Circa Survivor started the NFL season with 4,080 entries at $1,000 apiece and five of them went undefeated the entire NFL season with one straight-up pick a week to win $1.2 million apiece from a guaranteed prize pool of $6,000 at the Circa Sports books owned by Derek Stevens.
Using contest aliases, CHRIS PIPER (though that is his real name), MY COOL, On Top 247, RETURN OF SURVIVOR and SYRACUSE HAWKEYES were the five last live contestants heading into NFL Week 18, and technically Week 20 of the contest as there were special “Thanksgiving” and “Christmas” weeks) and all won to become instant millionaires.
When Stevens started Circa Sports in 2019, he hosted a group of sports betting journalists in the penthouse of the Golden Gate Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, across Fremont Street from where he was building the Circa Resort. At that informal gathering, he said one of his goals was to have contests so his customers could have the thrill of trying to win a million dollars. That’s why he started the Circa Sports Million that fall with a guaranteed first-place prize of a cool $1 million and had kept that the past two years, and then added Circa Survivor in 2020 with a $2 million guarantee and then increasing it to $6 million despite the ongoing COVID pandemic. If the Survivors would have only been playing for the $4,080,000 collected in entry fees, they would have each won $816,000, but with Stevens kicking in the extra $1.92 million, he made them all millionaires at $1.2 million apiece (at least before taxes).
MYCOOL (real name Michael Sax of Ohio) and On Top 247 (Billy Chippas of Florida) were first up with their plays on Saturday with the Kansas City Chiefs against the Denver Broncos. Chippas famously went on VSiN’s “Follow the Money” show with Mitch Moss and Pauly Howard on Friday and said he wasn’t going to hedge anything. He then spent Saturday at Circa hosted by Stevens as he sweated out the Chiefs’ 28-24 come-from-behind victory as he and MY COOL earned their share of the $6 million, plus also another $333,333.33 for another Stevens bonus of $1 million to be split by anyone going 20-0 on the season and using one of last year’s two Super Bowl participants – the Chiefs or Tampa Bay Buccaneers – as their final play in NFL Week 18. RETURN OF SURVIVOR was the only entry with the Buccaneers available and won with them on Sunday when they ended up routing the Panthers 41-17 to split that bonus three ways.
In between in Sunday’s early games, Chris Piper (of Las Vegas as I’ve known him for years in the race and sports books) and SYRACUSE HAWKEYES (Marc Perlman of Florida) were sweating out their picks on the Washington Football Team and the Tennessee Titans, respectively, in the Circa sportsbook.
Many followers of the contest on Twitter and elsewhere talked a lot about how Piper was in the worst position as the biggest favorites he had available were Washington and the New Orleans Saints. For those who don’t know, Survivor players pick one NFL team to win straight-up each but can’t use a team more than once. While many expected him to use the Saints, he said he didn’t trust the Saints’ offense.
“Washington has a good running game and [QB Taylor] Heinicke is solid,” Piper said. “But then I really like them more after [NY Giants coach Joe] Judge sounded off about how Washington was a ‘clown show,’ I really felt Ron Rivera wouldn’t let his team let up. Besides, the Giants don’t have an offense.”
That turned out to be the right call (though the Saints won, too). Washington let the Giants stick around in the first half as it only led 6-0, but the Giants’ offense never showed off and the Football Team coasted to a 22-7 victory.
Meanwhile, Perlman was sweating early as the Titans were in a dogfight with the Texans but ended up with a 21-0 halftime lead and held off the Texans 28-25.
“I loved the experience so much, it wasn’t even about winning today – it’s all about the moment here in the Circa sports books,” Perlman said Sunday. “The goal the whole year was to get to this point because Week 18 is when – even if you don’t win the big money – you get to cash in your equity.”
Perlman, an investor, said he’s had some nice poker wins but nothing near this amount. And while he certainly looks forward to spending his winnings – starting with a trip to Tahoe for some skiing before returning on Friday for the Circa awards ceremony – he genuinely sounded just as excited to be getting a “Happy Gilmore” big check.
Perlman had the maximum 6 entries and wanted to thank his proxy, Thomas Carroll, as he bailed him out twice during the season when Perlman was in danger of not getting his picks in on time.
Both Perlman and Piper cited the Packers’ Christmas Day win over the Browns as their luckiest escape of the season. The Browns gave up on their running game, Baker Mayfield threw 4 INTs and they still had a chance to win and blew it. If the Browns had won that game, RETURN OF SURVIVOR would have won the entire $6 million pot to himself.
Piper was the only winning Survivor that didn’t use a proxy. What this reporter will always remember about Piper’s run – even more so than the impressive feat that he did it with one entry – was that I would run into him nearly every Sunday night the past two months at the Westgate and after discussing our results on the day, he would ask how he could get in touch with the rest of the Survivors so they could try to organize a chop of the pot.
“The stress of this contest is so much,” he said.
As for why he didn’t use an alias, Piper, who has also qualified for horse racing’s National Horseplayers Championship a couple of times and still considers horse racing his favorite sports, “Every time I play contests with an alias I don’t win, so I decided to go with my real name. Plus I was thinking it would make it easier if anyone wanted to contact me for a chop.”
Fortunately, no one ever did and he stands as one of five millionaires made by Stevens and Circa.