It seems some people are prepared to go to all ends of the earth to win a Platinum Pass. It makes sense. The Pass, which is worth $30,000, gives the holder entry to the $25,000 buy-in PokerStars Players Championship this January in the Bahamas. Playing in a tournament that big is a dream many players can’t afford.
So far this year, Brooklyn native Nathan Manuel has traveled to London and San Francisco and now, in a roundabout kind of way, he’s also going to Japan to try and win himself one of the 300 Platinum Passes available.
Manuel is one of the contestants taking part in Jaime Staples’ #MyUltimateSweat Platinum Pass Adventure that is awarding one person that coveted golden ticket. Inspired by the prop bet he and his brother won with Bill Perkins that saw Jaime drop almost 116 pounds, Staples wanted to encourage other people to go on a journey of self-improvement and share that with the world. Manuel took it as an opportunity to do something he’s always wanted to do – learn to speak Japanese.
“Once I had made the decision to hunt down the Platinum Pass, I became rather committed to it. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna make this happen. Somehow, I’m gonna win one of these damn passes,” Manuel said. That’s where the globe-trotting comes in.
In June, Manuel was in London on a business trip when he noticed there was an event at the Hippodrome that was awarding the winner with a Platinum Pass, so he paid the airline change fees and stayed a few extra nights in his hotel room just to play that.
“I extended my flight and my hotel … then went and played the Megastack at the Hippodrome,” said Manuel. “There were four flights for that, and I played every one of them.”
In early August, the first stop of the Moneymaker PSPC Tour was at Stones Gambling Hall in California and Manuel knew he had to try that one as well. So he flew cross-country to take yet another shot.
While he had a good time at both events, he didn’t come away from either one with a Platinum Pass.
“When the ‘My Ultimate Sweat’ challenge was announced, it was really a great confluence of things that were happening,” said Manuel, who is getting married in September. He pitched Japan as a potential honeymoon destination to his fiance. He’s been there three times on business and fell in love with the people and the culture there. Once she was on board with the destination, Manuel figured it would make the trip better if he learned the language first.
“I’ve been wanting to learn Japanese before our honeymoon. At least enough to get around, introduce ourselves, ask for directions, how to get to train stations, and be able to order food when we’re in different restaurants – basic stuff,” said Manuel, who read the requirements for Staples’ challenge and decided he had to take this shot. “I talked to Claire and said, ‘So, I know we have a wedding in a month and this is probably the worst timing ever to try to do something like this, but how about we do this?’. And she very graciously agreed. She said ‘Okay, I know you want to win a Platinum Pass. I know you want to learn Japanese. This seems like a great way to do that.”
Manuel first had to decide on the best path to the learning side of the equation, but there was another part of the program that he also had to figure out to. Staples used his vlog, Twitch stream, and social media channels to document his weight loss journey and expects all entries in the challenge to document their journey in a similar way. That content is part of what each entry will be judged on.
“I will say I did not expect the content creation portion of this challenge to be so hard. Just hard because I expect a certain level of quality and I don’t want to half-ass this. If I’m going to do it, I really want the content to be good and maybe meaningful to somebody and at least highly produced. But I don’t come from the world where content is being created,” Manuel said.
Like many of his fellow competitors, Manuel is vlogging as a way to showcase what he’s learning and just how far he’s come. He’s working with a Japanese tutor and is also taking advantage of some technology to help him speed up the learning process.
“I’m doing three hours of one-on-one training every week. So that’s kind of the core bit of hearing and saying,” said Manuel. “I’m using two different applications daily; a program called Duolingo … and then the other one’s called Lingodeer, and it is an Asian-centric learning tool. It is more complex and expects you to learn more quickly.”
He’ll be doing two tests during the 12-week challenge and each is a spoken test with his tutor designed to challenge his ability to hold a conversation in Japanese. He’s currently figuring out the logistics of live-streaming each test on Twitch. Don’t misunderstand Manuel though, he’s not trying to become fluent by any means, he recognizes that’s an impossible ask given the October 8 deadline.
“Being able to order off menus and being able to ask for and receive directions. I really focus in on those things because I think at that level, those things are achievable,” said Manuel. “But if you said, ‘Oh, you also have to be able to read Hiragana, Katakana and know some Kanji’, there’s no way. There’s no way in 12 weeks you can learn a category five language at all.”
Manuel is just one of the hundreds of people that Staples will be judging before ultimately picking the winner. Even if it doesn’t end with a Platinum Pass, Manuel knows that this whole process will have other benefits.
“The likelihood of me winning a Platinum Pass in this spot is very low and what I’m doing between now and then has to be worthwhile as individual autonomous events that have the possibility to add up to something greater,” said Manuel. While at Stones Gambling Hall, he jumped into the broadcast booth and even got the chance to teach interview Chris Moneymaker and teach him some Japanese.
“All of these experiences that I’m having right now are already making it worthwhile for me.”