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You Gotta Know When to Hold em

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A great man once said, “I love it when a plan comes together”.  Those simple, yet poignant words were spoken week after week by John “Hannibal” Smith as leader of “The A-Team”.  OK, so they’re not words from Twain, Frost or Dickens, but hey; words are words and a point made is a point made.  I choose to follow the gospel of Hannibal when it comes to beautifully executed moments of TV entertainment.  The moment that I specifically speak of this week is none other than the “Blackjack Challenge” from this week’s episode.

In order to comprehend the feeling of satisfaction/relief that a Big Break Producer feels when a challenge goes exactly as planned, you must understand how much preparation goes into the challenge actually making it to the “competition” stage of the show’s production.  Months prior to any cameras rolling or even the show’s location having been selected, these challenges and show plans are conjured up by me and the other members of the production team as we prepare for the eventual filming of the next Big Break season.  In order to determine if a challenge will work, all possible scenarios and storylines that could erupt from each challenge are investigated as we place them within the framework of the series.  Once the location for the next Big Break has been selected and we have the opportunity to walk the golf course in search of locations for every challenge for all ten episodes (usually happens 6-8 weeks before filming occurs), we can then make the determination as to whether the challenge(s) can be executed as we initially planned.  Once they pass that test, the challenge is officially added to the show plan and will then wait its turn as its spot in the series approaches.  So really, any specific challenge lives for many months before the first actual shot is struck, and we can see whether it actually works out as we had envisioned.

The Blackjack Challenge was actually an idea that had its first go around during the first Reunion series of the Big Break (Big Break VII: Reunion).  The challenge format itself was slightly different from that seen in this week’s episode, but the results were just as entertaining; (Ashley Gomes won the challenge in a playoff).  So, when this whole money concept came about for Indian Wells, we immediately thought of bringing back some variation of the Blackjack Challenge from Reunion.  The one catch was, we needed to replicate the “card-grid” in order for the challenge to even have a chance of being successful.  What made this task even more challenging was that the original sketches of the grid from Reunion did not exist anymore.  So, what did I have to do?  I had to pull from our tape library the actual show itself from the Reunion season and piece together the dimensions and card order based on the video and audio during the challenge.  Thankfully, all the necessary info was there and I was able to construct an accurate, to-scale replica on a sheet of paper which would become the blueprint for our props-department (copies of that piece paper is what you saw Carl, David, “Shank” and Russell looking at during the challenge, btw).

So, after these many months of much effort, I’m sure you can understand how excited we were as the two Blackjack matches unfolded.  Of course we were thrilled to see a Blackjack right out of the gates…but to watch Carl bluffing David…well, that’s what we were especially giddy about in that moment.  The structure and nuances of the challenge were happening and that itself would have been rewarding enough until…Russell.

Oh, Russell.  As if we couldn’t have been happier with the entertainment value of the first match, we were then privy to “the decision”.  Now, what made me so unbelievably happy about this moment was that yet another major aspect of the challenge structure was playing out perfectly right in front of our own eyes.  The challenge was won…and Russell didn’t know it.  And then for him to think so hard about what he was going to do…I’m not sure we could have imagined this moment coming together any better than how it actually did.  I love it when a plan comes together.

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