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<i>American Inventor</i>: Episode 5 In this two-hour episode, we finally find out who the final 12 inventors are.

By Laura Tiffany

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Oh, the fillers of reality TV--why do they torture us so? Last night's double episode treated us to 17 minutes of reminiscent filler before getting to the point: how the 50 finalists would be narrowed down to 24 and then finally down to the dozen lucky people who would receive $50,000 to further develop their inventions.

On to the filler. The episode naturally started with a look back at the extensive audition process. But rather than a highlight reel of touching, funny, inspirational or heated moments, the audience was subjected to full repeats of audition clips from inventions that didn't even make it. Seriously, what's the point? To demonstrate the amazing invention that is the fast-forward button on my TiVo remote? Let's just get to the good stuff.

Each of the 50 inventors had 60 seconds to give another pitch in front of the judges and the other inventors. The judges offered their encouragement and advice:

Doug Hall: "You've got to give me hope of how you're going to change the world."

Mary Lou Quinlin: "What is it about your idea that would say why you are the American Inventor?"

Peter Jones: "Come in there and be as passionate as you can... give it your all as if it is the most important thing in your life because, believe you me, I think it is."

Mark, the very first yes of the show, nailed his pitch for his one-person sandbag shovel. But from there, it went downhill quick in an avalanche of nervousness, dry pitches, rambling speeches, forgotten lines and product demos that just didn't work.

The judges broke for lunch and were heartbroken by the poor pitches. Peter said he was "completely disillusioned." Doug Hall noted that "this is embarrassing," and Ed Evangelista said the inventors really had to "step up their game." Doug wondered if they'd even be able to come up with 24 inventors out of this bunch.

Upon returning to the hall, Doug gave the inventors a lively pep talk/get-your-act-together speech, and exclaimed, "The soul of the invention is the passion of the inventor!" He told the inventors that they had to sell the judges on the invention and show more passion.

After the speech, the inventors began selling themselves more than their actual products. This surprised me a little, as I thought the earlier problems were due to a lack of professionalism and preparation in their presentations. But it seems the judges were looking more for impassioned pleas--for proof of how much the inventors really want to pursue their dreams and how much they've given up. The inventors' passion became the primary issue.

Erik, the gym-owner who created the Receivers Training Pole for football training, gave an amazing speech about how much it means for him to see the kids he's trained succeed. Francisco, the young man who created the two-seater bike from the first episode, returned with an improved prototype. Sheryl, an inventor not previously shown, created the clever Un-brella, an umbrella that's sucked into a tube so it's easier to get into a car while still being covered from the rain.

The judges convened after all 50 pitches were given, and we were shown random sound bites that didn't mean much since we didn't know who they were talking about. It was interesting to hear them admit their mistakes in ever letting some of these inventions through to the next round.

Then several groups were brought out in front of the judges; some go, and some stay. It was a little confusing to see who's who, so lucky for us, the second half of the show featured the 24 who were allowed to stay.

From 24 to 12
In this round of pitches, the inventors again focused on their drive and ambition. But now the judges had a more serious question: Why should we give you $50,000? And the inventors didn't always have a good answer. This round also featured a lot of tears from the inventors and the judges (and, yes, us, too).

Jodi, who suffers from alopecia and created the Headliner, a moisture-wicking hat and wig-liner, gave a moving speech about how her curse (alopecia) became a blessing. Peter gave her a high compliment, telling her that he hadn't listened to a pitch so intently and that he "felt [her] journey."

Erik, again, blew the competition away with his personality, energy and powerful words in his pitch for the Receivers Training Pole. Peter, quite the eloquent fellow tonight, said that it wasn't often that all four judges were rendered speechless.

Sheryl, the Un-brella maker, said her unemployment has run out and all she has is her invention. Ed, creator of the Word Ace game, said that the children he taught inspired his dream. Darla, creator of a multilingual doll, said she's given everything and has "passion, determination, drive and creativity." Mark, the flosser re-designer who made it past the first round, said he's never been a quitter. The judges were very moved by him.

Janusz, the man who lost his infant daughter in a car accident and has created a new child safety seat, moved my boyfriend and I to tears with his pitch. He stated that three kids die every day in car accidents and that he doesn't have time--he needs to get this product into the marketplace to prevent more losses. It was heart-breaking and inspiring.

Francisco gave the last pitch, He admitted his product isn't the greatest (which made us groan--don't say that in front of the judges!) and in the beginning, he didn't feel like an inventor. But now he knows he's "Francisco the Inventor."

The judges visited the "Deliberation Room" again after the pitches were finished. They conferred for hours, and when it came down to the 12th contestant, Peter and Doug had an ego fight about experience: Doug has led tons of inventions into the marketplace, but Peter sells half a billion dollars worth of products every year. So which one of them is more qualified to choose? Mary Lou loses it and screams at Doug: "You don't get to be the smartest person in the room!" Still, Doug staked his reputation on the last finalist, and the other judges followed his lead.

The most irritating thing: We get no clue as to who the controversial inventor was.

And so finally, the 12 inventors who will receive $50,000 to develop their invention for a final pitch are revealed. They are:

  • Mark Martinez, Sackmaster 2000
  • Jodi Pliszka, The Headliner
  • Robert Amore, Toner Belt
  • Francisco Patina, Double Traction Bike
  • Erik Thompson, Receiver's Training Pole
  • Sharon Clemens, Restroom Door Clip
  • Edward Hall, Word Ace
  • Joseph and Jenny Safuto, Flushpure
  • Sheryl McDonald, The Un-Brella
  • Jerry Wesley, EZ-X Portable Gym
  • Darla Davenport-Powell, Here Comes Niya
  • Janusz Liberkowski, Spherical Safety Seat

Since I'm not a judge, I get to state my favorites, which all made it to the final 12: the Sackmaster 2000, the Restroom Door Clip and the Spherical Safety Seat. And I'm placing my bets on the safety seat, though I can see red tape and testing getting in the way. But I'm crossing my fingers because Janusz has not only a dream but a mission, and it's a wonderfully noble one that's backed up by an ingenious idea.

Next week, we get to see what Mark, Sharon and Sheryl do with four weeks and $50,000 in development funds; only one will go on to the final finals. This structure leads me to guess that after four more weeks, we'll have four final finalists, who will then face off to compete to become the $1 million American Inventor.

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