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My Sister and the Harriet the Spy Nickelodeon Contest

I’d like to tell you that this story has a happy ending, but warning: It does not. It’s actually kind of sad when you think about it. The wounds have healed long ago, but thinking back it often inspires a frown when I tell of this tale.

It was 1996 and my sister was officially seven years old. It’d been two years since our building was wired with cable, and I, my brother and sister were bonafide Nick kids. We watched SNICK every Saturday, and followed almost every show right up until the late nineties when I lost interest in the shows and my brother moved on to stuff like hip hop and cars.

In either case, I was thirteen, my brother twelve, and every Sunday night we tuned in to Nick live directly after Nick News. That night my sister had made it especially obvious that she was excited about the up and coming Nick movie “Harriet the Spy.” She just didn’t love Michelle Trachtenberg, but she also loved the idea of a girl spy and whenever she watched the commercial for the movie, she always begged my parents to take her to see it.

It wasn’t until 1997 when she could see it on cable finally, but she was always a fan of the movie from that point on. Nick Live was a show that you could compare to TRL in its best days. It was geared toward children and catered specifically to the Nickelodeon audience by including live events, an actual audience, and of course, a call in sweepstakes.

Often times you could call and take part in a phone game that allowed you to pick certain slots to match, allowing you a chance to win prizes. This particular time Nick Live was hosting a “Harriet the Spy” Spy Kit contest where you had to call in and hope that they picked up. For once this night we were all kind of in sync because my sister wanted the “Harriet the Spy” Spy Kit so badly and my brother and I made it our mission to call as many times as it took to win it for her.


Not the actual kit, but a pretty close idea
of what it looked like

The “Harriet the Spy” kit was pretty neat as it included a clear carrying bag with her logo on it, sunglasses, salt and pepper notebook, pencil, flashlight, binoculars, and a magnifying glass.

Suffice it to say my brother and me accidentally kind of hyped up the contest for her. She was already anxious to own it and was hell bent on being a spy, that when we agreed to call and try to win it, she was kind of convinced we would win and she’d have that prize by the end of the month. My brother and I took the phone and called every ten seconds in hopes of winning that kit and every single time we heard the busy signal. During that time when these networks held these awesome contests to call in to, you never consider that there are thousands of other kids calling in at the same time. You just want to win.

Your excitement kind of destroys all sense of logic and realism. In any case, we spent two hours total, calling in every ten seconds hoping to be connected. By the time ten o’clock rolled around, hope faded among us but we persisted on hoping to crash in to a miracle. Sadly just as the clock almost struck ten, it was announced who’d won the “Harriet the Spy” kit and it wasn’t my sister.

When we told her that the contest was done, she gave a pretty annoyed smile, and then turned beet red and pretty much broke down crying. And it wasn’t the crying of a kid who couldn’t get what she wanted, it was kind of the soft crying of someone who’d deflated from hope she’d built up and the idea that she was going to be a winner of this awesome prize.

That was one of the first times my brother and I played big brother to her, as we kind of sat beside her patting her back and assuring her that the prize was lame anyway, and that you don’t need that junk to be an actual spy. We also promised we’d find stuff for her to be her own spy, including a notebook of her very own and a flashlight. It took a little while but we’d calmed her down and assured her that the prize wasn’t all that good anyway, and we on a rant explaining how the contest is rigged and they only accept calls from suburban neighborhoods, etc.

Thankfully she bought a lot of what we said and we were able to cheer her up for the duration of the night. “Harriet the Spy” was always a favorite of hers; even now nearing thirty she loves the movie and loves to watch it. She’s even planning to introduce it to her kids very soon. We all have that one toy or prize we would have loved to own, and it’s always kind of the stark reality of life that some things are just unattainable. My sister got over the loss, but it was worth going for, to us. 

A few weeks ago I found an outdated listing for the Spy Kit by someone who’d won one of them, and I thought back to that interesting night… I’d get it for her in a heartbeat.

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 24, 2017 at 03:04 AM

Very sweet story of Brotherly Love (sans the Lawrence Brothers). The idea of not understanding the odds against you in these contests is so right on. Ahh, the optimism of childhood.

Superman Posted on Sep 23, 2017 at 11:30 PM

This reminds me of some of the contests Fox Kids used to run. I entered a few of them but never won. It was always my dream that one day I would be a winner, though.

If you ever see an active listing for one of those Spy Kits, I think you should totally buy it for her! Better late than never, and it would make for a very sentimental gift.

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