Mark Cuban has just finished eviscerating a contestant on US reality show Shark Tank, for which he works as one of the judges, or “sharks,” who listen to pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs. I can’t divulge what the contestant was pitching, but suffice it to say, it’s an idea with a good shot at winning him buy-in.
For a guy known for his outspokenness, he is often a quiet presence on the Shark Tank set, sitting serenely in a riveted red-leather armchair, jotting his thoughts in a notebook, occasionally making a pained expression, squinting, or pursing his lips. He doesn’t have an especially good poker face – or maybe he’s broadcasting his thoughts for effect, so he doesn’t disappear from the cameras completely. Either way, Cuban tends to sit back and study the action while his co-sharks engage with a contestant – until, inevitably, the moment comes when he can’t hold it in any longer.
“My bullshit meter is going nuts!” he tells the contestant, who has repeatedly made vague references to academic studies that vouch for his product, or maybe for the general idea of his product. It’s not clear if the contestant – a former Eagle Scout – is being disingenuous or is simply a poor communicator; either way, Cuban is having none of it. Bullshit is one thing he does not tolerate. He tries several times to force a straight answer, and when it doesn’t come, he can barely hide his disgust.
When the pitch session finally ends, the sharks, their handlers, and crew members mass around the snack buffet to hash out what just happened. “It amazes me; people come out knowing Mark’s going to be here and make claims like this guy,” says fellow cast member Robert Herjavec. Someone else mentions that the show keeps a psychologist on hand for situations like these, when a contestant “gets shit on.”
Every good episode has a high-drama showdown like this one, and Cuban relishes his ability to make the most of them. “I love those. You know me – I have fun,” he tells me as he refills his coffee and heads off to get his make-up touched up, leaving everyone else buzzing in his wake. After a mostly tranquil day on set, he has shown, once again, why he is the show’s undisputed star.
Shark Tank is the most popular US show on Friday nights among the coveted 18-to 49-year-old viewers. The audience has grown to roughly eight million people a week since its 2009 premiere. By comparison, the last season finale of Game of Thrones had just over seven million viewers. Part of Shark Tank’s appeal is that it’s arguably the most real show on reality television: The contestants are pursuing genuine business ventures, and the judges are investing their own money. Cuban, who joined the cast in the show’s third season, likes to say Shark Tank succeeds because it’s a validation of the American dream. It’s a show about ingenuity, pluck, money, and playing to win. Families watch it together: Parents teach kids about valuations and equity, brand building, and retail strategy.
Cuban himself is a validation of the American dream – a self-made man whose net worth, according to Forbes, is around US$2.7 billion – but that’s only part of his appeal. Once roundly considered a blowhard arriviste, the overgrown bro who invaded the old boys’ club of NBA owners when he bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, he’s become, over the years, something more like the league’s voice of reason. The Mavs, once perennial punch-line fodder, are now firmly entrenched in the NBA elite. Cuban, who’s been fined about US$1.7 million by the league over the years, mostly for running off at the mouth, now just as often shapes NBA policy.
For the full interview grab the May 2015 issue of MAXIM, in stores from April 16 to May 21.
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