UConn Fan Who Failed to Pick Winner in Yahoo!'s Billion Dollar Challenge Speaks

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterApril 7, 2014


Corey Johnson could have been $100,000 richer tonight, but his billion-dollar bracket doesn't feature a winner, leaving the 28-year-old with heartbreak as well as an unsavory kind of Internet fame. 

On Monday, Deadspin's Barry Petchesky reported on a rather interesting bracket sitting near the top of an altogether remarkable lot. Amid the folks who picked this upset-laden tournament most accurately laid a bracket titled "Corey's Champion Bracket," which you can view here

Photo Credit: Screengrab from Yahoo!

Aside from a bracket adorned with green correct picks, you will notice that there is no actual winner selected, something Johnson just realized a couple of days ago. And yes, he was as shocked as you are. 

We had the pleasure of speaking with Johnson on Monday, and well, he has seen better days. 

In reality, Johnson seemed to be in a far better mood than we may have been, realizing that we just lost out on a one with five zeroes behind it. Perhaps the warm embrace of a mother really can cure all ills. (We will get to that.)

First, let's get this UConn fan's perspective: 

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As for making his picks, the man who lives in Connecticut states, "I'm an avid sports fan. I pay attention. I'm on ESPN pretty much five million times a day on my phone. I'm aways clicking on it. Always looking. Always checking...It's one of the things I like to do."

When I asked him if he was trying to pick upsets when it came to Yahoo!'s Billion-Dollar Challenge, he states quickly, "Yes, that's exactly what I was going for. I watched the game with Kemba Walker, three years ago, four years ago, when they weren't even supposed to win at all. They weren't supposed to get it out. And I wondered if they could do it this year." 

From there, his strategy of going against the proverbial grain mixed with his UConn loyalty had him selecting the Huskies. As for Kentucky, he was just looking for an underdog with an outside shot to advance.

It's essentially what a great many playing in the challenge might have done. Only Johnson's ploy very nearly paid off. 

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 05: The Connecticut Huskies bench celebrates after defeating the Florida Gators 63-53 in the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at AT&T Stadium on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Of course, the reason he is an Internet star prior to tipoff is that big fat "nearly" looming above. 

And that really is the big question, isn't it? How does one leave something like that blank? Well, a perplexed Johnson is just as befuddled as you might be, because he states he did pick a winner, and it was his beloved UConn Huskies:

"I didn't leave it blank. I clicked something. I clicked on the winner. I picked UConn to win. I live in Connecticut; I'm a UConn fan...I picked UConn to win. What's the point of making a bracket if you don't pick a winner?"

And just because this story needs a beaten dead horse, I asked again if he had picked the Huskies to win it all, asking if he recalls physically clicking it. That's when I heard the most confident and certain "Yeah" of my lifetime.

Now when one fills out a bracket for a billion dollars, they don't exactly stick around and watch it die. Johnson explains how he found out his top-four placement in the bracket challenge would soon go bust: 

"I assumed it was there. I literally did it maybe a day before the tournament started. So I was like '[expletive] I didn't make one. I gotta make one.' I did a couple with the guys at work' totally different. This one I was serious about it. I was like 'I gotta win a billion dollars. I gotta do something nobody would do.'"

As for realizing the error: 

"I was just skimming the leaderboard. I was looking at my bracket and I'm like, 'Wow, I got it pretty good.' OK, so let's check the Sweet 16, I was awesome. I got most of these team in here. Final Four, I was like jaw dropped."

With a chuckle, Johnson relates what anyone might have said in a similar situation, "Wow, I actually picked those?"

He continues: 

"I looked at the leaderboard to see where I'm ranked at. I started reading the official rules and it said the top 20 get $100,000. And I'm like I have to be at least in the top 300 if not better. So I looked it up, and I looked at the leaderboards. And right there, tied for fourth place is my name: Corey's bracket. So I'm like, 'No, there's no way.' So I clicked on it and yes, that's my bracket. That's crazy. There's no way out of seven million people I got fourth. 

So, I'm looking at all these other people's bracket, who they have...And then I saw mine had nothing above it. It was blank. And I'm wondering why it's blank. 

And I'm talking to people. I post it on Facebook and somebody said, 'You don't have a winner." And I was like, 'I know. I see that. [Expletive] I don't know how that happened. And that's pretty much when I knew I was screwed."

There isn't enough alcohol in the world to get over a story like that. It's bad enough to bang your head against a wall, muttering how close you were to immediate riches, but it's another to find out other fans are now reading about it, savoring it like a juicy morsel of schadenfreude before the big game. 

Johnson quickly showed his friends, texted people and queried others on Facebook. Then he got a message from a buddy that said, "You're famous."

Johnson states, "I said for what. And he sends me a Deadspin article, and that's when I felt like a complete loser."

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 05:  The Connecticut Huskies bench reacts during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal against the Florida Gators at AT&T Stadium on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

So if you are scoring from home, Johnson went from the jubilation of knowing that he was one of many that might be in the running for the billion dollar consolation prize ($100,000 for the top 20 in the challenge) to learning that his fantasy went bust and his story was now an Internet viral sensation. 

Who needs a hug?

Johnson selected what has to be nature's only cure-all: "First person I went to when I found out. You know, I get out of school. My friend sends me a message. I saw it on Deadspin, and then went straight to my mom's job and was like, 'I got to give her a hug.' I need a mom hug."

As for whether he is going to inform Yahoo! that he did indeed select a winner:

"Actually there is no way I can get accepted. As I'm reading their official game rules, it says once tournament play starts everything's locked in. There's no way you can change it. I even read this two days ago when I found out I was a fourth seed."

A defeated Johnson states simply, "They aren't gonna let me change that."

Deadspin's Barry Petchesky was also fortunate enough to get in touch with Johnson and found out a bit more on the basketball fan: 

Johnson, 28, says he would have liked the $100,000 to pay for school. (After years of working with autistic children, he's currently enrolled at the Porter and Chester Institute training to be an HVAC technician.) But he believes this is one of those things that wasn't meant to be. "Maybe someone who needs it more than I do is going to win because I won't," he says.

The one thing I could glean from our conversation is that Johnson isn't going to let what he can't control get the best of him. That goes for the error he states negated his championship pick to the myriad of people chiming in on message boards. 

There were millions of people who saw their brackets go bust a long time ago. But it was one unlikely bracket that remained just long enough to teach us an important lesson: There are far more important things in life than money. 

Try to linger on all the misses, and you just might ruin the amazing makes. So Johnson will no doubt be watching Monday night to see if his Huskies can pull off another title. 

If not, the world's luckiest unfortunate basketball fan has a mom whose hug is worth about a billion. 

Hit me up on Twitter: Follow @gabezal

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