The Contest

The Contest
"The Contest"
Seinfeld episode
Episode no. Season 4
Episode 11
Directed by Tom Cherones
Written by Larry David
Production code 411
Original air date November 17, 1992
Guest stars
Season 4 episodes
List of Seinfeld episodes

"The Contest" was the 51st episode of the NBC sitcom, Seinfeld. The eleventh episode of the fourth season, it aired on November 18, 1992.[1] 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.[citation needed] As a result, the word "masturbation" is never used in the episode. Instead, the subject is described using a series of euphemisms, while the meaning of the subject is still made clear to the audience.[2] 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.[3] One euphemism used in the episode is "master of my domain", said by a character when still in the contest. It has become a catchphrase in popular culture, although it is not always used in reference to masturbation.[4][5]



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, "My mother caught me." When asked what, he says, "I was alone," and he goes on to imply that his mother caught him masturbating in her house while reading Glamour Magazine, resulting in her falling over in shock and ending up in the hospital. George says he'll never do that again, and when Jerry expresses skepticism at this, they make a $100 bet 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 harder for men not to masturbate, as it is part of a man's "lifestyle".

Kramer is first out, due to the presence of a beautiful woman in the apartment across the street who walked around naked with the curtains open. The others are distracted by various temptations. George is distracted in the hospital his mother is staying at by another attractive woman who receives daily sponge baths from an equally attractive female nurse. Elaine attends a fitness club which is also attended by John F. Kennedy, Jr. Jerry is tempted by the naked woman across the street and frustrated because the woman he's dating won't have sex with him, since she is a virgin.

The contest affects their sleep, and the remaining contestants suffer insomnia, while only Kramer (who has been eliminated) can sleep peacefully. Elaine shares a ride with Kennedy, and she tells him that she lives near Jerry in order to extend the ride. She then learns that Kennedy wants to meet, and says he'll drop by Jerry's apartment. Eventually, the pressure becomes too much for her and she is the second person to be knocked out of the contest.

While making out on the couch, Marla asks Jerry if they can have sex, claiming that she is ready. However, 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 except Jerry has a good sleep, implying that maybe Jerry won, but there are two later references in the series to George having won. Marla is seen in the closing night segment, thanking John for a great sexual encounter. In a later episode, "The Puffy Shirt", George has a brief new career as a hand model, and is warned about a previous model that ruined his career by deforming his hands through too-frequent masturbation. George replies: "You don't have to worry about me. I won a contest." Second, in The Finale, George is shown to be the victor, but thinking he's about to die in a plane crash, he admits to Jerry that he cheated.


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 initially want to take part because he thought he could not win it. David won the contest.[6] 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.[7] However, Seinfeld thought it was not offensive.[8] The original script was not revealed until the night before the cast read-through.[9] The first version written by David was not as clean as the one later broadcast.[7] The note from the censor claimed that David should not use the word "Snapple".[10] Julia Louis-Dreyfus thought that the episode would never go ahead due to the subject matter.[11] Seinfeld decided it would be better to remove any references to what George actually did.[7] Seinfeld claimed that what was noteworthy about "The Contest" was the "Dovetailing" of the stories.[12] He claimed that it probably would have been possible to have used the word "Masturbation" in the episode (it is notable that in an earlier episode that season, "The Ticket" George says "you must have a good story otherwise it's just masturbation"[13]) although it would have probably ended up not being as funny.[8] Part of the opening scene of the episode contains some of the script that was originally meant to be used in "The Seinfeld Chronicles", the original pilot episode.[9]

"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 similarity in 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.[14]

Rachel Sweet has a cameo role in this episode as George's cousin Shelly. She appears in the scene with George and his mother in the hospital.

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.[15]


"The Contest" is considered to be one of the best Seinfeld episodes, winning several awards and positive reviews from the critics. David won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing in a Comedy Series for the episode.[3] He also won a Writers Guild of America Award for his work on the episode.[9] Director Tom Cherones won a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series for this episode.[16] He was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing.[17] TV Guide ranked the episode #1 on its list of "TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time".[18]

"The Contest" received a Nielsen rating of 13/19, meaning that the episode was watched by an average of 13% of households and 19% of all televisions were tuned to the episode when it was broadcast. Approximately 18.5 million people watched the episode then. 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.[9] 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.[19]

The episode is considered by most reviewers as a success for being able to cover a controversial subject in an inoffensive manner. Jonathan Boudreaux for said, "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."[20] He also said that "The Contest" episode was "one of the series' most infamous".[21] Donna Dorsett from commented on the refusal to use the word "masturbation", saying, "If the word had been used, even once, the show would not have been nearly as hilarious. The episode was totally inoffensive."[22]

James Plath from DVD Town said, "Estelle Harris, as George's mother, is hilarious."[23] 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, his role being played by an actor who is not named in the credits.[24]

Cultural references

This is the second Seinfeld episode to feature Elaine's fondness for the Kennedy family, the first being "The Baby Shower".[9] JFK Jr., who "appears" in this episode, was killed in a plane crash on July 16, 1999. Jerry 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.[8] The original script featured Jerry watching the TV series Flipper. It was changed due to concerns over music rights.[9]

"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, who receives daily sponge baths from a male nurse. Although the winner of the contest is not mentioned, it is implied in "The Puffy Shirt" that George was the winner. However, as the plane is going down in "The Finale", it is revealed that George had actually cheated, therefore making Jerry the true winner. When Jerry asks him why he cheated George simply replies, "Because I'm a cheater!"[9]

"The Contest" is referenced in the "Shaq" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (S02E08), in which Larry David and Shaquille O'Neal watch "The Contest" together. Shaq also refers to this episode as his favorite. [25]


  1. ^ Kytasaari, Dennis (2007-08-09). "Seinfeld (a Titles & Air Dates Guide)". Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  2. ^ Jason Alexander (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: The Breakthrough Season (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  3. ^ a b "1992-1993 Emmy Awards". Infoplease. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  4. ^ Johnson, Jeff (2006-06-05). "Master of My Domain". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  5. ^ Marin, Rick (2000-07-16). "The Great And Wonderful Wizard of Odds". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  6. ^ Kenny Kramer (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: Inside Looks - "The Contest" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  7. ^ a b c Larry David (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: Inside Looks - "The Contest" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  8. ^ a b c Jerry Seinfeld (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: "The Contest" - Yada Yada Yada (Audio Commentary) (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Seinfeld Season 4: Notes about Nothing - "The Contest" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2005-06-13. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  10. ^ Larry David (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: The Breakthrough Season (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  11. ^ Julia Louis-Dreyfus (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: Inside Looks - "The Contest" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  12. ^ Jerry Seinfeld (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: Inside Looks - "The Contest" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Estelle Harris (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: Inside Looks - "The Contest" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  15. ^ Seinfeld Season 4: In the Vault - "The Contest" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2005-06-13. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  16. ^ 1990's Directors Guild Awards official site "". Retrieved on March 14, 2008
  17. ^ Emmy Awards official site Seinfeld 1992 - 1993 Retrieved on March 14, 2008
  18. ^ "TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time" TV Guide; June 15, 2009; Pages 34-49
  19. ^ Robert Wright (2005-06-13). Seinfeld Season 4: The Breakthrough Season (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ISBN 5-035822-197916. 
  20. ^ Boudreaux, Jonathan (2005-05-13). "Seinfeld: Season 4 DVD Review". Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  21. ^ Boudreaux, Jonathan (2005-11-27). "Seinfeld: Season 5 and Seinfeld: Season 6 DVD Review DVD Review". Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  22. ^ Dorsett, Donna (2005-06-03). "Seinfeld, Season 4 (1992 - 1993)". Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  23. ^ Plath, James (2005-05-17). "Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian (The Complete 4th Season)". DVD Town. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  24. ^ Moos, Jeanne (1999-06-23). "JFK Jr. remembered as legend with sense of humor". CNN. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  25. ^ Traina, Jimmy (2005-07-20). "Top 10 Athlete TV Cameos: From Seinfeld's Hernandez to The Jefferson's Reggie". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 

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