Imagine! YOU, a finalist!

Jill Vejnoska

January 15, 1993|By Jill Vejnoska

STOP snipping your toenails or sniping about the grandmother who cut in front of you in the Elvis stamp line.

Whatever else you're doing, just drop it.

Because if you don't, YOU (insert name here) will not have taken every advantage when it comes to entering Publishers Clearing House and American Family Publishers sweepstakes. And we know YOU (insert name here) are a finalist.

The two behemoths among magazine subscription service companies, each this year is offering a $10 million grand prize to be doled out -- to YOU (insert name here) -- on national television on Jan. 29.

While neither company will say precisely how many entries it's mailed out, or in what form, it's pretty hard finding an adult American with a mailing address who hasn't received one (and )) who isn't, therefore, a "finalist").

"I got one in the mail last week from Publishers Clearing House. I'm one of three winners," Liddell Rhynes of Atlanta said modestly. Mr. Rhynes, 22, was at a downtown post office picking up mail for his older brother, who, despite being in Germany, is an American Family Publishers finalist.

It might just seem like every American can grow up to become president and a magazine sweepstakes finalist. Mr. Rhynes prefers believing destiny is on his side: "It's a one-third chance I'll win, right?"

Uh, maybe.

Citing competitive reasons, neither company will discuss the odds on winning -- in fact, neither company will discuss much at all. Neither company returned phone calls, and while Publishers Clearing House sent a fact sheet, American Family Publishers did not return questions faxed to its offices.

But Reader's Digest runs a similar contest and says there's a 1- in-199.5 million chance of winning the whole enchilada. By comparison, el Gordo was a cakewalk.

Still, it's hard not getting sucked in. Both contests come on (and on and on) like Robin Leach on optimism steroids. "Your life would change overnight," screams the "finalist document" from American Family Publishers. "You wouldn't have to worry about alarm clocks. You could sleep till noon any day you choose."

And they like you. They're working their butts off while you're angling to do nothing but sleep all day and eat bon-bons.

And yet does Publishers Clearing House ever address you as anything other than "Dear friend"? We think not.

Does either company sound anything but truly regretful when it warns it may have to stop writing if you don't order something -- or at least write back?

"Believe me, it does get to me," said Decatur, Ga., resident Barbara Thompson, 39, who threw away her finalist notification from one contest several days ago. "They make a very strong appeal to you as a person. I consider it a personal challenge to stand my ground and not enter."

What's going on here?! Have we lost our minds at the same time we're convinced we've lost the "Yes, Express" stamp that ensures American Family Publishers' "FASTEST ENTRY AND PROCESSING"?

Experts say the contests play to our spirit of optimism and that their timing is superb. For example, Publishers Clearing House's largest mailing is in late December and early January -- the same time IRS's and most holiday creditors' mailings go out.

That's right. It's all about money.

"There'll be free barbecue in Roswell (Ga.) for a week if I win," crowed Bob White, owner of a barbecue restaurant and a finalist for both contests' big prizes.

Mr. White laughed off a suggestion that he send 40 pounds of ribs to bribe American Family Publishers spokesman Ed McMahon.

Or is he Publishers Clearing House's spokesman? Based on a totally scientific survey (Translation: We asked anyone on the street who didn't appear likely to smack us on the head), spokesmodel Ed sticks out like cottage cheese on a white plate.

My, how far he's come since his days as Johnny Carson's second banana! Now he's his own second banana.

"His is Publishers Clearing House, I think," Mr. White said.

"Is it Publishers Clearing House he's with?" wondered Ms. Thompson.

You don't have to know Ed's with American Family Publishers in order to win.

Nor do you have to order any magazines, a fact both companies' mailings stress. Still, as with any great American institution, there's a Conspiracy Theory floating around about this.

"I don't think you can win if you don't buy any magazines," confided Ed Turlington, echoing half a dozen others' comments.

So he buys them, right?

Wrong. YOU (insert name here) should have Ed Turlington's sense of calm! All those forms and stickers make entering a real bother, he says.

Besides, he doesn't like the magazines offered.

So the Publishers Clearing House "Prize Patrol" won't be coming to his house anytime real soon.

So what? He still sleeps exceedingly well.

% Maybe even till noon.

Jill Vejnoska wrote this for Cox News Service.

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