Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Contest” (S4, E11)

Welcome to Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch! On a regular basis, Justin Rozzero, Aaron George, Andrew Flanagan and Jordan Duncan will watch an episode of TV’s greatest sitcom and provide notes and grades across a number of categories. The goal is to rewatch the entire series chronologically to see what truly worked, what still holds up today, what feels just a bit dated and yada, yada, yada it will be a great time. So settle into your couch with the cushions flipped over, grab a Snapple and enjoy the ride!

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Best Character

Justin: They were all really great, but I have to go with George for sure. He was the whole reason the contest came about and the absurd reason why was pure Costanza. Toss in the sponge bath theatre and his eventual fight with his mom over picking her up dinner so he didn’t miss the show was so good.

Aaron: Out of sheer sympathy it has to go to George. The shame and humiliation that followed him treating his body like an amusement park is the stuff of legend. This isn’t just a case of George being the funniest one here, this episode IS George. It takes a special kind of glamorous man to masturbate in his parents’ home at three o’clock in the afternoon but only George Costanza would be caught by his mother and constantly berated for the rest of the episode (and possibly the rest of his pitiful life). I would not want to be at Festivus later that year. By the time he’s accusing Jerry of stealing his socks and tossing Tic Tacs at his mother we are witness to a sad broken man who, despite festive dinosaur sheets, is destined to live his life alone, with a trail of lies and destroyed lives behind him. All hail the King.

Andrew: I’ll go with Elaine again. I’ve always found her JFK, Jr. obsession endearing, and I really enjoy her sheepishly revealing that she’s out of the contest. You could talk me into any of the four main characters for best performance, but Elaine’s is my favorite.

Jordan: George wins here. The poor guy got busted by his mom, his friends have no sympathy (Jerry asking, “Glamour??” with a hint of disdain is awesome) and his mom is clearly a piece of work. Plus, without this situation happening, the entire episode premise doesn’t happen. His fake concern for his mom just to catch a peep show is exactly what his character is all about, throwing Tic Tacs at her and ignoring her pleas for food in order to catch a glimpse of shadow boob.

Best Storyline

Justin: The contest. Possibly the easiest decision we will ever have while chronicling the series.

Aaron: Obviously it’s the contest. The four subplots woven in are equally brilliant and together they make a masterpiece.

Andrew: The Contest itself is a clear winner. It was an original, audacious idea, and I’m still impressed that they managed to not only get it onto network television, but make an excellent episode out of it. The obstacles they came up with for each of the four characters are really enjoyable, and make the plot more than just an excuse for jokes about jerking off. This is brilliant stuff.

Jordan: Elaine joining the gym. It opens up so many possibilities and we may get a spinoff about the aerobics instructor. OK, I’m lying. It’s the contest. Duh.

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

Justin: Should George have skipped the sponge bath show to get his mom dinner? Probably, but not because she was hungry. But because sometimes you need to lose the battle to win the war. Get her dinner this time and be in the clear for future showings to be enjoyed at your leisure.

Aaron: Who had the most obstacles in their path towards “winning” a masturbation contest. The easiest far and away was George. While he’s probably lonely, he keeps subjecting himself to watching the sponge bath so if he really wanted to he could remove the arousal from his life. He’s just too stupid/desperate to do so. I think next easiest was Elaine. She was a victim of horrible luck but all she had to do was not keep going to that class. So it comes down to Kramer or Jerry for who had the hardest time in the contest. They both have to live next to the naked woman (who quickly destroys Kramer) but Jerry hands down has the most difficult time. Not only does he have to navigate the nude waters of the woman across the street but he’s got this hot virgin ALMOST going all the way with him. This leads me to believe that we’d need to come up with an entirely new color of blue to describe what his balls look like. Poor Jerry. He deserved better.

Andrew: Would you allow George to participate in any bet that relies upon the honor system? Obviously, the contest in question doesn’t allow for any more direct verification, so the only other option would be to exclude George entirely. And it probably wouldn’t go over well to tell him you don’t trust him to be truthful. But considering all the evidence of previous episodes, I don’t think I’d put money on the line if I’m relying on George’s honor to keep him from cheating.

Jordan: Now, I don’t know how he approached her or introduced himself, but I feel like Kramer made a huge mistake. He winds up dating, and sleeping with, the naked lady across the street. That’s not the issue, Kramer has needs. The issue is him WAVING across the street to Jerry’s apartment. Did the woman see this? If so, she has to immediately realize that Jerry likes to gawk at her as she saunters around her apartment in the nude. She probably thinks Jerry is a lecherous pervert now, all because Kramer had to wave.

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

Justin: George…and himself. A healthy, well satiated relationship. Doesn’t matter where he is, he clearly isn’t afraid of public affection. If only he showed Susan the same type of PDA, they may have survived the firing. Relationship Grade: 10/10

Aaron: If you can’t confide in a woman that you’re involved in a harmless contest with friends then there’s no hope or future in the relationship. She doesn’t put out AND doesn’t care about your interests? No thank you, Marla. Relationship Grade: 0/10

Andrew: I don’t like Marla being so grossed out by the contest; where is her sense of whimsy? I’m with Elaine, that lady is a wacko. Jerry dodged a bullet there. Kramer, meanwhile, continues to be the man men want to be and women want to be with. Relationship Grade: 5/10

Jordan: Jerry and Marla comes to a tragic end. Marla being a virgin is not wrong, her choices are hers to make. However, she shows herself to be QUITE the hypocrite, being disgusted with Jerry and the gang having a contest…then immediately throwing away her virginity because JFK, Jr. was a celebrity. And now he’s DEAD. Good one, Marla. Relationship Grade: 1/10

What Worked

Justin: George telling the story to open the episode was magic, including the reactions of everyone else; Glamour Magazine; The development of the contest was perfect; Kramer blurting out “no, a thousand” for Elaine’s stake always makes me laugh; The nudist colony conversation was a good one; Kramer cashing out within a day was great and his money slam may be one of the funniest scenes in the show’s history; The great Estelle Costanza debuts; George’s distracted conversation with Shelly during the sponge bath was amazing and I have no idea how Estelle kept a straight face; Jerry dating the virgin during the contest even made me frustrated, great angle there; The cut-aways of all the characters in bed before the breaks were well done; All the euphemisms were brilliant and became very well known in pop culture; Estelle and George’s argument was amazing, including the Tic Tac toss and Estelle’s pained “I’m hungry!”; Wheels on the Bus vs. Kramer’s porn narration; The bitchy argument between pent up George and Jerry capped by Elaine sheepishly bowing out of the contest and George’s money sniff; Jerry blowing his chance with Marla after all that build up; Marla then snagging John John was a good payoff across the board, as was Kramer partying with the naked neighbor;

Aaron: Oh boy this is going to be long. First let me say that the most brilliant thing the episode has going for it is that it deals with a masturbation contest and never once feels crass or dirty. It walks the finest of lines and does so with the grace that only the greatest sitcoms can. Scratch that, no one else could have done what they did here. There’s so much good here I don’t even know where to begin. Doing these rewatches has really shown me how much I’m a fan of great juxtaposition. The three scenes where we see each of our friends in bed, with varying levels of comfort/happiness is an amazing scoreboard for this game we’re playing. I also love Jerry’s painful rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus,” next to Kramer’s joyous song about the naked woman. Kramer nearly sneaks this episode out here too. He’s brilliant right from the moment he insists that Elaine put up $1,000 to be in the contest. His impassioned plea for Jerry to not ruin their boyhood dream of having a naked woman in a nearby window seeps into our collective unconsciousness in a way I’m not sure any sitcom has before or since. His delivery of “I’m out!” is absolutely perfect despite the fact that no one seems to mind that this man has JUST jerked off. Elaine is also flawless in her state of starstruck lust. We get it when she assaults the aerobics teacher. The assault is such a perfect contrast to her smug confidence which lit up the beginning of the contest. And then there’s poor Jerry who we talked about above. His rant about his particular obstacles is amazing and telling Marla that he doesn’t care about the sex is just another one of those moments we’ve all had at some point, lying through our teeth to hopefully get that sex we so desperately need. When Jerry finally sits down to watch the naked woman you can see he is a man who having been through a war is now at peace. It’s a rare glimmer of hope, which is quickly crushed by them watching Kramer bang the neighbor.

Andrew: I’ve always been impressed by the way they never actually say the word “masturbation” in this episode, and mostly avoid using euphemisms, using context and innuendo to get the point across. But as impressive as that is, “treating your body like an amusement park” is one of the greatest euphemisms I’ve ever heard. The acting is great across the board in this one, and I really enjoyed the various sex-crazed characters. Kramer going out of the contest almost immediately is perfect for the character, and a classic moment in the series. And I’ve always loved Jerry’s performance after Marla leaves, going from a blank stare of frustration to deliberately sitting by the window. And lest we forget, George’s mother is fantastic in this one, giving a strong start to one of the greatest recurring characters in sitcom history. You really can’t say enough good things about this episode, it’s just about perfect.

Jordan: Estelle Costanza, ladies and gentlemen! In any other episode, her debut may earn her best character, but this one was a Tour de George. Still, she is incredible and it makes me wonder why it took us so long to introduce her. The opening scene sets the tone of the entire episode perfectly, with all four of them talking about masturbation without using the word, and without being cheesy about it OR dirty about it. It’s a fine line and they balanced it perfectly. The guys not wanting Elaine to be in, and the shaving comparison is hilarious. Kramer going out almost immediately is one of the most classic moments in the history of the show. The shots of those still in the contest restless at night while those who are out slept soundly was funny. The sponge bath stuff was good, and George sprinting to the hospital then refusing to give his mom food, tossing Tic Tacs at her. Poor Jerry getting led on by Marla and tormented by the naked lady. Master of my domain becomes an immediate pop culture catch phrase.

What Didn’t Work

Justin: It all worked. All of it. Although Marla’s overreaction to the contest always bugged me.

Aaron: Oh boy this is going to be short. Elaine’s line in Jerry’s apartment about going to aerobics class is some of the most obvious ADR I’ve ever heard.

Andrew: It’s a little strange to watch this episode with the knowledge that JFK, Jr. would die a few years later, but that’s not really the show’s fault. “King of the County” doesn’t make any logical sense, but it does sound funny when George says it.

Jordan: Who in the world would want to touch Kramer’s money after he was out? He wasn’t gone very long at ALL, and he handled that money immediately after handling…well…himself.

Key Character Debuts

Estelle Costanza

Shelly Costanza

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– “My mother caught me.” – George “Caught you? Doing what?” – Jerry “You know…I was alone..” – George

– “First she screams, “George, what are you doing?! My God!” And it looked like she was gonna faint – she started clutching the wall, trying to hang onto it.” – George “Man…” – Kramer “I didn’t know whether to try and keep her from falling, or zip up.” – George “What did you do?” – Jerry “I zipped up!” – George “So, she fell?” – Elaine “Yeah. Well, I couldn’t run over there the way I was!” – George “No, I guess you couldn’t have…” – Elaine “No, I wouldn’t think so.” – Jerry “…done that…” – Elaine “So, she fell, and then she started screaming, “My back! My back!” So, I picked her up and took her to the hospital.” – George

– “Well, I’ll tell you this, though – I am never doing.. that again.” – George “What, you mean, in your mother’s house, or all together?” – Elaine “All together.” – George

– “Wait a second, wait a second. Count me in on this.” – Kramer “You?” – Jerry “Yeah.” – Kramer “You’ll be out before we get the check.” – Jerry

– “We have to do it. It’s part of our lifestyle. It’s like, uh…shaving.” – Jerry “Oh, that is such bologna. I shave my legs.” – Elaine “Not everyday.” – Kramer

– A TV episode about the comical side of masturbation was groundbreaking

– Jerry is still dating Marla, The Virgin

– “Oh, the virgin?” – George “Yeah.” – Jerry “Any, uh.. progress, there? What’s the latest?” – George “Well, I got my troops amassed along the border – I’m just waiting for someone to give me the go-ahead.” – Jerry

– “I’m out!” – Kramer “What?!” – Elaine “Yeah, I’m out – I’m out of the contest.” – Kramer

– “I don’t understand you. I really don’t. You have nothing better to do at three o’ clock in the afternoon? I go out for a quart of milk, I come home, and find my son treating his body like it was an amusement park!” – Estelle

– “Too bad you can’t do that for a living. You’d be very successful at it. You could sell out Madison Square Garden. Thousands of people could watch you! You could be a big star!” – Estelle

– “Master of My Domain” quickly became a pop culture euphemism

– “I can’t take it anymore! She’s driving me crazy! I can’t sleep, I can’t leave the house, and I’ here, I’m climbin’ the walls. Meanwhile, I’m dating a virgin, I’m in this contest – something’s gotta give!” – Jerry

– “No, no, no, no. You can’t! You can’t! This is something that comes about once in a lifetime! When we were boys, looking through our bedroom windows, we would think: “Why can’t there be a woman out there, taking her clothes off?” And now that wish’s come true, and you want to throw it away?!” – Kramer “Look, I’m sorry…” – Jerry “No, I’m not gonna let you do it, Jerry.” – Kramer “Kramer, get outta my way!” – Jerry “No, no, no. Don’t do it. Don’t do it! For my sake! God knows I don’t ask you for much! Now, come on. Please, Jerry. Please! I’m beggin’ ya! Please! Come on! Please!” – Kramer

– “But are you still master of your domain?” – Jerry “I am king of the county. You?” – George “Lord of the manor.” – Jerry

– “Alright, Ma, I’ll talk to you later.. Nothing, I’m, I’m watching, uh, Tiny Toons here, on Nickelodeon… It’s, I-I like kid shows. They have a very innocent, wholesome quality. Okay, alright, I’ll talk to you later. Bye.” – Jerry

– “All you got is instant coffee? Why don’t you get some real coffee?” – George “I don’t keep real coffee in here, I get my coffee on the outside!” – Jerry

– “Where did you get those socks?” – George “I don’t know.” – Jerry “I think those are my socks!” – George “How are these your socks?!” – Jerry “I don’t know, but those are my socks! I had a pair just like that with the blue stripe, and now I don’t have them anymore!” – George “Oh, yeah, that’s right, well, you fell asleep one day on the sofa and I took them off your stinkin’ feet. They looked so good to me, I just had to have them!” – Jerry “Yeah, well, they’re my socks!” – George “They’re my socks!” – Jerry

– “I figured you’d cruise. At least through the Spring.” – George

– “Contest?! A contest! This is what you do with your friends?” – Marla “No, it was just a bet. I mean, it actually started with George and his mother…” – Jerry

– “He left with Marla, the virgin?” – Elaine

Oddities & Fun Facts

– George’s parents still work

– John F. Kennedy, Jr. does aerobics

– George’s Tic Tac toss to Estelle was ad libbed

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

Justin: This was pretty much our first flawless episode. A real grand slam. Perfection across the board. The concept, the pacing, the delivery, the dialogue, all of it. It immediately became a legendary pop culture tour de force and solidified Seinfeld as an iconic show. It took a fairly taboo subject and added real levity and humor into the mix in a perfectly woven story of nonsense. Easily a pantheon episode and in the running for GOAT. Final Grade: 10/10

Aaron: It’s such a cliché to gush about this one but holy shit it’s good. For me it’s neck and neck with “The Library” for the best episode so far. I think I’ll give this one the edge. I’m done repeating what people have been saying about The Contest for over twenty years. It’s revolutionary in its brilliance and it’s clearly a first ballot hall of famer when it comes to the greatest sitcom episodes of all time. Watch it. Love it. It’s like masturbation for your brain. Final Grade: 10/10

Andrew: They don’t get much better than this. This episode was an instant classic, with a ground-breaking storyline that still holds up beautifully today. This isn’t just one of Seinfeld’s best episodes, it’s one of the best in television history. Final Grade: 10/10

Jordan: The Bubble Boy, The Chinese Restaurant, The Library. We’ve had some true classics so far, but this one even trumps them. I feel like this is an episode you show people who have never seen Seinfeld. Everyone is involved, everything works, it doesn’t feel dated because of technology (I guess maybe online porn would eliminate Kramer even sooner if anything), it’s just perfect. Final Grade: 10/10

Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.