Episode #197 — The Jumping Frog Jubilee of Calaveras County

In a world of skip intro options for streaming shows, it’s hard to imagine watching a television intro/theme song all the way through each time you watch it. In some cases, you must skip it altogether in the interest of time. For instance, with “Game of Thrones,” they obviously spent a great deal of time and money on the title credits. But there were so many people involved with the show, it took up valuable time that you could have used to do something else, like watching the show recap in “Game of Jones” or “Gay of Thrones.” So, we watched the intro once to give all the people who worked hard on it their due but skipped it forever after. Well, we now have two exceptions to our policy.

The first is for the theme song to the 1985 short-lived sitcom “Half Nelson.” Come for a glimpse of Joe Pesci — stay for the never-ending shots of L.A. scenery and a cavalcade of 80s names. Do we know what the show is about? No. Do we have an idea of how many episodes actually aired? Not really. That’s not the point. The point is that one of our first-time caller/long-time listeners sent us a link to these opening credits and our lives will never be the same. And we know if we transported ourselves back to 1985, we’d commit to watching the theme song every single time. No running for snacks or bathroom breaks. (Even if we had the technology back then, there’s no way in hell we’d pause Spuds MacKenzie.)

As for the other exception, we (meaning I) will never, ever skip the theme song to NBC’s hit 90s show “Wings.” Schubert’s “Piano Sonata No. 20 in A Major, D. 959, Rondo: Allegretto” and aerial scenes of Nantucket equals repeat views. The New England scenes from the theme song to “Newhart” are a close second, but it’s not based off a Schubert piece, and it doesn’t have three separate lighthouse shots. Sorry, Henry Mancini. You should have tried harder.

Not only do we know our classical music here at Why, but we also know our great American literature — or at least remember the literature we were required to read in high school. Enter Mark Twain’s famous short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” We were thrilled to discover that this has been an official event since the late 1920s, and even more thrilled to chat with someone who has been a part of that contest for over 40 years. For this week’s episode we spoke with Jon Kitchell about life in the frog-jumping world.

Jumping Arrowhead Reed Frog 2002 Tanzania

We’re going to put it out there right now — Jon has participated in the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee contest since the early 1980s and has yet to win. But he’s come close, and lots of his relatives have won through the years. So, for us, there’s no one more qualified to walk us through the ins and outs of a famous jumping frog contest. And we know one day his perseverance will be rewarded with his frog’s name immortalized on the Frog Hop of Fame in Angels Camp, CA, where the contest takes place every year.

Jon explained how contest participants find the right frog (it must be a bullfrog — toads need not apply) and whether rigorous training is involved. We learned about peripheral vision in frogs, how imitating a predator could help a frog win, and what the contest entails. While it’s fascinating to imagine bullfrogs in Nike-sponsored track suits, stretching and taking off from a starting line, the reality is a lot different (but no less adorable). How soon before the contest are participating frogs caught? Just how many frogs are involved in this event? How are they treated? And could a three-legged frog win it all? Listen to this week’s episode to get answers to all these questions and more. Froggy cannibalism might have even come up in conversation, but we’re not giving it away here.

For more information about the jumping frogs and their contest, check out the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee website. You can also follow them on Facebook (the Frog Jubilee, not an actual frog). The contest happened this past weekend, so it’s possible you’re hearing about the event from the 2022 champion. Or the cousin of the champion. Either way, Jon’s the clear winner to us!


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