Mystery Guest

Mar 3, 2017
Originally published on May 30, 2017 2:06 pm

This week's mystery guest is Harvey Burgett, an accomplished music composer, conductor and organist. In 2015, Harvey won a national title for something he only started doing four years ago! Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton ask "yes" or "no" questions to figure it out what it was for.

Heard on Tim Daly: Mr. Madam Secretary

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While Sam and Caroline get ready to face off in our final round, it's time for me and Jonathan to play a game we call Mystery Guest. A stranger is about to come on stage. We have no idea who this person is or what makes them special, but our puzzle guru Art Chung does.

ART CHUNG: That's right. Ophira, you and Jonathan will work together as a team to figure out our mystery guest's secret by asking yes or no questions. Mystery guest, please introduce yourself.

HARVEY BURGETT: Hello, I'm Harvey Burgett, and I won a national title.

EISENBERG: You won a national title.

CHUNG: Yes...

JONATHAN COULTON: A national title.

CHUNG: ...Harvey is 72 years old and an accomplished music composer, conductor and organist. But his title is in something he only started doing four years ago.


CHUNG: Ophira, you get the first question.

EISENBERG: OK, is your national title in something that involves a physical activity?


COULTON: Is your title in something that involves creating something - making something with your hands?


EISENBERG: OK, is your physical title loosely connected to a sport?


EISENBERG: Is your title in something that is just considered a sport? Loosely was better? Loosely was better?

BURGETT: Yes, yes.

EISENBERG: OK, good, loosely was better.

BURGETT: It's a sport.

CHUNG: It's a sport.

EISENBERG: It's a sport? OK.

COULTON: Does it involve a ball?



EISENBERG: Looked like you were going to say yes and then you came out with a no. I get it. All right, is this a sport that you do individually?

BURGETT: Sometimes.

EISENBERG: Sometimes but you can do it as part of a group?


EISENBERG: A part of a team?


EISENBERG: A team of more than eight players? I don't even know if that team exists. Wait a second.

BURGETT: Possibly.

EISENBERG: Oh, my God, could it be 200 players?

BURGETT: That would be awesome, but I don't think so.


BURGETT: (Laughter).

COULTON: Is it capture the flag? No, it is not capture the flag. That was a joke. That's not a sport.


EISENBERG: Have I ever watched this sport on television?

BURGETT: Yes, you have.


COULTON: Is it an Olympic sport?

BURGETT: Yes, it is.

EISENBERG: Oh, is it a Winter Olympic sport?


EISENBERG: OK, so the one that you guys know...

COULTON: It's some kind of Summer Olympics sport.

EISENBERG: Summer - OK, so...

CHUNG: Well done.

COULTON: Is it aquatic? Is it an aquatic sport?

BURGETT: Yes, it is.

EISENBERG: It's aquatic. Is it synchronized swimming?

BURGETT: Yes, it is.




CHUNG: So Harvey is currently the only competitive male athlete in synchronized swimming in New York. And in 2015 and '16, he won a National Gold Medal in synchronized swimming for his age group.

EISENBERG: That's amazing.



EISENBERG: How did you know you were going to be good at synchronized swimming?

BURGETT: I have a swimming coach, Dale Mohammed, and I was taking lap classes. And she said you're having much too much fun, come to my synchro class. Then she invited me to join her team, which is Gotham Synchro.


BURGETT: And she and I are headed to Budapest in August for a mixed doubles competition.

EISENBERG: That's...


EISENBERG: So I don't know a lot about it. I just watch it and appreciate. But it seems to me like you have to hold your breath for a really long time.

BURGETT: As long as necessary.


EISENBERG: So I guess you can hold your breath for a very long time. Oh, well, it depends, do you decide, like, who's going to be the person with, like - who's mostly - you know, 'cause they'll do different patterns.

BURGETT: It's called choreography.

EISENBERG: That's what it's called.


EISENBERG: So, right, one person has the legs up and one person has the arms up, right?


EISENBERG: So how do you decide, like - so it's who can hold their breath better or does it just go back and forth?

BURGETT: You train.

EISENBERG: You train. How long...

COULTON: So you train for holding your breath?

BURGETT: We begin each rehearsal with exercises...


BURGETT: ...And part of that is involved. You don't just hold your breath, you're working hard with sculling...


BURGETT: ...And treading water and going to the bottom of the pool with your head facing down and stay for a while.


EISENBERG: And how often do you train?

BURGETT: The team works Sunday afternoons. Yesterday we were in the pool from 2:30 to 4:30. And I also take classes at Lehman College on Thursday evening. Heads out to Peter Kiernan, who's the head coach there who's been very supportive of me. So he and Dale Mohammed and my team, Gotham Synchro, are what keep me going (laughter).

EISENBERG: That's amazing. That's amazing.


CHUNG: And you said that synchronized swimming is like water polo, except someone isn't trying to kill you.


EISENBERG: That's funny.

BURGETT: Yes, my teammates sometimes bump into me, but it's friendly.



EISENBERG: It's supposed to be a supportive situation where you're creating something together.

BURGETT: I mean, I bump into them. They never bump into me.

EISENBERG: Right, yeah, you're the aggressor.


CHUNG: So why is the field of synchronized swimming dominated by women? Or is - there's very few men involved.

BURGETT: Oh, I'm changing that.


CHUNG: Men are not allowed to compete in the Olympics, is that correct?

BURGETT: Exactly. And historically, there were events that were just men. And there were - so to even it out, there had to be events that are just women. And gradually, they're equalizing. And actually, Budapest is the first world event where there will be men and it's the mixed doubles. And then - easing it in so maybe the next Olympics.

EISENBERG: Maybe the next Olympics. What's the job that you've done before synchronized swimming? I know synchronized swimming isn't necessarily a job. You're not raking it in. Or maybe you are. Are you raking it in through synchronized swimming?

BURGETT: No (laughter).

EISENBERG: Is it like...

BURGETT: Actually, I'm combining my careers. I've been an organist composer conductor...


BURGETT: ...For 50 years. And Dale has choreographed one of my organ pieces for our free duet in Budapest. And the title is "Two Hearts As One."

EISENBERG: Oh, that's awesome.


EISENBERG: Fantastic.

BURGETT: And we meet at 2:30 on Sundays at (unintelligible), so both of you...

EISENBERG: We can come and watch?

BURGETT: No, you can come join.


EISENBERG: Oh. I feel like you would be like, OK, just stay at the bottom of the pool for the rest of this one.


EISENBERG: Thanks, Ophira. Amazing, thank you so much for being...

BURGETT: My pleasure.

EISENBERG: ...An incredible mystery guest. Everyone, give it up for our mystery guest, Harvey Burgett.


COULTON: (Singing) I wish I could tie you up in my shoes, make you feel unpretty, too. I was told I was beautiful. But what does that mean to you? Look into the mirror. Who's inside there? The one with the long hair. Same old me again today. My outsides look cool, my insides are blue. Every time I think I'm through, it's because of you. I've tried different ways, but it's all the same. At the end of the day, I have myself to blame. You can buy your hair if it won't grow. You can fix your nose if he says so. You can buy all the makeup that M.A.C. can make. But if you can't look inside you, find out who am I to be in the position to make me feel so damn unpretty - damn unpretty?

EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton.

(CHEERING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.