On the 19th of May 1984, at CBS Television City in Hollywood, a curious air of tension hung over the studio during the taping of the popular game showPress Your Luck. Ordinarily a live studio audience could be counted upon to holler and slap their hands together, but something was keeping them unusually subdued. The object of the audience’s awe was sitting at the center podium on the stage, looking rather unremarkable in his thrift-store shirt and slicked-back graying hair. His name was Michael Larson.

“You’re going to go again?” asked the show’s host Peter Tomarken as Larson gesticulated. Gasps and murmurs punctuated the audience’s cautious applause, and the contestants sitting on either side of Larson clapped in stunned silence. “Michael’s going again,” Tomarken announced incredulously. “We’ve never had anything like this before.”

The scoreboard on Larson’s podium read “$90,351,” an amount unheard of in the history ofPress Your Luck. In fact, this total was far greater than any person had ever earned in one sitting on any television game show. With each spin on the randomized “Big Board” Larson took a one-in-six chance of hitting a “Whammy” space that would strip him of all his spoils, yet for 36 consecutive spins he had somehow missed the whammies, stretched the show beyond it’s 30-minute format, and accumulated extraordinary winnings. Such a streak was astronomically unlikely, but Larson was not yet ready to stop. He was convinced that he knew exactly what he was doing.