‘Seinfeld’: Why Julia Louis-Dreyfus Calls ‘The Contest’ Episode ‘Very Feminist’

Just about every episode of Seinfeld became a conversation starter, but “The Contest” took it to the next level. In this classic episode, Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) and Kramer (Michael Richards) have a contest to see who can go the longest without masturbating. Louis-Dreyfus said the episode’s significance goes beyond comedy.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for the Seinfeld episode “The Contest.”]

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry Seinfeld
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry Seinfeld | Joseph Del Valle/NBCU Photo Bank

Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander and Seinfeld co-creator Larry David held a reunion on Oct. 23 to raise money for the Texas Democratic Party. While speaking about “The Contest,” Louis-Dreyfus called it a feminist episode. 

The ‘Seinfeld’ episode was a landmark for women on television

When the three men agree to the contest, Elaine wants in. They make her bet more money because they feel it is easier for a woman to resist temptation. Elaine does not win the contest, and Louis-Dreyfus felt it progressive for Seinfeld to show that women were just as sexual as men.

“It’s very feminist point of view,” Louis-Dreyfus said. “It was kind of critical looking back on it. It’s set up like she’s going to win. She has to sort of fight to get her way in. It was very important. It’s a very important cultural moment for that reason.”

This ‘Seinfeld’ costar agrees

Alexander agreed with Louis-Dreyfus that Seinfeld pushed boundaries with “The Contest.” It was significant both for dealing with the subject on network television, and for letting Elaine lose.

L-R: Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry Seinfeld | Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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“Here’s what’s crazy about that episode that almost goes unnoticed,” Alexander said. “All of our shows actually broke some ground about what you could get away with on television. Not only was nobody, other than shows like Real Sex maybe on HBO, nobody was going near a subject like this. But here’s what’s subversively wonderful about the show. Elaine’s in the contest and she doesn’t win.”

‘The Contest’ was a turning point for the show

David pointed to “The Contest” as the moment Seinfeld turned into a pop culture phenomenon. It was already in its fourth season, but after “The Contest,” everyone tuned in to see what they would do next. 

“That show actually changed something about how we were perceived in television land,” David said. “It really sort of catapulted us to another place. It moved us to another level I think. The show got much more popular, I think, after that episode.”

Alexander agreed with David too. 

Seinfeld kitchen
L-R: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld and Michael Richards | Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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“That’s sort of where the watercooler show idea came from,” Alexander said. “Literally the next day, it was all over the news or the entertainment news because you had tackled a subject that just really seemed untouchable and did it so deftly that people were talking about it.”

Jerry Seinfeld’s influence on ‘The Contest’

Seinfeld himself did not attend the reunion, but David gave him credit for one important aspect of “The Contest.” They never mention the act of masturbating or even use popular euphemisms for it.

“I’m going to give Jerry full credit because I mentioned something,” David said. “I had some euphemism in the first draft. I don’t know what it was. There’s 10,000 of them. He said, ‘Let’s not even say it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s good. Let’s not.’ That was his thing.”