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Bluff The Listener

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz.


KURTIS: I'm Bill Kurtis. We're playing this week with Faith Salie, Helen Hong and Adam Burke. And here again is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you so much, Bill.


SAGAL: Right now it is time for the WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to play our game on the air.

Hi, you are on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

KASSIE ANDREWS-WELLER: Hi, Peter, Bill and WAIT WAIT panel. I'm Kassie from Washington, D.C.

SAGAL: Hey, how are you, Kassie? How are things in Washington?

ANDREWS-WELLER: Oh, God. Every time I walk out of the house...


ANDREWS-WELLER: ...And look at the Capitol, I think, God, what a bad state of affairs we are in right now.

SAGAL: Yeah. Well, Kassie, it is very nice...


SAGAL: ...To have you with us. You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what is Kassie's topic?

KURTIS: You have no excuse. OK, maybe you have one.

SAGAL: The key to being a great athlete is coming up with good excuses when you lose - like how the Dodgers said they lost the World Series because someone told them it's four strikes and you're out. This week, we heard about another sports excuse. Pick the panelist who's telling you the real one, you'll win our prize - the voice of your choice on your voicemail. You ready to play?


SAGAL: First, let's hear from Helen Hong.

HELEN HONG: The undefeated Santa Fe Snow Leopards were riding high into their minor league division championships but lost a stunning three games in a row in the playoffs. Was it the pressure of the playoffs being televised on ESPN3? Was it the distraction of screaming fans dressed up as all manner of snow leopards? Well, turns out it was just zits. Unbeknownst to the poor Snow Leopards, their equipment manager had switched the brand of black under-eye grease which players use to reduce glare. This new grease, which had this suspicious consistency of cheap shoe polish, caused all of the players to break out with huge, embarrassing pimples.

It's my first time being on ESPN, moaned first baseman Jorge Chavez (ph). I look like I'm in eighth grade again. Indeed, the mass breakouts were such an embarrassment for the Snow Leopards - nicknamed by some cruel fans as the Spotted Leopards...


HONG: ...That they spent most of the game holding their hands in front of their faces rather than actually trying to hit or catch balls. While they're done for the season, management has already sold naming rights for next year, and they're really excited for opening day at Accutane Stadium.


SAGAL: A minor league baseball team...


HONG: ...Blames a terrible loss on getting pimples from their eye black. Your next story of an excuse in sport comes from Adam Burke.

ADAM BURKE: We've all had bosses that annoyingly try to raise morale - the guy that walks up and down high five-ing everyone like a one-man streptococcus delivery system...


BURKE: ...The manager that insists on celebrating every birthday, even though we all know Cheryl (ph) from accounts is getting fired at the end of the month.


BURKE: Well, it turns out such forced enthusiasm extends to professional sports, where it can be just as harmful. In a recent interview, legendary Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis said it was just that type of forced pep rallying that jinxed the team's 2008 season. Portis railed against then-coach Jim Zorn and his practice of having the team gather in the locker room to cheer hip hip hooray like a Connecticut polo team from the '30s...


BURKE: ...And saying that it contributed to the Skins blowing their 5-2 start to the season. That's how the locker room got divided, he explained. While locker room rituals are certainly common in professional sports, the preferred mantras tend to be more modern and pop culture orientated and less like something you'd hear at a rally for the Bull Moose Party or a group of people trying to cheer up a particularly morose Victorian clown.


BURKE: As a grown man, explained Portis, you're sitting here thinking about hip hip and throwing it up - like, are you kidding me? While Portis' frustration is certainly understandable, it doesn't hold a candle to having to sing "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" to Peter Sagal for five minutes before every show before he'll go on.


SAGAL: The Redskins season ruined being because they were forced to say hip hip hooray by their coach. Your last story of a reason for a rout comes from Faith Salie.

FAITH SALIE: Ukrainian figure skating couple Anastasia Punamarinko (ph) and Maxim Bundar (ph) have been undefeated champions. They're also Ukraine's biggest love story - together for nine years on the ice, their romance is fire. They never stumble.

So imagine the shock during a recent national competition when Anastasia not only faltered but actually fell on her tuchus (ph). According to a breathless interview she gave just after her disastrous performance, it all began right before they skated onto the ice when Maxim took off his warmup jacket, and Anastasia noticed something weird. It was Maxim's left nipple, extremely prominent under his sparkly spandex. Was he cold, this man who spends his days on the ice? No, his right nipple looked calm and toasty. Wait, thought Anastasia. It's not his nipple - it's a nipple ring.

She lost all focus the moment they started their icy pas de deux. When she pressed against Maxim's chest, she felt the hard metal. How could this be? Why had he done this? Was he having an affair? Her lutz was lame. Her triple Salchow was barely a single chow (ph). At the end of the performance, Anastasia collapsed. The audience gasped. The judges gaped. But then Maxim got down on the ice on one knee. He reached into his unitard, groping his nipple to extract the diamond ring he'd taped there.


SALIE: When he asked Anastasia to marry him, she pounded his chest and sobbed, (speaking Ukrainian), which is Ukrainian for, yes, you bastard.


SALIE: The happy fiances have just signed a deal with Ukraine's largest jeweler to create a line of nipple, tongue and nose engagement rings.


SAGAL: A poor performance in ice dancing - let me review your choices.

SALIE: (Laughter).

SAGAL: This was offered up as an excuse for why something went wrong in the world of sport. Was it, from Helen Hong, a minor league baseball team couldn't play because their eye black gave them zits? From Adam, the 2008 Redskins season is ruined because the coach insists on a silly cheer? Or, from Faith Salie, an ice dancing performance is wrecked because of a suspected nipple ring? Which of these is the real story of an excuse in the week's news?

ANDREWS-WELLER: I'm going to go with Adam.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Adam's story of how hip hip hooray ruined the Washington football team's season. All right. Well, this is what we're going to play. We actually - our intern called up somebody at the center of the story, and, well, I just want you to listen to what happened.


KATHERINE COATES, BYLINE: Would you mind saying hip hip hooray for me?


COATES: You won't...

PORTIS: I'm not going to say it (laughter). As you've noticed, I've stayed away from it, and I'm going to continue to stay away from it.

SAGAL: That was Katherine Coates, our intern, talking to Clinton Portis about the dumb cheer...


SAGAL: ...That he says ruined the 2008 Washington NFL season. Congratulations, Kassie. You got it right. Of course, it was Adam telling the truth. You've earned a point for him, and you've won our prize - any voice that you might like on our show.

KURTIS: Good going, Kassie.

ANDREWS-WELLER: Wonderful. You know, this is much better than that Weekend Edition lapel pin.

SAGAL: Oh, yes.


SAGAL: Say that again louder.


SAGAL: Thank you so much.


SALIE: Bye, Kassie.

SAGAL: Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF BECK SONG, "LOSER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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