,000, $9,000, whatever. I still ended up giving probably at least half of my toys away to charity and stuff just because, even as a selfish kid, how am I going to play with all that stuff? There’s just no way. If I got five of the same Lego sets, there’s no way that I’m going to need all that stuff, so I ended up donating a little bit of it. Some of it is still in our basement at home at my mom’s house, though.
Like Andrew said, there was a lot of video game playing. I remember I got probably $400 worth of Domino Rally, so I was setting up dominoes all over the house.
We were also given $1,000 as part of the spree, and my parents were like, “We’re going to take that for taxes and stuff. You don’t need to spend $1,000. That’s ours.”
AVC: What else would you have bought at that point? You’re 11, and it’s not like you needed another bike.
AM: I was very fortunate in that regard because I also received the same $1,000 in cash. Even though my parents would have been totally justified in accosting that and putting it toward the tax bill, they didn’t. They treated it as an opportunity to teach me about finances and about saving money and opening up an account and getting a line of credit, which is actually one of the biggest favors they ever did me. They opened up an account in my name when I was younger so they could build that up for me. They wouldn’t allow me to touch the $1,000 until I was 18.
It was a learning experience and also kept me grounded. Like, “Guess what? You had this amazing thing happen to you, but you still have responsibilities in life. You still have to think about the future,” and that kind of thing.
AVC: Douglas, do you know why they would have shipped you the toys from Hawaii? Why wouldn’t they just send you stuff from a fulfillment warehouse by your house or something? It just seems insane.
DB: Again, it’s hard to be upset about it in retrospect because the toys still completely encompassed our very large living room. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have more than that.
AVC: Do you remember any of the toys being particularly good or particularly bad?
DB: I was always into science as a kid, so I really had my eye on a telescope and microscope kit, like, “I can look at the moon.” They were probably like $30. Of course, they were complete crap. Good telescopes run several hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. But when I got all the toys home, that was one of the first things I was really, really interested in. I remember it just having a plastic finder ring that immediately snapped. I still got to look at the moon, but my dad had a nice pair of binoculars, and they were way better than the telescope. I actually ended up investing in a really nice telescope later in life, and now I get the views that I wanted with that little one.
That was the only thing that really stuck out for me as being cheap. I mean, I was just tearing through the store. There was so much stuff to grab that I wanted. Looking back, there wasn’t a lot to be disappointed with just because if something didn’t live up to my expectations, the next 50 toys I picked up after that would probably be better.
AVC: And if you didn’t want it, you could donate it, and someone would be happy to have it.
DB: I think probably the things that got played with the most other than the video games were—well, in the ’90s, race-car tracks were really huge, where there were slot cars and you could pull a trigger and the car would be electrically charged and they would go around the track. And this is when they were getting sort of more advanced, and so they had cannons for the cars to drive over the top of and stuff. That got a lot of use. And then Domino Rally as well. That got a lot of time in my house. I don’t think my parents liked that very much.
AVC: Andrew, what about you?
AM: I would second that my parents were definitely very frustrated by the high density of Hot Wheels tracks that lined my hallways and went all around my room. Having the amount of resources that you were able to get from this toy run, you were able to create some really worldly race sets.
In terms of actual toys that were lemons, nothing really jumps out at me. I would reiterate that even if there was something that induced the feeling of mild disappointment, on to the next. I had 50 things besides that, so what are you wasting your time for? That seems like the definition of spoiled little brat first-world problems. Get over it. Put it in the pile and move onto the next.
Anyway, the Hot Wheels got a lot of use. The bikes, the Power Wheels. We were cruising the neighborhood for many years. My sisters got a lot more enjoyment out of those because I outgrew them pretty quick in the next few years, but they really liked them for years to come.
AVC: Any closing thoughts? I will say that it’s absolutely crazy that you guys did this. Every kid everywhere was so jealous of you.
DB: It was life-changing, but there was some jealousy associated with it after I got back. There were kids that didn’t want to talk to me anymore because they thought that I was a spoiled brat. I understand in retrospect, but at the time, it was kind of hurtful.
Really, I think the thing that really stood out to me was just how incredibly nice the Nick staff was. You think of corporate culture now, and it’s easy for me to say this as someone in his 30s, but you think of corporate culture as kind of a money grab. I’m sure Nickelodeon was in it for the money as well, but everyone I talked to really seemed like they wanted to be there working with me and not just because we were in Hawaii. They went so far out of their way to make me feel comfortable. If I was feeling overwhelmed, if there was a camera light in my face that was too bright, they always went the extra mile to figure out what they could do about it. Occasionally, I just had to man up and deal with it, but I was just completely in shock that these people who didn’t know me were just over the moon. They were doing anything in their power to make my day better. I think that instilled in me some values of kindness that have persisted in some of my younger middle years, if you want to call them that.
AVC: Andrew, what about you? Any closing thoughts?
AM: First off, shout out to Mike O’Malley, if he ever reads this interview. You were the man. You definitely helped me out in terms of getting me into a level headspace.
And, to reiterate again, the Nickelodeon staff was just fantastic in terms of facilitating this experience for a very overwhelmed little kid. They really went above and beyond to make sure it was one of the most fun days of my life.
I could wax poetic for a lot longer than anybody would care to read, but it also helped me figure out a lot about who my close friends were. The people who were close to you beforehand, before any of this happened to you, if it was still unchanged afterward, you knew. It’s the kind of life lesson that sticks with you as you learn about people’s intentions as you meet them and think about what possible motivations people might have when they meet you.
It was an overall fantastic experience. I was thankful that my parents really kept me humble throughout all this, and they prevented me from becoming a potentially very spoiled little shithead if they had been less hands-on about it. They were the real MVPs of all this. They went above and beyond to make me comfortable, and I have no complaints at the end of this.
To this day, I still can’t believe it happened. Though, I think I said this in my AMA, but I would trade it all for a lottery win if the universe wants to smile on me in the future.
AVC: You already had your one big win. That was it.
AM: It’s all been downhill since then. That was the peak. No, I’m just kidding. I’ve had a great life. I’ve had a blessed time on this planet so far, and that was definitely the coolest moments of my childhood, hands down.
To this day, I still wish I could have gone on Guts, though. I wish I could have negotiated that.
DB: Yes! Oh my God. That was my favorite show.
AM: We could have been like, “Keep the $1,000. Let me get a shot at the Aggro-crag.”
DB: Mike O’Malley was literally the coolest person. Of any celebrity I could have met at that age, Mike O’Malley was it for me. Guts was my favorite show. I loved watching him, and he always seemed so energetic. His personality in real life was an exact match for his personality on Guts. There’s nothing that wasn’t genuine about that guy that I saw through my entire time on the set and in Hawaii. He actually hung out with me a lot away from the event just to have fun and relax. And maybe it’s because he was on vacation and he didn’t have any other responsibilities, but he was awesome. He went way out of his way to not just be a host but to be my friend while I was there.
My only regret is that I don’t have contact with him anymore. I was so happy when he finally made it big again on Yes, Dear and all that. It was really cool to see him back because he has an amazing personality.
AM: I second everything he just said. Mike O’Malley really went above and beyond to pull me away from all of the administrative part of the contest. It was just me and him and that really cooled me off. He made sure that I was having fun with it and wasn’t worrying too much. He was great, wherever he’s at. I hope he’s doing well.
AVC: What do you guys do now?
DB: I’m the CEO of a large toy company.
No, I’m joking. Right now, I’m an instructor for nursing for hospitals in the Greater Bay Area. I go to hospitals and train staff to prevent injury in the workplace. My background is actually in psychology, so it’s tangentially related but not necessarily directly related. My career aspirations are to work with kids, specifically emotionally disturbed youth and teenagers, and I’ve got a lot of relevant work experience with that. But this job opportunity came along, and it’s a really good one, so that’s what I’m rolling with now.
AVC: Andrew, what are you doing?
AM: I ended up going to school for kinesiology and I am currently a personal trainer and CrossFit coach, which I’ve been doing for the last five years. My employers are selling the facility that I’ve been working at for the past few years, but they’re selling it to me, so in the next six months, I’ll be transitioning away from the CrossFit and moving into a more general development facility. So hopefully in the next six months, I’ll be a small business owner.