Nothing like being ‘a finalist’

So, I should be presenting some hard-hitting analysis of the events that have taken place in the past 30 days. We had a mass shooting for the history books. Hurricanes have been lining up and pummeling our ocean-front properties in rapid succession. That North Korean guy has been shooting off his mouth and his missiles.

Our president is firing back with all the power his thumbs can muster. And, to top it all off, we have athletes taking a stand by taking a knee during our national anthem.

All of that stuff is important, sure, but I want to tell the world about a piece of mail I received late last week. It began, “Congratula­tions Robert Woelk, You Are A Finalist In Our 2017 Toyota Prius Hybrid Giveaway!”

That’s right, every word was capitalized, and the statement was concluded with an exclamation point. It was practically shouting the news.

There was a cute little box with a pull tab attached that, when activated, displayed a glowing red number that replicated the digits on my first TI-30 calculator. The award letter called it a V.I.N. Gauge ™, and I was invited to scratch off the circle below it to check the number inside. The word “Congratu­la­tions” with another exclamation mark after it was just above the dot, so I scratched with great anticipation. Sure enough; the numbers matched. I was a guaranteed winner. Do I need another car? No. Would I take it? You bet.

I was instructed to call a toll-free number and supply a code to see whether I had won the hybrid or one of three other prizes: a seven-night Royal Caribbean Cruise with airfare for two; a Samsung 70-inch LED 2160p Smart-4K Ultra High Defini­tion TV (I am honestly not sure what should be capitalized, but, once again, every word was); or a New Apple iPad Air.

A comma-challenged note added: “Also just for being a winner you are also (yes, “also” was used twice) going to receive up to a $100 Walmart Gift Card but you must respond within seven business days or this will be given to an alternate recipient.”

Well, there was no way I wanted an alternate recipient to receive my Walmart Gift Card. Perhaps I should call immediately, I thought. The letter included a V.I.P. Winning Number. The note was signed, “Regards, General Manager.” I couldn’t make out his name from his signature.

I flipped the letter over, and at the top of the page, I was told that if I called within 72 hours and RSVP (what happened to my seven days?) I would also receive a complimentary three-day, two-night vacation to locations such as Orlando, Bahamas, Vir­ginia Beach, Las Vegas and other locations…while supplies last. Who can know how long these destinations will last? Vegas is likely already off the list.

Again, I was given a guarantee that I had won one of the grand prizes. I decided to peruse the fine print below the picture of the Prius, just to, you know, make sure I qualified.

I skimmed through the stuff about some restrictions applying. I scanned over the jargon with its assorted whys and wherefores. And, there it was. Two-thirds of the way down the lengthy legalese, I spied the odds of winning each prize.

I started with the grand prize. The odds of winning the Prius were one in 430,000. OK. I’d settle for the big-screen TV. Chances of scoring the Samsung, however, were one in 430,000 as well. So, how about the Apple iPad? That would be better than nothing. But, guess what. The odds again were 430,000 to one.

I reminded myself, however, that I was guaranteed a prize. So, what was left? The vacation. Sure enough, odds of winning that coveted Caribbean cruise were a cool 429,997 out of 430,000.

Now, I’m no math genius, but the figures don’t lie. In order to win the car, the TV or the iPad, I would need to be luckier than nearly half a million people.

Furthermore, the rules state that I would need to attend a presentation, a “fun way to promote travel,” with someone to whom I am married or with whom I am cohabiting in order to claim my prize.

So all things considered, I decided to let this offer expire, even though the fine print clearly showed that my most likely prize was worth a cool $1,900. I suspected my accepting the gift was going to come with a higher price tag.

Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro High School.