Thursday, November 4, 2021

Microstory 1749: Balance Board

Life is all about balance, ya know? Don’t eat too much fat, but don’t eat none at all. Playing video games is fine as long as that’s not all you do. We don’t ever stand on one leg, or keep one eye shut while we’re driving. A lot of people like the cold, and a lot prefer the heat, but just about everyone is at least fine in mild temperatures, right in the middle. That’s really what it is, isn’t it? When in doubt, stay in the middle, and be ready to move to either side as new information comes along, metaphorically speaking. Balance has been no more important to me in my life than it is today. I actually am standing on one leg. My right eye is closed, I’m playing a driving simulation—not a racing game, but one that simulates following the rules within typical traffic scenarios—and I’m expected to finish something they call a lard shake with a crazy straw. To make matters worse, the room goes from scalding hot to near freezing in a matter of minutes. If I pass this last challenge, I’ll win the million dollars, but if I don’t I’ll have to pay as much. That’s why they call this show Balance Board. Right now, the board is at plus or minus a million. By the end of the contest, that number has to go back to zero, whether it comes out of my pocket, or the show’s budget. What I’m doing is betting on myself. In the first challenge, I was only asked to bet a hundred dollars that I could walk on a straight line of tape on the floor. No big deal, right? If I had lost, it would have been over, and I would have owed, but I would have been all right. Believe it or not, people have lost that challenge, and nobody wants to be that contestant. It’s so embarrassing, and those people usually never get over their tainted reputation.

The second challenge is the same thing, except instead of tape, it’s a balance beam; just as narrow, but with a smaller margin of error. You’re still only betting 200 bucks at that point, but obviously the bets get higher, and the challenges get harder. You can stop anytime you want, of course, as long as you’ve not already begun the next stage, and that happens all the time. It’s a risk in more ways than one. Betting on yourself again shows that you have confidence in yourself, but if you fail, it can have a negative impact on your life. And I don’t just mean socially. Employers look at your Balance Board record, and take it into consideration when deciding whether you would be a good fit for the organization. Giving up is worse than going for it and losing in most people’s minds, but not everyone’s. The only way to truly be safe is to win the whole darn thing. It’s rarer to get this far, and even rarer to succeed, but if you do, it pretty much sets you up for life. It’s a national phenomenon, but most contests aren’t broadcast nationwide. Every city has its own local programming. They only put you on the national circuit if they think you’re gonna go far, or if they want the attention you’ll receive to make things even more stressful for you. For me, I’m sure it’s the latter reason. I’m sure I looked like an underdog to them. They lucked out, because I’m just about to do it. Five more seconds, and...there! I’ve done it! I can’t believe it, I’ve actually won! One million bucks, baby, tax free! “Congratulations!” the announcer shouts. “And now, something we’ve never done before: an extra challenge! For the two million dollars, complete the next level in the traffic game, just as you did it before, but in the center of a wooden plank that’s laid between two high-rises, with no net below. As always, the choice is yours, but once you’ve made it—say it with me, folks!” The audience joins in, “ALL! BETS! ARE! OFF!”

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