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A*Mazing Grace

Words by: Luke Hickey


“Is that fucking A*mazing?” enquired my girlfriend, peering over my shoulder as I was browsing YouTube for something light-hearted to fall asleep to. Sure enough, it was. She was referring to full-length clips of the Australian children’s TV game show that, through the beauty of home recording, was now available for streaming by anyone at anytime. And so began an evening of nostalgia and childhood reminiscence.

 For those who weren’t around or don’t remember, A*mazing was a game show consisting of several rounds with contestants picked from primary schools across Australia. The first round was essentially a spelling competition; one kid from each group would have to spell a word correctly on a giant QWERTY keyboard with points being given out based on how quickly they did it (often the biggest source of laughter on A*mazing was when one kid would have to spell something like B-A-N-A-N-A then the next poor dud would get O-N-O-M-A-T-O-P-O-E-I-A).

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The second round functioned as a treasure hunt within a complex maze filled with ball pits, fireman’s poles and revolving doors. This maze would contain a number of hidden silver keys (including one bonus key that, if found, would win you a GameBoy!) that the contestant would collect to net points for their school (again, another great source of schadenfreude on A*mazing was watching an apparently-blind child waddle right past the bonus key). Finally the last round was a video game contest.

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Being the first across the finish line on Moo Moo Farm in Mario Kart 64 was sometimes the last-ditch effort to get enough points to bring the A*mazing championship home to your school and as such, there were a lot of clutch moments and even more heartbreak. Emperor Nero in the form of A*mazing host James Sherry, would affably thumbs-down the pre-pubescent gladiators who had fought and lost for their primary schools, sending them home with the consolation prize of an Encyclopaedia Britannica CD-ROM.

 It was big fun getting back in touch with my childhood that night, but I was still curious. For whatever reason was consuming me, I needed to know what James Sherry had been up to since his tenure at A*mazing. This guy was essentially the gatekeeper of Saturday-morning entertainment for me as a kid, and his Wikipedia entry had only a couple of paragraphs to go from.

Through a little bit of digging through his Twitter account and personal website however, I was able to contact James directly, to which he was only too happy to oblige a former fan for a few questions though it would have to be the next day, as he explained that he was now a father himself and busy with parental duties.

I was momentarily stunned.

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I had spent countless hours watching A*mazing, and now you’re telling me with a few Internet searches and a quick phone call, I had tee’d up a conversation with one of my childhood heroes?

 Preparation would be easy, I knew exactly what I was going to ask (How do you feel about being the face of Gen-Y childhood television? Have things changed now that you have kids of your own? What happened to the A*mazing maze that I still want to run through gleefully now I’m 23?).

Actually talking to the guy I used to watch every Saturday morning would be the hard part. Fortunately as it turns out, James Sherry is still an outstanding dude. He happily answered everything I had at length as we talked A*mazing, non-traditional gender roles and refusing to grow up.

I was thrilled, partly because I was shooting the shit with one of my childhood icons, and also because said childhood icon didn’t turn out to be a bitter, jaded adult. Part of me was nervous before calling because of the old sentiment that you never want to meet your heroes because they will more often than not disappoint.

The fact that James Sherry had as many fond memories of A*mazing as I did was the greatest feeling, and I got the sense while talking to him that he really was just a big kid, who now had kids of his own.

 As we move towards a more global, connected society, often the stories that are most prominent in regards to the power of social media are the dangers of it. Nude pictures leaked without consent, Internet witch hunts and small gaffes made viral are stories most of us are probably familiar with by now due to the frequency of their occurrence. However, maybe sometimes we need re-familiarising that not all outcomes of using social media have to be negative. My story of using it to talk to a guy I used to watch on TV is pretty trifling and unimportant in comparison to the discussion of news topics, social issues or any other public debate that happens on Twitter or Facebook.

But it made me feel good, and on a personal level gave me hope that maybe there is some kind of Never-Never Land where you can exist in a visible, professional capacity without having to put on your adult face. I would encourage as many as I could to use social media to re-connect with those childhood memories. Send a thank-you message to Michael Jordan for Space Jam, tweet @ the guy who played Goku on Dragonball Z. You’ll be glad you did, and chances are so will they.