After 18 weeks, 20 picks and two competitors bringing their entries home earlier in the day, the final sweat in Circa Survivor V wasn’t much of a sweat after all.
Four entries made it to the final week of the season-long contest. The prize pool was $9.3 million and two entries, JAX JAGS-1 and Indiana Jet-4, had the Bengals over the Browns in the early game. It wasn’t close. Cincinnati ran it out 24-0 at the half. The Browns were on the field at Paycor Stadium in name only.
The two other entries remaining, including current Unabated member Greg Jones’ LAJONESER-4, needed the Raiders to beat the Broncos in the late afternoon slot to reach the finish line. But the pressure was off. Mostly.
“We had worked it out where we were only playing for the last million,” Jones said from his Los Angeles home two days after the regular season ended. “I had a pretty decent hedge on Cincinnati in the morning and another on Denver. It was pretty covered either way.”
The Lions put away the Vikings in the early game, too, which set up a could-have-been if things didn’t break right. But that comes later.
Jones’ father worked the line at a General Motors plant years ago. He brought home the parlay cards that circulated around the factory. That’s all it took. Some of you, no doubt, can relate.
Jones doesn’t build models. He isn’t a professional. He’s an entrepreneur who owns an L.A. production company that shoots commercials. But he plays the NFL and tennis just about every week, and he’s been entering Circa Survivor since its inception.
This is the first year he made it past Week 1. Ravens 25, Texans 9.
In the first few years of the contest, Jones tried to use a little game theory in his picks. After last year’s Week 1 extinction-level event when the Colts and Texans tied and wiped out almost a sixth of the field, he revised his strategy for 2023.
“This year I was going to take whatever I thought was the layup,” he said. “I had four entries this year, and I tried to play them with the goal to get one as deep as I could. I took Baltimore in Week 1 on three of them, but other than that, I never went more than two on any entries.”
Taking the chalk got him deep enough to reach the Thanksgiving/Black Friday slate. Officially Week 12a per Circa’s rules, with only four games to choose from. There were 372 of the initial 9,267 entries still playing.
Jones thought he picked, like 216 others, the Lions over the Packers.
“My mom died a couple days before Thanksgiving, and I just clicked the wrong button. I meant to take Detroit at home against Green Bay,” he said.
The Lions got buried in the first quarter, down 20-6.
“I thought it was dead. I was pounding Green Bay live action because it was clear they were going to beat Detroit that day.”
He got a call from his proxy about 15 minutes before Week 12b picks were due. Jones nearly didn’t answer the phone, but his wife convinced him to pick up. The proxy wanted his selection for the week. Jones said there was a mistake, he went out with Detroit. But the proxy confirmed: Green Bay was the pick.
Packers 29, Lions 22.
“(By betting live) I had made all my money back from the entries,” Jones said. “Get past Thanksgiving, that was my goal. I was kicking around Tennessee, Minnesota and New England. I said, ‘You know what? just give me Tennessee.’ Tennessee is the only one of the three that won. Once I got through that week, I thought this is kind of serious now.”
Staying Alive in Circa Survivor
The field thinned quickly after that. There were 80 entries remaining after both parts of Week 12. Just 30 after Week 13. Week 14 saw 17 go down with 13 still alive.
The much-discussed chop proposal among those 13 fizzled when there were multiple holdouts, Jones said. At the time, he had already taken on an investor after the Thanksgiving slate. His entry’s expected value in the contest was around $835,000.
It worked out. Another holiday, and another two-pick week reduced the field to four.
With six weeks to go, Jones’ original strategy had seen him exhaust the supply of good teams. His plan from that point was to use decent teams at home against bad teams. The Broncos hosting the Patriots in Week 16a fit the bill.
“I talked to Captain Jack about optimal ways to go.I was going to take Denver on Christmas Eve along with everyone else. He said think about taking Chicago. That’s your most optimal way to finish with less people. You’ll lose some finish equity, but you’ll gain a lot of scoop equity. He put that in my head. I talked to another guy who thought it was a good idea. And I just decided to go for it. That’s another bullet I dodged. If I was left to my own devices, I would have been on Denver.”
Patriots 26, Broncos 23. Another six entries down the drain. Four remained.
“My family was having Christmas that day, so I was kind of running back and forth to the back room. New England went up and everyone’s texting me and blowing my phone up. I finally turned my phone off and then Denver came back to tie New England and it looked like it was over. That was a super rollercoaster. I didn’t even watch the game on Christmas with Philly. That would have ended it because all four people left all had to take Philly.”
Hedging in Circa Survivor to Bank the Payout
Not, though, before Jones had exchanged pieces with other entries. In consecutive weeks, Jones had a 10 percent swap with one entry and a 5 percent swap with another. Both players went out. He took on investors and started hedging early.
“I started hedging right after Thanksgiving. My only sweat was (Carolina) was playing Tampa (in Week 13), and Tampa didn’t put them away until the fourth quarter. But at that point, I had hedged where I could have just taken 80 grand and been done with it. This is when there were still 30-something people left. And I told my friend, I kind of wish Carolina would have just won, then I could have taken 80 grand and been done with this. I probably overhedged a bit and oversold, but I wanted to monetize. The goal was always just monetize like $100,000 to $200,000. I never had lottery dreams.”
After it came down to four, Jones and the other contestants reached an agreement. They’d play for $2 million and split the remaining $7.3 million. They drew up a contract and shipped in their Week 17 picks.
When all four advanced, they agreed to split an additional million and that they’d only play for $1 million in Week 18.
Jones was in a unique position, though. Of the four remaining entries, Jones had the most favorites left available. He had unique teams available that would have let him scoop the pot if everything broke well, including the Lions, a 3.5-point favorite at home and head coach Dan Campbell promising to play his starters. Or the Steelers, on the road and laying 3, but against a Baltimore team that wasn’t starting quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Instead, he opted for the Raiders, a 3.5-point home favorite playing against a Denver team that, like Las Vegas, had already been eliminated from playoff contention.
“(Detroit) was playing the same time as Cincinnati, so I didn’t want to have two huge hedges going at the same time. Also, I didn’t think (Campbell) was crazy enough to play his starters the whole game, no matter what he said. He lost his tight end (Sam LaPorta), which is totally insane, but once Minnesota said they were going to start (Nick) Mullin, I thought he could move the ball on their secondary. He did throw for 400 yards, and (Justin) Jefferson had 200 yards, so I think the handicap was right. I just thought maybe the Raiders would want to play for their coach more than Detroit would want to play a meaningless game against the quarterback who could move the ball. And Minnesota was playing for a playoff spot, too.”
Lions 30, Vikings 20. Steelers 17, Ravens 10. And Raiders 27, Broncos 14.
Chop or no chop, all four entries split the pot anyway.
Jones said it was a muted celebration. After six weeks of intense football decision-making, he got a steak with a friend and headed back from Vegas to L.A.
He doesn’t plan on paying much attention to the playoffs. He’s ready to step back and decompress after this run.
“It’s been football nonstop for two months. I’m not one of those guys who wins something and then he’s gonna pop up with a website or try to sell anything. I’m just happy how it ended up, and I’m just ready to be a civilian again.”
But next year? He’s coming in with the full 10 entries.
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