I pay 'Shark Tank' a visit

I've got a bold and unusual proposal for the Sharks, too.

[SCENE: a taping of the long-running ABC business reality television show Shark Tank]

Friday Ratings: 'Shark Tank' Season 11 Finale Wins The Demo Wars ...

PREVIOUS CONTESTANT: Alright, Sharks, thank you for your time, I’m sorry we couldn’t come to a deal, but I think someday you’ll realize what a big mistake you’ve made.

[the contestant leaves]

LORI GRENIER: I just don’t see how a pogo stick is supposed to work underwater. 

MARK CUBAN: The thing is, it can. But this wasn’t the right approach.

ANNOUNCER: Next up in The Tank, this man has a bold and unusual proposal for the Sharks. 

ME: Good evening, Sharks. Today, I’m going to propose to you something that could change the world as we know it. It’s something that everyone needs, and it costs surprisingly little. If enough people buy in, it can markedly improve the quality of life for everyone.

KEVIN O’LEARY: Sounds stupid.

ME: It’s the notion of shared sacrifice.

O’LEARY: I’m out.

DAYMOND JOHN: Now, let me understand this: you’ve come on here not to pitch a product, but a nebulous concept of societal good? 

BARBARA CORCORAN: Normally we would look for things like “Taco Tuesday, but for dogs”, or “a surfboard subscription service”, or “muffins made by a hedge fund manager who had a personal ethical and emotional crisis at age 42 and dropped out of the rat race to pursue their passion, only to turn around and monetize it because the merciless pursuit of success is the only way they know how to find satisfaction”.

CUBAN: Or, like, a basketball that has Wi-Fi.

ME: I understand that, Sharks, but I’m getting desperate. We’ve tried selling this product person-to-person, pitching it to institutions, and even doing broad marketing campaigns for it, and so far it’s not going anywhere. I thought maybe a new venue would help.

O’LEARY: This sounds very unsuccessful and I am out.

ME: You were already out.

O’LEARY: I just want to make this clear, and I’m turning my chair around now.

CUBAN, leaning over to CORCORAN and whispering: That product that turned any chair into a swivel chair really was a terrific investment for him. Made him millions.

GRENIER: You’ve come all this way, it seems like you’ve put on a clean shirt and everything, let’s hear your pitch out. What exactly are you proposing with this idea of “shared sacrifice”? 

ME: Yes, okay. So, what I’m suggesting is, each member of society recognizes that they have a duty to their fellow person. We recognize that our actions often have consequences that extend beyond our own lives, and that an over-simplistic and literal notion of “freedom” can be deeply harmful to others. We should be free to live our lives in whatever manner we wish so long as our actions do not bring harm to others — whether directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally.

O’LEARY: [chair still turned around] So, you’re suggesting that blame for all problems in society should be pinned on poor decision-making at the individual level?

ME: Absolutely not. There are larger structural issues that govern how we all live, and ascribing society’s ills to solely to personal choices is shifting the blame unfairly to the individual — and ignoring the responsibility of governments and institutions.

O’LEARY: [scoots chair further away]

ME: What I am saying, though, is that if we are asked to take small steps for the greater good, we should recognize that that’s not an impingement of our freedom, but rather the cost of living in a functioning, equitable and compassionate society. The idea of a pure, unadulterated freedom with no guardrails, no responsibilities, no caveats? It’s a child’s notion.

ROBERT HERJAVEC: This product of yours, how much does it retail for?

ME: Well, this is the remarkable thing. There’s no real up-front cost. It’s simply a matter of recognizing the footprint you have in society and acting in accordance. 

HERJAVEC: So, like, twenty dollars? Thirty?

ME [sighing]: Let’s say, for example, there’s a raging viral pandemic coursing through the community in which you live.

CUBAN: Strange hypothetical, but okay.

ME: Based on all of the best epidemiological data available, it seems that if you became exposed to the virus, you would likely not die, considering your own personal risk factors such as age, immune system response, and overall physical health. 

CUBAN: So you’re saying I’m fine. That’s terrific. I love it.

ME: Of course, there’s a chance that you could be severely affected by it, or even killed.

CUBAN: I’m out.

ME: I’m not pitching the virus.

CUBAN: Not with that sales pitch you’re not.

ME: There’s a chance you could be affected by it, but there’s a greater chance that you could be an asymptomatic carrier, completely unaffected personally but able to continue the virus’s spread to other members of your community.

HERJAVEC: Word-of-mouth. That’s very powerful. 

GRENIER: The product sells itself. I love it.

ME: Again, I am not pitching the virus. 

CORCORAN: If you were to pitch this virus, what would your first-year sales projections be? It sounds like a very compelling product. Terrific growth potential.

ME: [rubbing temples] Okay, so, as I was saying. Deadly pathogen. Probably not going to kill you, but there’s a non-zero chance it will. More likely, you could pass it on to others who might have risk factors unseen to you that could make it deadly to them, and they might not be able to avoid person-to-person contact because of the nature of their job or living situation.

JOHN: This is all very depressing, to be honest. I don’t like any of this.

ME: There’s good news, though.

CUBAN: I’m back in.

ME: You could take the simple step of wearing a face covering when you’re in public, or in situations where you’re unable to maintain a safe distance from people outside your immediate family. If only one party participates, a moderate risk reduction is observable, but if all involved parties oblige? The risk of infection is greatly reduced. Now sure, is it ideal? No. Personally, for me, my glasses fog up when I wear a face covering. It’s hot and itchy in the summer, and the elastic band can chafe my ears after a few hours. But I do it, because these minor inconveniences are a small price to pay to mitigate the potential harm I might be doing to others. Some might call that a violation of their personal freedoms. What I’m suggesting is that it’s simply a matter of shared sacrifice.

HERJAVEC: How much money are you asking for, and what stake of this are you willing to part with?

ME: I’m asking for people to not be petulant dicks, and they already have a 1 in 7.8 billion stake in society.

HERJAVEC: I’m out.

GRENIER: I’m out.

JOHN: I’m out.

CORCORAN: The profit model on this is just terrible. I mean, there’s lots of ways to make money off society. Private schools. Private healthcare. Private prisons. This? This is just nonsense.

O’LEARY: I would want at least a 40% stake in this “society”.

CUBAN: I’m sorry, I think we’re all out here. People don’t want to be told they have to do things, they want to choose things. Like what color their car is, what flavor of hard seltzer they like, or if they want a high-deductible insurance plan or a higher-deductible insurance plan. That’s freedom. It’s very profitable.

ME: [sighs]

CUBAN: Although, I do have one question.

ME: [hopeful] Yes?

CUBAN: These face coverings, do you have a patent on them?

ME: No. I mean, you could just put a bandana or a t-shirt over your face. Anything would work. You don’t even have to buy anything.

CUBAN: Yeah, I’m out.

ME: Alright, thank you, Sharks. I hope you’ll at least think about what I’ve said today.

ANNOUNCER: Up next, we have a major pharmaceutical conglomerate that’s proposing a hugely expensive and proprietary treatment regimen for a widespread public health problem that could be effectively solved in a month if everyone just wore a goddamned mask.

ME [lingering by door]: I should invest in that. 

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)