The Contests Conquest

Lexington man makes hobby of entering contests, often winning top prize

(Story from BG Magazine, The Lane Report’s young professionals magazine)

Walt Arnett of Lexington has entered so many contests, he has lost count. Photo by Shaun Ring Photography

By Esther Marr

In the mid-1990s, Lexington resident Walt Arnett watched an episode of “Oprah” in which one of the featured guests had won thousands of dollars in cash and prizes by entering various sweepstakes. Arnett never guessed at the time how that one-hour program would influence the next several years of his life.

Since the day he turned 18, Arnett, now 31, has now entered thousands upon thousands of contests.

The Charleston, W.Va., native, who moved to Lexington in 1999 to get a bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky, works in UK Healthcare’s Information Technology department for a living. But the thrill of entering – and occasionally winning – competitions and sweepstakes has become his true passion.

Who can blame him? Over the years, Arnett has won a wealth of prizes, ranging from a pair of kitchen towels to a brand new car.

Arnett, who said he has entered “way too many contests to count,” starting engaging in the process as a hobby. For several years, he won mediocre prizes such as socket sets and sweatshirts. But, as his fascination grew, Arnett began acquiring more lucrative prizes by entering and winning picture, essay and video contests. The latter category is where he has found his niche.

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“I’m addicted to the thrill of winning,” said Arnett. “Just like a drug, I get a high from winning, but my favorite part about entering contests is the idea creation phase. My dream job would be to get paid to sit around and brainstorm all day. I usually try to make my videos as funny and entertaining as possible. I enjoy entering on my own, but I really enjoy when I can create an entry with someone else and win together. It is fun to share in the excitement!”

A few highlights from Arnett’s contest-entering career include winning a trip to Costa Rica and a year’s supply of coffee from Dunkin Donuts; receiving $10,000 for being the winner of a rap contest sponsored by Cash America; and winning a MINI Cooper from Dairy Queen. He received a $5,000 runner-up prize in the “Oh Chuck I Blew My Cash” video contest conducted by Charles Schwab.

“I was featured on ‘This Morning’ on CBS (July 28) for a whopping four seconds,” said Arnett. “It was a very proud moment.”

This month, Arnett won $25,000 in free travel in an Orbtiz Vacation Party video content.

But nothing tops the prize Arnett received this spring from being victorious in a contest sponsored by Pita Pit and Coca-Cola.

“It’s a memory I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. I won a chance to see the Wildcats win it all at the Final Four (in New Orleans) this past April,” he said. “I never thought I’d see the day. It was so exciting!”

Arnett recently entered a handful of essay contests, a category he said isn’t his strong suit, but that hasn’t discouraged him from still giving it a try.

“I’m not the most prolific writer,” he said. “I’m determined to win one, though! Persistence is the key in the sweepstakes and contests.”

Arnett often tries to include his friends and family in his video contest entries.

“They aren’t even fazed at this point when I call up and say I’ve won something,” he said. “Some of them think it is really neat and help me make videos, while others seem to avoid my calls. I think it is probably because I never quit talking about it. Not a lot of people share my passion for contests.”

If he could pick any contest to win, Arnett said it would most definitely be the Dorito’s “Crash The Superbowl” contest, where contestants must create their own Super Bowl-worthy commercial.

“It is the holy grail of contests,” he explained. “The top prize is $1 million. They get about 6,000 entries every time they run the contest. I have never gone to film school or worked for an advertising agency, so I like the idea of just a regular guy like me winning such a highly coveted contest. I teach myself everything as I go, and when I win (a video contest), I reinvest in my equipment. Hopefully, I can get my production skills up to commercial quality so I can have a decent chance at winning one day.”

When Arnett isn’t entering contests, he often is working on a sports charity he created called Greater Than You. Not surprisingly, the organization revolves around contests.

“The main purpose is to hold competitions to raise money and awareness for charities chosen by the participants,” he said. “I have used a portion of my winnings to purchase sports equipment and transportation.”

It’s hard not to root for a guy like Arnett, who refuses to give up no matter how many contests he may lose and, most importantly, gives back to others, including his mother, for whom he has a goal to win a trip “to somewhere really cool.”

“Entering contests is fun, but it is a lot of hard work,” he said. “I lose most contests I enter, but I do win sooner or later. People don’t realize the effort it takes to make a winning entry. I think one of my main advantages is that I never quit thinking. I’m always working on an idea for a video.

“That is really the most rewarding part — coming up with an idea and then seeing it become a reality. Oftentimes, I will get frustrated in the execution of my idea because I don’t have the skill level, equipment, or budget to create something that matches up with the vision in my head,” he said. “I stubbornly try to tackle all aspects of the process by myself. I’m slowly learning and getting better, so maybe one day I’ll be satisfied with my work.”

Whether Arnett is ever content with his contest entries, at least he’s having fun in the process. It doesn’t hurt that’s he’s winning a little, too.

Esther Marr is a writer for BG Magazine. She can be reached at [email protected]


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