The Christie Plan: Ending unemployment, one cameraman at a time

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If an angler wins an Elite Series tournament and the winning catch is not caught on film, did he really win?

I just finished watching the television program of the Elite Series Ramada Quest from Bull Shoals. If I’d watched only the first 50 minutes or so, with the mute button depressed, I might not be sure who had won. Based on meaningful minutes of fishing footage (a new metric, “MMFF”), the winner might appear to be Casey Scanlon (finished 3rd), Terry Scroggins (6th), or even Brandon Palaniuk (81st).

You could make a wild-ass guess and say that Jason Christie won, but despite receiving a fair amount of TV time, there was little or no footage of the Pride of Park Hill boat-flipping big bass. We saw some grainy America’s Most Wanted variety recreations of schooling fish, but little evidence that Christie had caught them. In fact, by the time we get any on the water footage of him fishing, he’s in shorts. The early morning video of other anglers shows them bundled up in hooded sweatshirts and heavy rainsuits, so we have to deduce certain clues from his wardrobe. Either (1) the B.A.S.S. camera crew didn’t catch up with him until late in the day; or (2) Christie, as his on-the-water record would suggest, is an angling superman, impervious to the threat of either huge weight deficits or the woes of shrinkage.

The bottom line: He was so far out of the lead heading into Championship Monday that any reasonable guess said that he wasn’t going to win. In Elite Series history, no one had ever come back from 11th place entering the final day to claim a victory. No one had done it from 10th, either … or 9th, 8th or 7th, for that matter. The largest gap anyone had traversed came when our Man in Pink, Kevin Short, rose from 6th to first at a 2009 tournament on the Mississippi River.

So the odds seemed to indicate that Christie wasn’t going to leapfrog the rest of them. In fact, Bassmaster’s Ken Duke has developed his own metric, “Ken’s Comeback Formula,” that proposed to address this precise situation:

Take the tournament big bass from that venue for that time of year and subtract it from the leader’s total. Every angler within that range has a chance – though perhaps a small chance – to win. Every angler further back than that needs an absolute miracle.

Christie entered Day Four only 5-06 behind leader Casey Scanlon, exactly the same weight as Bradley Roy’s 5-06 big fish from Day One – not quite miracle territory, but teetering on the edge. Based on the number of spaces between 11th and 1st, though, B.A.S.S. did not put a cameraman in the boat with Christie to start the day. Remember, odds are based on probabilities, not certainties. If the weatherman tells you there’s only a 10% chance of rain, you might think that the 90% is overwhelming and therefore not pack your umbrella. If it rains, you may curse your luck, but you can’t say the man on TV was “wrong.”

With respect to TV coverage, B.A.S.S. played the odds here and lost. The nattering nabobs of negativism who troll the fishing message boards are going to complain that B.A.S.S. should have had a camera in every boat. Some of them probably think we need a camera in all 100 boats from the get-go. The most extreme among their ranks could be convinced that Jerry McKinnis should personally implant a GoPro in the cerebral cortex of anyone who purchases a bass boat or a pack of shaky heads. Obviously, there are resource limits here. If B.A.S.S. expanded the number of cameramen to eight or 10 or 12, you’d still end up missing some highlights. And at what cost? Would it add a dollar to your B.A.S.S. membership costs? Decrease the payout for the anglers? Require an additional commercial during each broadcast of The Bassmasters (thereby potentially depriving some starving up-and-comer of his much-needed two minutes of fame)? Could they even find a dozen dudes who can balance the big camera on their shoulder in bucking 8-footers on Erie and still bring back a decent product?

Because my column is on, some people will likely think this paragraph to be overly apologist. That’s your right, but I think my track record on this and other publications shows that I can be extremely critical when criticism is warranted.

While I’m disappointed that we didn’t see the tournament-altering acres of schooling fish, my takeaway here is that the production crew recovered nicely, getting some fishing footage of Christie along with a lot of subsequent narrative from him. There may be an element of luck to that, but there’s also a bit of forethought at work. Over the past handful of years, B.A.S.S. has added the tournament blog, the Marshal program and BASSTrakk. None of them is perfect, and each has been maligned by certain parties – sometimes fairly, other times not so much – but each of these tools improved our understanding of the Bull Shoals event, and the television coverage, in a way that would not have been possible just a short time ago. At the dawn of the Elite Series, the Bassmaster crew – let alone the average fan – would have had little idea of Christie’s charge until the scales were closed or nearly closed.

In a sport where a hundred competitors are spread out over tens of thousands of acres and the key action may occur in a five-minute stretch out of an eight-hour day, we are bound to miss things and lose historic moments. The goal should be to lose fewer and fewer as we evolve.

I’m sure the brain trust in Little Rock and Birmingham is going through lots of pots of coffee trying to figure out how to avoid these issues going forward. In fact, they’ve already been confronted with a similar situation again at the Open level, with Stephen Browning making a similar 12th to 1st place charge this past weekend on the Red River (They’re already calling it “Pulling a Christie” – how cool is that?). It may not bite us again for five or six years, but at some point it will happen, and it would be a shame not to have learned a lesson from these experiences.

I don’t know how the TV folks should address this issue on a global basis, but I have one simple suggestion, offered at no charge, to solve the micro-level problem: Whether he’s in 1st, 2nd, 11th or 99th, it probably makes sense to keep a camera glued to Jason Christie. He just keeps going and going and going (wrong battery company, but you get the idea).

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