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American Inventor: The Finale

We finally get to learn who won the million bucks!


After spending several weeks getting to know the four finalists on American Inventor, we finally got to find out who came out on top last night. (If you're really curious and haven't heard yet, go ahead and skip to the end.) Before the big reveal, however, here's my final recap of the season.

The finale show was taped live in front of a studio audience. Each of the four inventors--Erik, Ed, Francisco and Janusz--was brought out with the judge who mentored them. By way of introduction, host Matt Gallant showed each inventor's family in the audience and a live feed of their hometown celebrations. First up was Erik. In his hometown of Detroit, the mayor was out celebrating with a huge crowd. Erik said he felt "like a million bucks" and did a funny little Dr. Evil homage. Francisco's fans were hanging out at Queens College in New York. After seeing his fans in , Ed said, "I feel like I have the world behind me." And Janusz's good friend, Janusz, (yep, same name) was heading up his celebration in Los Gatos, California.

Then we got a quick look back at the previous episode, when each finalist completed a 30-second commercial for their product.

Gallant asked the judges about their feelings regarding the whole competition. Mary Lou Quinlin said it had been an "emotional roller coaster," and Peter Jones said the journey had been "amazing" and that they really had four winners.

Then it was time to eliminate the first inventor. This was the longest, most drawn-out process, almost to the point of cruelty. Matt split the inventors into two groups, Francisco/Ed and Erik/Janusz, and said that, for the first dismissal, one of the pairs was safe but someone from the other pair was going home. The safe pair for round one turned out to be Erik/Janusz. Before letting Francisco and Ed know which one of them was going home, they cut to commercial. Upon return, we found out it was Francisco with his Double-Traction Bike who got the least amount of votes.

This was a really emotional moment. Francisco stated that he was "grateful for all the support," and his mentor, Mary Lou, said, "I am so proud of you. You will be inventing all your life." Then came the twist: Matt brought out Steve Bowman, the VP of industrial design for Trek Bikes, who offered Francisco an internship. If that wasn't enough to make up for the loss, Francisco received a taped message of luck from cycling legend Lance Armstrong. The whole thing was incredibly sweet and touching, and yep, like Francisco, I had tears in my eyes.

For the next elimination, there was no big production, but Matt did give a gigantic pregnant pause before announcing the name: Erik. Then they showed a retrospective of his American Inventor experience (as they did for Francisco). Erik said, "I made it for every blue-collar Joe who's trying to break away." Ed Evangelista, his mentor, told Erik, "This is not the end; this is the beginning." And to prove that, they brought out football great Jerry Rice--and Erik was so excited I think he actually squeaked at one point. Rice told Erik, "I applaud you. You won no matter what." And he pledged to help Erik develop his product. I think a celebrity endorsement from someone like Rice would do wonders for The Catch.

To lighten things up, we got to see a montage of the judges' funniest moments: Doug trying out all the inventions. Peter facing off with a 78-year-old woman. Mary Lou freaking out over the wrapped-in-a-bow naked woman. Then Matt asked the judges what they'd remember the most from the show. Mary Lou said "the stories." Peter Jones remarked that he loved "the wackiness and the inspiration." And Doug said, "I got to play with all these wicked cool toys!" And then he made a statement that summed up the entire show: "Face it, there's a fine line between genius and stupidity, and we got to see both." Ed said he couldn't wait to do it again next year.

Now that it was down to Janusz and Ed, we got to take a look back at both of their runs on the show. Janusz was shown saying, "Only in America you can change your life in one day." And Ed reiterated that he was inspired by kids and that "any kid can do exactly what I've done."

Another commercial. Then a check back at Janusz's and Ed's hometowns, where the people on the microphones couldn't hear a darn thing. Think some inventor will come back next season with a better earphone for remote filming? Janusz's friend, Janusz, was eventually able to sum up quite succinctly what the crowd was doing: "We are waiting for the win!"

And that's just what they got: Janusz won! I was so excited. Yes, I voted for him the most (with five votes allowed for each phone, I also gave one to Francisco).

Before awarding him the check, first runner-up Ed was introduced to Mike Hirtle, the VP of product development at Games, who said he has the coolest job, traveling the country and looking at nearly 1,600 game concepts a year. He told Ed, "I like how you've balanced the fun and education, [and] I like how the commercial got the message across." He offered to meet with Ed to do whatever he could to get the game into the marketplace.

Then it was back to newly minted millionaire Janusz. He was visited by Rob Matteucci, the CEO of Evenflo, the infant and children's product manufacturer. He told Janusz, "We are inspired by your passion." And he promised to devote the best of his engineering, product development and testing teams to help Janusz get the Anecia Survival Capsule into the market.

American Inventor may have had its share of overly sappy moments--and too many repeats of audition footage--but I'm really impressed and inspired by the quality and amount of help the show set up for each of the final four inventors. It's heartening to know that even though Erik, Francisco and Ed didn't win the $1 million, their products may still hit the shelves and, because of the show's publicity, will probably become runaway hits.

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