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Winner takes all

Inside the prize-filled trophy home of a seemingly obsessive-compulsive contest enterer
By CAITLIN E. CURRAN  |  February 7, 2008


Tom Wethern’s house brims with more prizes than the free-toy wing at the Cracker Jack factory. Two slanted-ceilinged trophy rooms on the third floor of the 100-year-old Lower Allston home more than live up to the billing. The right room — with space for only one person to enter at a time — is overflowing with cardboard boxes, all filled with years’ worth of spoils. The left room feels as though prizes are practically oozing from its walls: there’s a Schecter guitar signed by members of the Cure, an elaborate Super Soaker water gun called a Hydroblade, a radio-controlled car begging to be freed from its box, and T-shirts and hats strewn about like confetti.

A second-floor closet is awash with won cosmetic items: shampoos, face washes, and lotions — lots of lotions. “This is one thing they give away all the time,” notes Wethern, patting the skin above his long Brillo-ish beard. “Which is good — once you hit 40, your skin starts to go.”

Downstairs, a manila folder bursting with congratulatory prize notices — the scrapbooked remnants of a lifetime of contesting — sits on a coffee table. Outside, a large front porch houses one of his biggest spoils, a shiny, nail-polish-red Vespa.

The house is a shrine to Wethern’s winnings, a product of the obsession with contesting that he’s had for the past 30 years. When he was 12 years old, living off the coast of Georgia on the remote Saint Simons Island, Wethern — who sometimes refers to himself in the third person as Weth — began entering contests. He found them in magazines or comic books, the few connections he had to the outside world. The contests propitiously offered free gifts and trips; all he needed to snag them was a card with his name and address on it, a stamp, and a little luck. It was like gambling via the United States Postal Service.

So Weth cast his contest rod, and eventually reeled in something: a briefcase and a calculator from Apple Computer Inc. They weren’t exactly the envy of the other kids in junior high, but they possessed catalytic powers. Soon, contesting was his ongoing hobby.

And it wasn’t just mail-ins. After moving to Boston to attend MIT, he mastered the art of winning radio phone-in contests — a process that’s two parts mathematics and one part kismet. Weth kept tabs on radio giveaways. He knew former WFNX Boston Rocks host Juanita always gave away five tickets to upcoming concerts; sometimes he even knew how many phone lines the station had, and which caller would be the winner. So he worked out a formula.

“If I knew they had three lines for calls, and I wanted to be the 11th caller,” Weth explains on a recent Saturday evening at the Middle East restaurant, “I’d try to be caller number three or five first, so that I could keep calling back until I was 11th.” (I don’t follow this logic at all, but then again I didn’t go to MIT.)

With the growth of the Internet also came a surge of Web-based contests. That’s when the amount of time Weth spent contesting “exploded,” his husband, Steve Gisselbrecht, says a week later, as we sit in their sun-filled living room. The pair have just opened a new batch of prizes, including a hockey puck from the Versus cable network and a T-shirt that reads “I feel a connection.”

“A decade ago, I was entering about 50 contests a month by mail,” recalls Weth. “Now it’s seven or eight a month by mail, and about 50 a day online.” Weth spends one or two hours a day, on his lunch break or after his audio-engineering job, perusing a set of bookmarked sites, including

“Weth might otherwise be a compulsive gambler,” Weth explained in a recent e-mail. (See what I mean about that third-person thing?) “Entering contests gives the same sort of adrenaline rush that gambling does,” but without the risk of financial loss, he says. “Now that most all contests can be entered online, Weth doesn’t even spend that much on postage anymore.”

The Internet ignited his contesting career, and he continued to win: a hairy-armpit keychain, a freezer with 242 pounds of Dreyer’s ice cream, a trip to the Soul Train music awards in Los Angeles. Eventually, Weth had amassed more than the two-bedroom Mission Hill apartment he shared with Gisselbrecht could handle. “For every awesome prize I won [like the recently awarded $400 toward concert tickets of his choosing],” Weth recalls, “I also got hundreds of T-shirts and hats.” His increasingly enormous collection of winnings soon became a subject of domestic arguments.

“We fought constantly about stuff,” says Gisselbrecht. “I’d say, ‘I don’t want 47 baseball caps when neither of us has ever worn one!’ ” Still, he understood Weth’s compulsion. “This is stuff he feels a connection with,” he says. “So, we had to buy a ridiculously big house so we didn’t have to break up.”

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Winner takes all
i'm so happy this made it to press! nice job caitlin. weth and steve are one of my favorite music scene couples. i'm so happy people can enjoy a little of their special-ness. Weth Wins! We all win! aliza/
By aliza shapiro on 02/06/2008 at 7:24:07
Winner takes all
Finally an article I that makes me laugh as opposed to making me angry/frustrated/depressed (i.e., not politics or government). What a unique individual -- congratualtions to his partner for his patience!!!
By Debbie on 02/07/2008 at 11:48:44
Winner takes all
I say.....why not donate some of that stuff to a homeless shelter or something. I also say thank goodness for call display for phone in contests! It's easier to get rid of the prize pigs that way! Just think of all of the useful things you could do with your time!
By Nasty nessa on 02/08/2008 at 9:32:47
Winner takes all
I really admire your patience. I have won tickets to movies and odds and ends mostly concerning things my two daughters was interested in!But did I rede you have Trips as in plural to Hawaii? I would definitly be interested in that lol my oldest daughter just had a baby boy so yes that makes me grandma,She is married to a marine Oh how I would like to visit them. Hawaii? What is the deal with winning one of those trips for me.Guess a number 1 to 10 lol. I saw you on tv this morning here in Cincinnati, Ohio. Thats big when you get tv time its like almost being famous.I could'nt imagine winning all the things that you have, One (LUCKY) man!!!!!!
By Denise on 02/23/2008 at 9:43:51
Winner takes all
please help win
By rere on 02/23/2008 at 3:22:32
Winner takes all
none at this time
By rere on 02/23/2008 at 3:23:17
Winner takes all
could you please send some of your good luck my way thank you and congradulations on your wins
By rere on 02/23/2008 at 3:25:13

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