The Contest

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"The Contest" was the 51st overall episode of the NBC sitcom, Seinfeld. The eleventh episode of the fourth season, it aired on November 18, 1992. In the episode, George Costanza tells Jerry Seinfeld, Elaine Benes and Cosmo Kramer that his mother caught him unaware while he was masturbating. The conversation results in George, Jerry, Elaine and Kramer entering into a contest to determine who can go for the longest period of time without masturbating.

The episode was controversial when broadcast because NBC thought that masturbation was not a topic suitable for prime time television. As a result, the word "masturbation" is never used in the episode. Instead, the subject is described using a series of euphemisms to avoid offense, while the meaning of the subject is still made clear to the audience. The writer of the episode, Larry David, won the Primetime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing in a Comedy Series" for his work on the episode. One euphemism used in the episode, "master of my domain", became a catchphrase in popular culture, although it is not always used to refer to masturbation.


The fourth season of Seinfeld has a continuous story arc, in which Jerry and George are writing a television pilot for NBC. In the previous episode, "The Virgin", Jerry had started dating Marla (played by Jane Leeves), a woman who is a virgin.


The episode begins with Jerry, Kramer and Elaine dining at Monk's Cafe. George enters and says that, "My mother caught me". When asked what, he says, "I was alone", and goes on to imply that his mother caught him masturbating in her house, resulting in her falling over in shock and ending up in the hospital. After George's lack of self restraint is criticized by Jerry, George decides to make a $100 bet with him over who can go the longest without masturbating. Kramer then joins the bet, as does Elaine. However, Elaine is forced to bet $150, because the men claim that it is easier for a woman to not masturbate, as it is part of a man's "lifestyle".

Kramer is first "Out", due to the presence of a beautiful naked woman across the street. The others are distracted by various temptations. George is distracted in the hospital his mother is staying in by a beautiful woman who receives daily sponge baths from a beautiful female nurse. Elaine attends a fitness club which is also attended by John F. Kennedy Jr.. Jerry is tempted by both the naked woman across the street and Marla the virgin, whom he is dating.

The temptation affects their sleep, with only Kramer sleeping peacefully, whereas the remaining contestants suffer insomnia. However, the three remaining participants still claim to be the "master of my domain". Elaine tells Kennedy that she lives near Jerry. She then learns that Kennedy wants to meet her outside of Jerry's apartment. Eventually, the pressure becomes too much for her and she is the second person to be knocked out of the contest.

Marla asks Jerry if they can have sex. Jerry then tells Marla about the contest, prompting Marla to leave in disgust. Elaine believes that Kennedy has changed his mind and not bothered to see her. George then tells Elaine that Kennedy did come, but missed her and went with Marla. They then see Kramer with the naked woman across the street. That night, everyone has a good sleep, implying that nobody won. Marla also loses her virginity to Kennedy, although all that is ever seen of Kennedy is his naked arm.


The episode was written by Larry David. Kenny Kramer claimed that there actually was a "Contest" in which David and some friends of his took part, although he did not take part because he thought he could not win it. David won the contest. When David came up with using the idea for an episode of Seinfeld, he did not talk about it with Seinfeld for a considerable time, because he thought the episode was impossible for him to pitch. However, Seinfeld thought it was not offensive. The original script was not revealed until the night before the cast read-through. The first version written by David was not as clean as the one later broadcast. The note from the censor claimed that David should not use the word "Snapple". Julia Louis-Dreyfus thought that the episode would never go ahead due to the subject matter. Seinfeld decided it would be better to remove any references to what George actually did. Seinfeld claimed that what was noteworthy about "The Contest" was the "Dovetailing" of the stories. He claimed that it probably would have been possible to have used the word "Masturbation" in the episode, although it would have probably ended up not being as funny. Part of the opening scene of the episode contains some of script that was originally meant to be used in "The Seinfeld Chronicles", the original pilot episode.

"The Contest" is the first episode to feature Estelle Costanza as an on-screen character. Estelle Harris, who played the character, had not seen Seinfeld before she auditioned for the role. The cast and crew commented positively on the similar appearance between Harris and Jason Alexander, as it made it more believable that their characters could be related. Alexander's real-life mother looks similar to Harris.

There are two deleted scenes in "The Contest". One features Joyce, the teacher of Elaine's fitness class, in the opening scene talking to Elaine, Jerry and Kramer. The second features George and Estelle Costanza in the hospital, where the female patient has been moved to the room next-door after Estelle complained about her nakedness.


"The Contest" is considered to be one of the best Seinfeld episodes, due to it winning several awards, achieving high ratings and postitive reviews by critics. David won a Primetime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing in a Comedy Series" for the episode. He also won a Writers Guild of America Award for his work on the episode. Director Tom Cherones won a Directors Guild of America Award for "Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series" for this episode. He was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing".

"The Contest" received a Nielsen Rating of 13/19 rating, meaning that the episode was watched by an average of 13% of households and on 19% of all televisions were tuned to the episode when it was broadcast. Approximately 18.5 million people watched the episode. The first repeat of the episode gave Seinfeld its highest ratings up till that point, with a 20.1/30 Nielsen Rating. It also received only 31 complaints from viewers, despite the subject matter. There were worries from advertisers who did not want to advertise during the episode due to the topics that were being discussed. However, most regular advertisers did not broadcast adverts during the show because the series did not have good ratings at the time.

The episode is considered by most reviewers as a success for it being able to cover a controversial subject in an inoffensive manner. Jonathan Boudreaux for said that, "The Emmy-winning script by Larry David introduced the brilliant euphemism "master of my domain" to our lexicon and helped the series to truly become must-see TV. We know what the episode is about, but the script never explicitly says it. "The Contest" effortlessly takes a potentially incendiary subject and renders it utterly inoffensive yet hilarious". He also said that "The Contest" episode, "one of the series' most infamous". Donna Dorsett from commented on the refusal to use the word "masturbation", saying that, "If the word had been used, even once, the show would not have been nearly as hilarious. The episode was totally inoffensive".

James Plath from DVD Town said that, "Estelle Harris, as George's mother, is hilarious". John F. Kennedy Jr. appeared to have had no problem with appearing as a character in the episode, although he himself did not appear in the show, this his role being played by an actor who is not named in the credits.

Cultural references

This is the second Seinfeld episode to feature Elaine's fondness for the Kennedy family, the first being "The Baby Shower". Seinfeld claimed that he had never heard of the song "The Wheels on the Bus" (which he sings while watching Tiny Toon Adventures) before recording the episode. The original script featured Jerry watching the TV series Flipper. It was changed due to concerns over music rights.

"The Contest" is referenced in other Seinfeld episodes. The first being "The Outing", where the plot is that Jerry and George are mistakenly outed as gay. During the episode, when George visits his mother, there is a male patient in the hospital, whom receives daily sponge baths from a beautiful male nurse. Although the winner of the contest is not mentioned, it is implied in "The Puffy Shirt" that George was the winner. However, in "The Finale", it is revealed that George had actually cheated, therefore making Jerry the true winner.

"The Contest" is referenced in the "Shaq" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which Larry David and Shaquille O'Neal watch "The Contest" together. It also features in the animated sitcom Family Guy; in "Jungle Love", Peter Griffin pays the villagers of a South American tribe to re-enact "The Contest". The episode inspired two Seinfeld-themed porn films. The first, The Bet, released soon after the episode was broadcast in 1993, featured three men and a woman in a similar contest. The film became a source of amusement in the Seinfeld offices. A second film called Hindfeld was released the following year.

External links

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