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Season 13 | Episode 5

La Mancha Screwjob

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(Photo Credit: Matt Kielty, Latif Nasser)

All the world’s a stage. So we push through the fourth wall, pierce the spandex-ed heart of professional wrestling, and travel 400 years into the past to unmask our obsession with authenticity and our desire to walk the line between reality and fantasy.

Thanks to Nick Hakim for the use of his song "The Light". 

The Montreal Screwjob

Known as the Montreal screwjob, it ushered the real world into the scripted spectacle of professional wrestling. 

Comments [22]

The Real Don Quixote

Everybody’s heard of the book Don Quixote, but we had no idea how totally insane, and how stirringly modern, Miguel Cervante’s masterpiece really was.

Comments [15]

Comments [56]

Ted Kopacki from California

I have heard only half the program thus far, the wrestling part. Do you think that Donald Trump has his finger on the pulse and on the mentality of the country's wrestling fanatics? This curious relationship between fantasy and reality is so reminiscent of his campaign and now his presidency. I almost understand how he was able to amass such a following. No body knows if he genuinely thinks what he says or whether he is craftily disingenuous. People strain to find the truth there. He has us as captivated as wrestling fans are with their "art."

Mar. 27 2017 10:36 PM
Devereux from Cupertino

What's the track that comes in clearly at the 35:38 mark? Wonderful cosmic atmospheric tones.

Oct. 05 2016 01:53 AM
Benjamin Zalkin from Boston

I think Don Quixote is like a really old version of homestuck

Sep. 07 2016 03:58 PM
Henry from NJ

I keep listening to this episode. I love what you guys did with the sound throughout the episode.

Mar. 08 2016 10:26 AM
J.Ollie Lucks from Dunedin, New Zealand

We, three New Zealanders, just made a 3 minute film about wrestling that was INSPIRED BY THIS EPISODE OF RADIOLAB:

It just premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival last night. It is now online: 

Thank you Radiolab for inspiring art!

Jul. 24 2015 07:40 AM
Ben from South Carolina

I had forgotten how much I miss Frank Muller's voice (or I am assuming that is who I heard there reading Cervante.

May. 13 2015 04:07 PM
JT from United States

Ok; I would like to get the reference for Cervantes work, the one you used that sounded like an audio track in English. I really liked the way you connected (melded) between professional wrestling [sic] and Cervantes work. But I have to admit I was more impressed with the discussion on Cervantes, so please share with me a good citation for buying that CD-ROM in English (spoken book) of Cervantes "Don Quixote." Thank you.

May. 09 2015 04:25 PM
Chris from CO

What is the song playing at 34:10. Sounds pretty Eno-ish. I like it and would like to find it. Thanks!

Apr. 12 2015 12:46 PM
Agatha M. Silverstein

This was actually an awful podcast. I really have no interest in wrestling and am surprised that I even listened to more than 5 minutes of it. Wrestling is pure stupidity and a sorry excuse for entertainment. It's really annoying to me that people voluntarily fight each other (even if it is fake), and then viewers pay to keep up with this crap. But anyway, back to the podcast. It's unfortunate that they spent an hour sharing these implausible stories about wrestling. I pretty much just listened to see how ridiculous it would get, but then at some point 15 minutes later, I decided I couldn't endure the self hate any longer.

Apr. 07 2015 05:24 AM
Alice Z Lovecraft from Florida

This whole podcast surprised me. When I stumbled upon it, I thought it would be people who started a metal band to show opposition. I never thought people would do something like this. Injecting themselves with HIV to show opposition is crazy, but I understand it. It's one of the most interesting movements I've heard of. These people had no idea what they were getting into though. The effects of this disease are terrible, but they jumped into it without knowing the consequences. It was brave yet awful. This helped spread a terrible disease. I'm glad you brought light to it because this is something we do not hear about at school.

Mar. 30 2015 07:39 PM
Lucas from the emotion of disappointment

Disclaimer: Honestly no elitist hate for wrestling fans

But really, Radio Lab? You're going to tell me a tale of drama and betrayal from the world of pro wrestling and expect me to just believe it's not a work of fiction because a wrestling fan in the beginning of the audio says most fans accept it to be real? I'm not into pro wrestling so I'm clearly not qualified to dispute the details of this story but just a cursory internet search yielded some articles citing how and why this could have been another plot in the wrestling writing.

I was completely bewildered by this episode. The story just kept chugging along, citing nothing that could be proven as factual (just a fan's account of how he thinks it all went down) and all from an organization who's very draw is to make up entertaining and dramatic stories; yet never once questioning that this particular story is anything but gospel truth. Very disappointed.

Mar. 30 2015 02:36 AM

I thought this was a great episode, per usual. When "reality" and news become entertainment, the blurred lines between fiction and non-fiction become both more fascinating and more relevant.

Mar. 24 2015 05:52 PM

I thought this was a great episode, per usual. When "reality" and news become entertainment, the blurred lines between fiction and non-fiction become both more fascinating and more relevant.

Mar. 24 2015 05:50 PM
Chris from Davis, CA

Back to science and technology, not jerry springer culture;

Mar. 24 2015 02:07 PM

I enjoyed the episode, but like several other episodes of late, it had nothing to do with science. Sadly, Radiolab should be a retired as a podcast, and Jad and Robert should start a new show with a different name. Completely changing the focus of what is arguably the best podcast series ever just doesn't seem right.

Mar. 23 2015 02:19 PM
Rompin' Rhino from Florida

I loved the episode, but had two thoughts as I listened:

The whole question of mistaking fiction for reality harks back at least to Plato (another listener or two mentioned Classical sources, as well). Distinguishing between those realms is a concern addressed in The Republic, at the very least. The famous "Allegory of the Cave" is a prime example of Plato's interest in humanity's striving to distinguish authenticity behind the "shadows" that present themselves as reality. Similarly, Plato had concerns about the function of the "mimetic" -- the representation of reality in art -- and was skeptical, to say the least, about the admissibility of poetry in an ideal society.

As for the question of our fascination with the disjunction between "art" (if I can lump what the WWE does under that term) and "reality," it might be useful to consider not WHAT art means, but HOW it mean. Metaphor -- and all art is in some fashion or another metaphor -- depends for its meaning on the disjunction between vehicle and tenor, and it's in that "differance" that meaning resides. I'd suggest that we are drawn to such examples as The Montreal Screw Job -- and subsequent, more subtle iterations -- because they construct meaning at a metaphorical level. That is, to use the terms of the show, they set up a tension between so-called fiction and so-called reality, and what's important is not whether what we experience is fiction or reality, but, precisely, the irresolvable tension between the two. Once we determine if an act is "fiction" or is "real," then it ceases to mean; as long as the tension between the those two poles obtains, then the mechanics of meaning continue to operate.

Art, in a fundamental way, has always been concerned with that liminal space between fiction and reality -- since the Greeks (in Western culture), and undoubtedly since those prehistoric artists who preceded them.

If you want to do a "scientific" show about the topic I think lies at the heart of your story about the WWE and about Cervantes, I'd suggest a show about the metaphoric nature of language and of art.

Mar. 18 2015 08:48 PM
Gerard van der Waal from Baarn, the Netherlands

Hi guys, great show! I find that while I don't particularly enjoy wrestling I do enjoy the discourse on wrestling as a unique American cultural manifestation. I'm always especially enthralled by the notion of Kayfabe, and the fact that everyone knows that it's fake, but you can never talk about it.
I also enjoyed linking this to a history that may or may not begin with Cervantes. However, I wish you'd taken (at least) one step in between, namely that of showman Phineas Taylor Barnum whose playful representation of the 'truth' made his 19th century exhibits and autobiographies so (commercially) successful. I've always thought that Barnum's humbuggery is an early predecessor of wrestling’s Kayfabe.
But anyway: Great show!

Mar. 15 2015 04:37 PM
Liz from NYC

Another crossover fan here! As someone currently employed in academic publishing, I too thought I was "above" professional wrestling. However, I was introduced to the sport by friends and I'm enamored with it now. Though the quality of straight WWE is questionable at times, I challenge anyone who believes wrestling doesn't take an enormous amount of precision and skill to watch less recognized wrestling programs, such as WWE NXT (a developmental arm of the company where newly signed wrestlers have a lot to prove, therefore producing amazing matches), Ring of Honor, or New Japan wrestling. Though you may think pre-scripted athletics are pointless, as this episode explains, there is an art and ballet-like precision to 250+ pound men flinging, diving, and flipping across the ring. Even if you are intelligent, which I'd wager most Radiolab listeners are, you don't need to solely consume things branded as such.

Mar. 12 2015 10:54 AM


Mar. 11 2015 01:31 PM
Timothy from United States

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson walked the runway as their Zoolander characters at Paris fashion week.

Mar. 10 2015 01:54 PM
Walk from Birmingham, AL

Brilliant stuff, as always. Thanks for making me think. I'm interested in the weird interests/anxieties we have with "authenticity." Hope you guys find a way to revisit that theme sometime. Reminds me of this piece from a couple years back on authenticity in the music context (only semi-related to part of the show, but interesting, still):

Mar. 09 2015 10:13 PM
Jordan from Canada

I once had a jam session on the wrestling floor in the basement of the Hart mansion in Calgary, long after any of the Hart family lived there. Was a crazy, cool old house.
My favourite fourth wall breaks in novels are Vonnegut's appearance at the end of Breakfast of Champions, and a great novel called People of Paper - in the hardcover edition, there were actual holes in the pages where the author had ostensibly cut out certain words or names.
I also think anyone complaining there is no crossover between wresting fans and radiolab fans should think about whether they want to be pandered to, or challenged.

Mar. 09 2015 09:32 AM
Mgandsi from Massachusetts

I enjoyed the show. I was a pro-wrestling fan as a kid and into my early teens - Bret Hart was my hero. I thought Radiolab was clever in using a form of entertainment that is so widely derided as 'fake' to make a point about authenticity.

Thanks for the blast from the past!

Mar. 06 2015 03:51 PM
Karen from NYC

I was stuck in traffic when I started listening and my hear sank at the mention of wrestling.Silly me. Of course Radiolab turned this into a fascinating, moving listen. What next guys? Listening to paint dry? I'm in!

Mar. 06 2015 11:12 AM
Brian Bowes from Santa Cruz, CA

Loved the show. Loved the human qualities of the wrestling. I am a child of the 80's and the drama of all this story definitely stirred some emotions.

I LOVE the talk on Cervantes (I'm going to check out the newsletter that was briefly mentioned in the credits too!) But I wonder if the Arabian Nights aren't also another of these "inception-esque" tales of nesting stories within stories. However I do not know if at any point the characters deep in one store are "conscious" of a story teller, or character from a different thread.

Please continue rocking right on!

Mar. 05 2015 12:00 PM

Love Radiolab! And I am all for Radiolab looking beyond the science, after all, some of my very favourite podcasts have been on other topics. (‘60 minutes’ anyone?)
However, your second segment on Cervantes is quite misleading. Either your scholars were too enthusiastic in praising the work, or your editors sacrificed nuance for the sake of succinctness.
“Has anything like this come before this? - No, he’s really sort of inventing this whole meta-narrative game that is so popular today. … well, up until that point most stories are simply, they purport to be what they are”
The best example I can think of is Dictys Cretensis’ fake diary of the Trojan war: this diary has an elaborate backstory which contradicts itself: it was circulated by Cadmus and Agenor, found by shepherds, translated from Phoenician alphabet to Attic Greek by Praxis, presented to Nero, in whose employ Lucius Septimius was, who ‘translated’ it from Greek to Latin, partly in its original length and partly abridged, and sent to Rufinus. It was ALSO found by shepherds, brought to Eupraxides and then Rutilius Rufus and then Nero, who then had the Phoenician transposed to Greek.
In the case of this example (and probably Cervantes, though I am not sufficiently familiar with the text), the elaborate, self-contradictory backstory is a signal not necessarily for authenticity, but for fictionality. After all, no one is arguing that Don Quixote was a historical person, right?

Mar. 04 2015 10:18 AM
Elizabeth from Norge

I heard the request for support at the beginning of this podcast, but 15 minutes into the broadcast I found myself thinking, "If they want my money, a show on pro-wrestling isn't convincing me to part with it."

I tried to be open-minded, and I listened for as long as I could because I generally love your podcasts. But this was just silly.

Mar. 04 2015 05:40 AM
Allyssa from ID

I've always wanted to have a good conversation with someone about pro-wrestling! As a kid I knew it was fake but it was still fun rooting for the good guys and seeing a bit of justice in my life.

Anyways,thanks for this!

Mar. 04 2015 02:17 AM
Latsod from Dallas

Don Quixote is not some obscure book. It's odd listening to them discuss it like it like they are unfamiliar with the plot. This seems like a very inauthentic discussion as part of the show on the search for authenticity.

Mar. 02 2015 05:45 PM
joeprog from Carolina, Puerto Rico

Can't believe the amount of elitism I've read in the comments here. People like the ones frowning upon wrestling in general and the episode in particular are the types that give public radio listeners a bad name. It doesn't hurt to be open minded.

Mar. 01 2015 09:43 PM
Stephen from Connecticut

I loved this episode, and I never watched pro wrestling, but wanted to suggest a couple more "fiction meets the real" moments that I've found in music and books. Cohered and Cambria - a band that uses their music as the soundtrack to a larger story - has the author enter the story to directly affect the plot outcome in "The Willing Well." Besides that I found Stephen Kings use of the idea pretty interesting in "The Dark Tower" series. In it his characters enter his reality to save/advise him on the story itself.
Separate from that, who cares if there's crossover between fans of pro wrestling and radiolab... do people really have to be so closed minded as to not be able to get at the idea that they were using wrestling to express... get over yourselves.

Feb. 28 2015 10:29 PM
Jacqueline from CT

OK, If we must take WWF seriously.... how about an equally inane program about long running Soap Operas?
(In other words, Please, No!)

Feb. 28 2015 12:20 PM
Minus from Long Beach, CA

Great show. I am another fan of Radiolab and life long wrestling fan. As to Raw being the longest running show, I'm not sure. But "fake" wrestling is as old as the hills. I read recently of an ancient written contract that was discovered pertaining to a wrestling match in ancient Rome in which it was outlined how the match would go and when the "job" would take place. ("job"is a wrestling term of art for losing a match in such a way as to make the other guy look good.)

Feb. 27 2015 09:59 PM
Andrew from Portland, OR

At 22 seasons, RAW is not even remotely close to being the longest running weekly show. Simpsons as scripted show is at 26 years. There are dozens of news and documentary shows which have been on for 30+ years. See

Also, I agree with the general "where's the science" sentiment in the comments these few months. Contrasting this wrestle-farce with the episode about parasites makes it hard to believe it is the same crew.

Get back to work! Please!!

Feb. 27 2015 01:33 PM
BA from Three Points

I don't have a problem with the idea of the show -- fiction blurring with reality -- but man, where is the science?

What about virtual reality? What about other things we experience in life that aren't "real" but have a bit of reality in them?

Come on, Radiolab.

Feb. 27 2015 11:20 AM
Abby from Cambridge, MA

Oh man, amazing use of Fleetwood Mac in the wrestling mash-up. Beautiful :')

Feb. 27 2015 10:07 AM
feresr from Argentina

The quality of the episode is as good as always, the sounds, the music, it's all perfect. The subject though... :/

Feb. 27 2015 08:39 AM

I have never been big into Wrestling but I found this fascinating. I know people think it isn't "science" but psychology is science and this really plays into how peoples minds area affected by things. And when I went to talk to my husband (who was a wrestling fan in his youth) he knew all about the montreal screw job, we actually had two different sides of knowledge on it. BTW here is a youtube link to the video of the main event

Feb. 27 2015 07:56 AM
Andrew from Australia

Radiolab: what was that song played at the tail end of the mash up??? "I know I aint dreaming... its haunting me.

Feb. 26 2015 06:23 PM
Charles Mann

Meh episode. Unfortunately, Radiolab has devolved into a bad This American Life clone. We already have too many long societal/culture podcasts. Bring back the science!

Feb. 26 2015 05:07 PM
Casey from Edmonton

Not Radiolab's best. With so much going on in the culture of science right now (controversy about data reproducibility, funding crisis, young scientists leaving the profession) you'd think there'd be plenty of material for this great show to get back to what they really do well.

Feb. 26 2015 03:26 PM
Jeffrey from Binghamton New York

Great podcast. For those who don't know, WWE's Monday Night Raw is longest episodic show in TV history and continues to be. It is embedded in pop culture, sports, and the demographic it reaches is so wide range we would all be surprised at who are "closet" pro wrestling viewers. There is a reason WWF/WWE continue to produce shows like Wrestlemania (now on Wrestlemania 31)it is because the formula is and has been as successful of any show on the air for the last 25 years. Fact is: people enjoy it and the fan-base has no boundary.

Feb. 26 2015 02:24 PM
Matt from Bronx

For those who wonder how in the world wrestling fans could also be erudite and informed members of society, remember that gladiatorial combat (whether real or staged) has been present in human history since the beginning as a means of entertainment. It allows use to capture the true emotions everyone feels on a daily basis and portray, live and in technicolor, for mass consumption. You may look at professional wrestling as some backwoods form of low-brow entertainment, and in many respects it can fail to meet the higher standards we strive for in society. But at its best, it is high theatre that I would hold up against any other art form in its ability to convey compelling and meaningful storylines and elicit real emotions in the viewer.

This wasn't a heavy-science edition of Radiolab, but I love that they were willing to just tell stories today. I know people worry that it might become a TAL clone, but to me any great podcast needs to be willing to branch out and play with its format, and in this case I thought both the wrestling and Don Quixote sections to be compelling.

Feb. 26 2015 11:01 AM
Katie from Maine

With zero interest in wrestling, I found this extremely interesting. Thanks for the new take on it all! I'm always happy to have my opinions changed by good stories and to be exposed to new ideas. The Don Quixote half was amazing and the music at the end of the podcast was probably my favorite that you've done so far, really cool mash-up.

Feb. 26 2015 09:21 AM

Although an interesting set of stories, where did the science of radiolab go? Translations was the last episode I thought could be called Radiolab caliber. I love you guys, but it feels like there is slow fade into the realm of "This American Life." I miss the science Radiolab used to focus on so well.

Feb. 26 2015 08:38 AM
Zak Nelson from Raleigh, NC

Delusional Don Quixote wasn't the only one who confuses fiction for reality: in Cervantes's era, Spanish explorers sought the fabled Strait of Anián, a northwest passage through North America. It had for so long been rumored to exist that mapmakers simply included it in their maps of the new continent, and explorers took for granted that they would one day find it.

With Cervantes came the arrival of metafiction: the moment when someone said, "wait a minute, we all know this Strait of Anián is fake, right?" and society responded, "screw it, we'll look for it anyway." It's a willful madness that, upon deeper scrutiny, turns out to be very human. Such is the nature of wrestling, too.

Yet such scrutiny and reflection requires a considerable number of pages. Funny then how metafictional Don Quixote is also commonly considered the first novel.

As the program points out, Cervantes in his time was dealing with a new worldview catalyzed by the advent of rationalism in science (and realism in the arts).

Feb. 25 2015 07:15 PM
Amaji from Barcelona

Although I'm not a wrestling fan, I enjoyed your take on it. The second part was fantastic, I was riding the bus, and people stared because I couldn't stop smiling. Thanks for making my way home so much better tonight :)

Feb. 25 2015 05:33 PM
Chris, also from Indiana

Fantastic episode! I've never been a huge fan of wrestling, but one thing I love about smart shows is that if you listen to it with an open mind, you're going to learn something new and, as it turned out, really fascinating.

I've also never read Don Quixote, so I had not known about the levels to which it delved. I had some interest already just due to my Dutch heritage, but now I'm very curious. It also reminded me of a newer take on meta storytelling, The Princess Bride.

Most people will have, at some point in their lives, watched the film that came out in the 80s. In the movie, it is said that the grandfather is reading a book that was read to him as a boy. Well, it just so happens that in the early 70s, an author, William Goldman, published an abridged version of the original story, written by S. Morgenstern. Goldman removed some of the boring parts and added in his own commentary to fill in so that the book would be a better read.

Except, there was no original book, and S. Morgenstern never existed. Goldman actually used the idea of an abridged version initially as he was having some trouble with moving the story along after the first couple of chapters. He kept it up, and it really worked beautifully. This has even allowed him to continue the ruse by publishing newer editions that have built on the suggestion of a sequel, with more hints as versions were released.

Feb. 25 2015 04:45 PM
Adrienne from NYC

Yes, there is crossover between fans of RadioLab and pro wrestling. I am a big fan of both. I would venture that most people who have an appreciation for "high" culture and content (NPR, jazz, classic cinema) also enjoy some form of "low" culture (horror movies, reality TV, romance novels).

Both high and low culture are reflections of our society and humanity, are deserving of exploration, and, frankly, are often more closely linked than most would like to admit. As someone familiar with the Montreal Screwjob story, it was interesting to hear it reframed in a larger conversation about fiction vs. reality.

Feb. 25 2015 04:43 PM
Adrienne from NYC

Yes, there is crossover between fans of RadioLab and pro wrestling. I am a big fan of both. I would venture that most people who have an appreciation for "high" culture and content (NPR, jazz, classic cinema) also enjoy some form of "low" culture (horror movies, reality TV, romance novels).

Both high and low culture are reflections of our society and humanity, are deserving of exploration, and, frankly, are often more closely linked than most would like to admit. As someone familiar with the Montreal Screwjob story, it was interesting to hear it reframed in a larger conversation about fiction vs. reality.

Feb. 25 2015 04:41 PM

"Do you guys really believe there's any crossover between fans of your show and fans of pro wrestling?"

Hello, hi, present.

Feb. 25 2015 03:52 PM

This was a great show. I remember those events happening while in college. As a cultural studies major, I always found wrestling as a fascinating reflection of wider cultural influences. The story of the Hart family is a great modern tragedy. The contrast to the story behind Don Quixote as a wider consideration of what truth is when it comes to storytelling was brilliant.

Feb. 25 2015 03:25 PM

Some sour pusses here, sorry wet cats, this show was still stimulating. As a non-wrestler fan I enjoy being exposed to things I am entirely ignorant of, Bret Hart is certainly one of them. I am also a huge fan of Don Quixote and the complex absurdities within his universe. You honestly never know what radio lab with throw in our direction.

Feb. 25 2015 02:32 PM
Check from Reality

God that was awful. Do you guys really believe there's any crossover between fans of your show and fans of pro wrestling?

Feb. 25 2015 01:31 PM
Mark from Indiana

This "Montreal Screwjob" garbage left me no choice but to stop playback. Unlistenable.
What's next, behind the scenes with "The Bachelor"? C'mon, guys. This, from the same show that brought me Oliver Sacks and Buke and Gass? (I will give a listen to "The Real Don Quixote)

Feb. 25 2015 10:07 AM
Roon from Central Jersey

Why do I suspect that I am alone in having this discussion of the boundary between fact and fiction bring to mind the Remington Steele TV series, books about and by Kilgore Trout, and the novella "The Thing about Cassandra"? (Wikipedia can shed light on these references for those both puzzled and curious.)

Feb. 25 2015 12:02 AM

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