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March 10, 2011 by Gary Pyle

Hello. My name is Gary, and I am a Triviateer. 

And, I am the Gary of the "Gary Clause." 

There, I said it. What is that, you ask? You don't know what a Triviateer is? And what is the "Gary Clause?"  

*Sigh* I will try to explain. Please be patient. It's a long story. Like many of you, Disney has always been a part of my life. Some have accused me of being obsessed with Disney. I disagree. While I do concede that I have it all around me (Disney watch, Disney ring, wallet, key ring, house key, clothing, books, collections, home decor, 41 versions of "When You Wish Upon a Star" on my iPod) well- I prefer to think of it as being fortunate enough to discover something wonderful, early in life, and letting it guide me and inspire me to a happy and healthy existence. So there!

My earliest Disney memories involve the Mickey Mouse Club on TV, seeing the original release of "Sleeping Beauty" and being awed by the colors, visiting the New York World's Fair and seeing "It's A Small World and returning home and making a model of the first scene, viewing "Mary Poppins" in a theater so crowded that children were allowed to sit on the floor in the aisles, and making my first visit to Walt Disney World at Thanksgiving in 1971. I couldn't get enough of the Disney experience, and silently cursed anyone lucky enough to live in Southern California. (Which I guess is why, after retiring from teaching elementary school art for 35 years, I have packed up my goods and my patient, wonderful wife and moved to Florida. Oh, I love having an annual pass!)

But I am not obsessed.

Anyway, in 1990, as I walked through the Annapolis Mall, I discovered that a Disney Store was preparing to open. Of course, I had to get a job there. I mean, why not? It wasn't like I didn't have any time. Sure, my wife and I had a young son, and I was teaching 5 days a week, and singing in the church choir, and directing a handbell choir and... but a chance to work at a Disney Store? I had to. 

But I am not obsessed. Or compulsive. Maybe a little OCD. Maybe. A little.

So, I became a Cast Member at Disney Store #342, Annapolis Mall. I worked the holiday season, and was asked to stay on afterwards. I was enthusiastic, I understood the Disney culture, and I knew a little about Disney.

Okay, I knew a lot. The previous year, the Disney Store had started the Disney Store National Trivia Showdown. The process to compete was simple. For six months, each Disney Store was given a list of trivia questions to answer. The cast could work together, do the research, answer the questions and submit the answers to Home Base. At the end of 6 months of questions, store's with 85% (I think) or better qualified to move on. Simple enough. Next, at a cast meeting, cast members were given a Pop Quiz to see who would represent the store at a District Competition. Can you guess who scored highest at my store? Yeah, me. Not just once, though. I did it 6 years in a row. But I'm not obsessed. I just knew Disney stuff. And as the years passed, I spent more and more time studying, because Dave Smith started making the questions harder and HARDER! 

At the first Disney Store National Trivia Showdown, the finalists were asked questions like "What color are Mickey Mouse's shorts?" and "What is the name of Mickey's dog?" Really? And when you grew up with Disney like I did, watching Disney movies and the Mickey Mouse Club and The Wonderful World of Color, most of the answers came pretty easily. But when the company started growing so quickly in the '90's, and the Disney Channel hit cable, and Disney Afternoons, Touchstone Pictures, Touchstone TV, Hull High, Blossom, Dinosaurs. Really? How was a guy supposed to keep up? I tried. I really tried. But I am not obsessed. 

(Taking a deep breath.) Anyway, that first year of Disney trivia is a bit of a blur to me. It all happened so quickly. The monthly questions amused me, they were so simple. I won the store quiz, and was told by my managers that I would be taking part in a District trivia competition. Some mention was made of "winners going to Disneyland for some national trivia thing." It was all kinda vague. Our district competition was held in a hotel suite in Tyson's Corner, Virginia. I seem to remember there being six of us at a long table, chairs for an audience, and about 20 people watching. Questions being asked, a bell to ring before answering, and eliminations. It came down to me and a mom whose kids were sitting in the audience holding signs ("Go Mom!" "Win the trip to Disneyland!"), looking all proud and excited. Me, answering question after question, the kids looking sadder and sadder, and finally tears on cheeks as I answered the final question to win a trip to Disneyland to compete in the finals. It was traumatic and horrible, but I was going to Disneyland.

I felt terrible. And excited. But not obsessed. I started preparing. Seriously, preparing. My first trip to California, and my first trip to Disneyland. To compete, onstage at Videopolis in front of a live audience. It was seriously daunting. And I thought I was up to the challenge. I was not. I won't claim that my loss that year had anything to do with jetlag, or the fact that I was full of cold medicine. Rather, it was more about learning that knowing trivia and knowing trivia quickly are two different things (at the district competitions, you always had time to think before answering!) Whatever. I lost. Miserably. But, we were treated like royalty, and got a parade down Main Street, and a private backstage tour with Dave Smith, and the chance to visit Walt's apartment at the Fire Station, and lunch at Club 33, and a whole day to play in Disneyland before returning home.

And return home I did, with my tail between my legs and a firm determination to do better next year. But I am not obsessed. Anyway, it became a pattern. I bought books and read them cover to cover. I took notes. I made a study book. I carried flash cards in my pocket. I had a program on my laptop to quiz myself. I did research at the library and online. I was focused. And every year I won the store quiz, and every year I won the District competition (even scoring highest in the country one year!) and for six years I represented Disney Store #342 at the Disney Store National Trivia Competition. And every year, I lost.

But I was not obsessed. And I am not bitter. I made a lot of friends. I saw some wonderful things. We visited the Archives at the Walt Disney Studio. Dave Smith became a friend. We wandered the lot, poking our noses in here and there. We saw a set for "Hocus Pocus." We saw cast members from "Home Improvement." We visited the animation studios and talked with animators and saw the opening scene for "The Lion King" while the film was still in production. We visited Imagineering and MAPO, and saw work being done on animatronics, and prototypes for ride vehicles for some haunted hotel elevator drop attraction thing. We watched Tony Anselmo sit backstage and voice Donald Duck at one of our competitions. We watched "Fantasmic!" We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel. We stayed in Disney corporate apartments. We previewed new products for the Disney Store. We rode in the Lilly Belle, the elegant caboose on the Disneyland Railroad. I was recognized in the L.A. airport by a couple who had seen the Trivia Competition. 

It was all wonderful. But the best part was the friends. This was the first time I had ever spent time with other people who loved Disney as much as I did. I wanted us all to keep in touch. 

I decided that we would call ourselves Triviateers. We had a newsletter, and membership cards (limited to those who competed on the national level) and buttons. We even had a reunion at Disneyland. These friendships continue. My involvement with Disney trivia was one of the best times of my life. 

But all good things must end. For me, it ended in 1995 when the Disney Store instituted the "Gary Clause." It said, in effect, that participation in the Disney Store National Trivia Showdown, henceforth, would be limited to 2 years. I was done. I did return for the competition the next year, as an audience member. And, I was delighted to find that I was still involved. The finalists that year, upon learning that I would be in the audience, decided that any time they did NOT know an answer to a question, they would write down my name. Imagine the thrill, the first time I saw my name revealed onstage as the answer to some obscure trivia question! Thanks, guys! So,yes! My name is Gary, and I am a Triviateer. 

And, I am the Gary of the "Gary Clause." I will admit that I was a little relieved to be done with the trivia. I didn't have to study anymore. And no more worries about being obsessed. I wasn't. Really. Now, if I could only remember how many animals are carved into the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom. I wrote it down, somewhere...


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