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Sega Spuds
"I Dived Into Mashed Potatoes for Some Video Games Once"

by Raina Lee of 1+Up

I once jumped into a 2,000-gallon vat of cold instant potatoes for video games and cold hard cash. It was the most disgusting, physical sensation I have ever felt.

One Wednesday morning, Kim and I headed down an empty parking lot next to Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood for the Sega Spud 2K dive, a publicity stunt for the Dreamcast. Kim went to write a blurb about the event, but we had really come with the intention of winning the grand prize- a Dreamcast, games for life, and $1,000! You had 45 seconds to dive into four feet of spud and collect four plastic letters (S, E, G, and A, of course) that were probably stuck strategically to the bottom. We didn't have any strategy except to go ape-shit.

There were few other divers on a weekday morning, except for the strange crew of Hollywood Boulevard walk-ins and out-of-work gamers (us). We were handed raffle tickets and milled around for an hour, an interminable amount of time to listen to the fake radio personality-type MC's- some guy from KROQ and a certain annoying blue-haired Sega publicist. This obnoxious terror was known for wearing ripped-black-fishnets-on-a-daily-basis as well as his ability to do the splits while being a karaoke mic hog. (Some PR people are really terrible)

They finally announced the potato-divers, and my name was called. My competition was a motley sort--a writer from Gamefan, a 12-year-old Mexican kid, a young blond woman who worked at a local cafe, and one of those street performers who spray paints himself gold/ silver pretending to be a "robot." The promotions people gave us bright orange jumpsuits, swim caps, ear and nose plugs, and directed us to our changing tents. We all had on these criminal outfits except for the gold robot guy, who wanted to dive wearing nothing but thin white boxers and a white T-shirt. Certainly, this was a guy we did not want to see soaked in wet spud, and neither did the promoters. However, they could not convince him to spare us by covering up . While we waited, the blond girl mentioned that she hoped the potatoes wouldn't ruin her crystal meth high, and continued to babble in a cracked-out manner.

I took a peek at the mashed potatoes; 50-pound bags of instant flakes were ground in plastic 5 feet-deep pools. The spuds were pungent and formed a discolored crust. The concoction had the consistency of puke, colored by occasional streaks of yellow butter.

Before the diving, the MC's got audience members to compete in timed head-dunks. After staying "under-potato" for as long as possible, the expressions of the dunked faces were of disgust and bitter triumph. It was disgusting, but they got free stuff.

And then the spud diving commenced. The cameras rolled, the on-lookers cheered. The first to go was the 12-year-old boy, who was able to scrounge one letter. The second diver was the crystal meth girl. She had a crazed look in her eyes, but I guess the crank helped since she was also able to find one letter. She dived in and out of the potatoes, and seemed to enjoy just bobbing up and down.

It was my turn. I secured the nose clamps, ear plugs, and goggles, none of which could have prepared me for the nastiness to come. I climbed up onto the slippery ladder, already covered in spud. I was been prepared to go ape-shit for those letters. I plunged feet-first, and the wet COLD potatoes went up to my neck. I froze from physical repulsion. Mashed potatoes are not supposed to be COLD! What the hell! From that moment I knew I would not take home the grand prize and there would be no shopping spree in my future. I had envisioned light, fluffy, warm potatoes, much like a heated mud bath. But the reality was that the potatoes were slimy, grainy, and wet. I could barely breath; paralyzed, the potatoes quelled any reflexive movement. I originally had this scheme where I wouldn't have to submerge my head since I could find the letters by scanning the floor with my feet. I'd just pinch them with my toes, and bring them up to the surface. I quickly realized that this was not like picking up pennies with my toes in the swimming pool. The letters were surely stuck to the bottom, and I would have to go deep "under-potato."

My attempts to dive headfirst were futile, because every time I went under I felt the world grow cold and black. I couldn't make it more than a foot under, buoyed by my natural desire to live. The goggles and plugs were useless; the thick sauce went up my nose and ears, it went down the wrong pipes. I gagged on potatoes, and on a melodramatic note, thought it very possible that I might die. I might never see sunlight again from underneath these potatoes, and die in front of this cheering crowd, on network TV. But these potatoes would not be the end of me!

I calmed myself, got my head well above-potato, and spat out the spud. I remembered that fifth place would not be so bad. I'd still go home with a Dreamcast, fifteen games, and an awfully strange story. As the on-lookers chanted, I feigned determination and swam around the spud, biding the rest of my 45 seconds. It was a relief to be out.

The fourth diver swam along the pool floor and found all four letters. The guy was at least six-feet tall and had lots of determination; I give him props for sticking it out. After all my useless struggling, I deduced that the successful potato diver would have be big, tall (5'11" +) and most likely male; not some small-boned 5'4" girl (me). I cried unfair disadvantage!

The least clothed of us--the gold-faced Robot guy--dived with white boxers, surfacing with three letters, taking second place-$500 and a Dreamcast. He would definitely be the envy of his robot street gang. The rest of us took home our Dreamcasts and games. Which was not shabby at all. The package came with NBA 2k1, Shenmue (which I gave to Kim), two fishing games (don't ask why) and some other lamer stuff. Since I already had a Dreamcast, I gave the system to my cousins and made them swear that I would always be their favorite cousin. Yes, I could buy familial love with games! It worked because Dreamcast became their favorite system, and still is. Viva la Dreamcast!

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to shower until hours later because Kim made me go to Ross and K-Mart. The cold potato flakes were trapped in the crevices of my ears, my hair, and nose. I was starting to feel crusty all over, like a dehydrated mermaid. I spent the day leaving flecks of spud all over Kim's nice car (sorry and thanks Kim).

The whole experience was like one of those ridiculous "Double Dare" scenarios--enduring improbable amounts of slime or food for money, prizes, games. It's worth the stuff and the strange experience. Though I did develop an aversion to mashed potatoes for weeks afterwards. All in all, I learned a few things that cold November day-when diving into mashed potatoes, keep your mouth shut and your ears closed, because nothing can ever quite prepare you for diving into a pool of cold, instant spuds!

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