Philosophizing About Contests

Yesterday, we spent most of the day at the Red, White and Brew festival, put on by Harley-Davidson of Charlotte (which, incidentally, is located in Matthews). This latter fact is neither here nor there.

As with many festivals we have attended of late, it was a little sparse – a few tents for vendors hawking their wares, a couple of “sponsors”, and the obligatory food and drink. There was also a pet rescue service on site, which was a bit out of place, but nice to see, if you felt you had enough of the motorcycles and beer.

Ultimately, the whole thing seemed to be about the contest: The store was giving away a Harley. It was a nice looking one, too. Keeping in mind that I am not really into motorcycles, so you may want to realize that it looks nice – it might not be anything more than one that looks pretty.

The really interesting thing came down to the event itself: It seemed that most people, with all the motorcycles, the beer, the food and yes, even some scantily-clad women in bikinis, was all about the giving away of this bike. When we arrived – around 2pm – there was a good crowd. As the giveaway approached, at 4pm, it had thinned considerably.

As best we could tell, it was because many of the people hadn’t qualified to win. You see, as many as 300 people had qualified to be in the drawing, called a “reverse raffle”. In this raffle, all the numbers of those qualifiers were placed in a bucket and drawn one at a time. Like the Survivior finale, you don’t want to hear or see your number here. The last number left wins the motorcycle.

So these 300 qualifiers had come from all over – mostly radio stations, from what I could tell. But they had to be there to win. Then another 40 could qualify on-site. That means only 340 people, at most, had a chance to win. Yet by the time the reverse raffle started, there were only 109 numbers in the pot. That means just less than one third of the people didn’t even show.

It was a beautiful day. I know it had been raining and all, but on a great Carolina afternoon, why not hang out and drink (beer, soda or water) and eat and look at girls in bikinis, motorcycles and puppies, on the off chance you might win a bike? Yet two-thirds of the possible winners didn’t even make it.

The 300 who had a chance up front, I could maybe get – they could have had family emergencies or entered from New York online and couldn’t make it at the last minute. I know people who don’t want to drive outside of the 277 loop – if they were from out of state, it’s understandable. They might have even thought you could win if you weren’t present (it was stated in the rules you had to be there). But of the 40 names that were called from those who registered on site, less than half came up and registered. Less than half, and they were already there? That’s just nuts.

What was perhaps most interesting is watching the reaction of people as the numbers were called. Many were good-natured, offering support to their neighbors and expressing fun frustration that they didn’t win a free motorcycle. But there were some who were generally mad that they didn’t! It was as if they expected to go home with it – cursing and everything.

This raises the question: What makes you expect to win? It seems that many people these days feel they are entitled, even to prizes, and that isn’t quite the question. What is it that makes you believe that you will win, or that you could win?

As I was talking to my wife, she mentioned that she thinks of the number, in effect focusing good thoughts towards winning. I am exactly the opposite. I focus on everything else, perhaps in an effort to distract fate. I’ll think “oh, I don’t want to win, let me look at that cloud”.

It’s ultimately about superstition, and how you believe it will impact the odds.

Do you feel that it doesn’t matter what you do, and that if you are destined or fated to win, that you will do so? In this example, if there are 109 entrants, you will win, regardless of if you think of your number or the clouds rolling by? What if there are all 340 participants, or some number in between? Will you still win?

Does the number you have in your hand mean anything? For instance, when registrants arrived and were given a number, which was then removed from the hat, it was an actual number, like 7 or 13. Does that number impact it, like a lucky number or a form of numerology?

What if you have had a bad day, week or just a horrible life? Maybe what you have worn or done that day? How about if you feel that you are more in touch with the prize – in this case a motorcycle – than anyone else? Do you feel you are more likely, or more entitled to the prize? What if you are less in touch with the prize? Does that impact your odds?

Or is it all an entirely random process, and it doesn’t matter one bit what number you have, what you do up to the drawing or what you think of as the contest unfolds?