A Special Conversation: Behind the Beards

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Television is an escape (whether good or bad is the subject of much debate); but every once in a while, a show comes along that strikes a chord with a large group of people.  One such show featuring a family of bearded hunters from Louisiana has soared in ratings in a way no one expected.  These hairy jokesters all have lovely wives who seem to take the guys’ shenanigans in stride with a smile on their faces.  Thinking about the old saying, “Behind every good man is a good woman,” we scheduled a meeting with two of these ladies this past December and found out they truly are as “real” as they appear on TV.

When you watch television, you know the places in the show are usually a set—a pretend place where a pretend family lives.  As we were ushered into the Duck Commander warehouse, where much of the show Duck Dynasty is filmed, we entered the “set” that isn’t a set.  It is real.  We had scheduled our meeting with Miss Kay (the family matriarch) and her daughter-in-law Lisa, who is the wife of Alan Robertson, the oldest of the four Robertson brothers.  We settled down with Lisa in the conference room and began what became a delightful afternoon.

What is your role here in the company?

It has changed and evolved over time.  When I first came back, I primarily wanted to work with customer service.  Our overnight success with the show had caused us to not be able to keep up with demand.  We were backordered on everything, all the time.  The first year, we completely ran out of duck calls two weeks before Christmas.  So I really tried to help with that.  I would write emails explaining that I am a part of this family and that we really cared, but this was so overwhelming for us.  I would offer to send their money back, and they refused. They wanted the product, and we couldn’t get it!  As fast as our success happened, nobody could come in and tell us, “This is how many you need.  Order this and this.”  I even went to Grant (Taylor) and asked, “Grant, can we find someone to come in and tell us to order this and this and this?”  He told me, “Lisa, I’ve talked to people, and no one has done this before.  We’ve done this faster than anybody, so there is no expert to come in and tell us about it.”  That was aggravating to me.  Alan and I came in June of 2012, and from about two weeks before Thanksgiving until Christmas, I just didn’t sleep, because I was worried to death about these customers.  We had 100,000 orders in two months.  We couldn’t do it.  We didn’t have the stuff to send out.  It was totally overwhelming.  We ran three shifts around the clock during Christmas, and we still didn’t get everything out.  It was very frustrating. Because I worked at this company for 10 years in the 1990s, I took it personally. Back in those days, I WAS the shipping department.  Me, just me.  And if I had a big order, Alan or somebody else would come in and help. To me, I’m thinking, how does anyone do this?  At the first of year, Grant could tell this was weighing on me, and he got me out of that role.

At about the same time, Alan and I started traveling with Kay and Phil.  We saw that they couldn’t go anywhere by themselves.  They have to have a handler everywhere they go—and Si, too. Willie has an assistant that goes with him. We try not to let anyone go anywhere by themselves, because you have to have someone that can be the bad guy. We may not have time for that photo or autograph, because there’s a flight that we have to catch.  We also have people that ask for money. We had one lady ask for $30,000 so she could pay off her credit card debt.

Alan opens up speaking engagements for Phil and shares the Duck Commander history.  When Phil speaks, he doesn’t tell that history.  He’s more likely to talk about U.S. history and the Constitution.  Alan shares that part of our story.  He is now getting more requests to speak, and I have several lined up for 2014 as well.  Kay also does some speaking by herself, so we try to always send me or one of our daughters with her.

Who’s keeping the home fires burning, and how are you coping with this as wives and family members?

Korie and I are the only two wives that are working at Duck Commander all the time.

Korie oversees the company and bears the brunt of the responsibility of the business.  The ultimate decisions most of the time come from her and Willie.  She has a big responsibility here; it’s a lot less now, because they have put people in place to take the pressure off.  Grant started being that person working for Buck Commander, then Willie just threw Duck Commander at him, too.  He’s general manager of both companies.  He’s great. We also have a COO now that is not a Robertson. That helps; he can be the bad guy at times, because he’s not kin to us.

Jessica used to sell a children’s clothing line, but their traveling got so crazy she mainly keeps up with their four kids and their schedule.

Missy volunteers at their children’s school—any kind of singing performances—she heads up all that.  She’s also heading up a cruise we are doing in July, but officially she doesn’t work for Duck Commander either.

Kay is one of the owners, but really doesn’t work here day-to-day any longer.

What did Kay do originally?

She did everything!  Phil makes a joke now and says, “Miss Kay says I loved you when we were poor, and I love you when we’re rich—and rich is definitely better!”  Kay always says, “Phil never tells the rest of that story.  I was the one that was always responsible for the bills and making sure they were paid. When we had a bank note, I had to tell Phil how much fish you’ve got to go out there and catch in order for us to take to the market and sell so we can pay a bank note.”  In the early days, Phil and Kay put aside nothing for themselves.  Everything they made went back into the business—everything.

How do they keep up the pace?

It’s tough. William Morris gets 300 requests a day for them to speak.   We have way more requests than we could possibly fill for an entire year, even speaking two or three times a week!

The new series contract states they only work Monday through Thursday. When this first started, they were working 5-7 days a week.  The season films year ‘round except at Christmas.  Nov 15-Jan. 20 is the only time they have off from filming, except for family vacations here and there.

So, will A&E film the cruise, too?

No, we totally took that week off.  If they film it, they get to have a say and dictate what we do.  This is our cruise.  We are having devotionals every morning, we’re having marriage classes, cooking classes, duck call classes, gospel classes.  This is gonna be the way WE want to do it.  It’s a Duck Commander cruise, not Duck Dynasty.  At first, the cruise people were a little worried, not knowing if they could sell the tickets or not.  We told them, “You can sell them.  You’ll be fine.”  They sold out in two weeks and already have a 1,500 person waiting list.  Now they want us to sign up for another one, and we haven’t even done the first one yet.  It’s not until July!

There are some things we don’t let the TV show be a part of.  We don’t want them on our family vacation.  That’s our time.  We don’t want them in our face at Christmas and at Thanksgiving.

So they are here on site all the time?

Yes, they went home in November, they’ll come back in January, and then they won’t go home again until next November.  They keep a place here year around.

Do y’all at least get along with them?

Oh yeah, absolutely!  Sometimes the guys can get a little short with them, because they have to film a certain amount of hours in a day.  No matter if you think we’ve already gotten that right 14 times, if they’ve got 10 minutes left, they have to film for 10 more minutes.  It can sometimes get a little hairy, but all in all it’s good.

The first season, one of the sound guys came in to talk to Phil and said, “Now Phil, I’ve noticed something here.  I hear everything that goes on.  Your mike is on the whole time, and I hear it all. I’ve not once heard y’all cuss or backbite against each other.  I’ve not heard y’all talk about us—ugly or anything— and you didn’t even know I was listening.”  Phil said, “I wouldn’t have cared if you were listening or not. We don’t do that. We’re Christians first, and duck hunters second, and we’re family.  Why do I want to talk bad about my sons or daughters-in-law or my grandkids?”  The guy said, “I don’t understand how y’all don’t use bad language.”  Phil said, “Whenever we came to Jesus, we quit that.  We just quit.  If you want to come over, we’ll study and see what you think. Once you receive the Spirit, you’ll understand exactly how that happens.  I’m not saying it’s gonna stop overnight, but once I tell you what Jesus did for you, you’re gonna be amazed and realize, ‘You know, I don’t want to say those ugly words anymore!’”  The guys were more amazed by what we didn’t say than what we did. Phil said it’s just who we are.

The first season they were inserting “bleeps” into episodes, and Phil asked them why.  They said it made for better TV.  Phil told them, “Don’t do that anymore.  We don’t talk that way, and we don’t use words that have to be bleeped out, so don’t do it again.”

What has this been like for your kids—the grandkids?

They have coped very well.  Sadie does a weekly Christian devotional for teens on YouTube, “I am Different.” She is also developing a clothing line for teens that will encourage modesty, but will be fun and modern.  Reed struggled with it some, because the show tried to get our family to fight and talk bad about each other.  He talks about the cynicism he dealt with, which led to thoughts of suicide.  There is an incredible video at IAmSecond.com that shares his struggles and includes Phil, Kay, and Jep’s stories, too.  Our kids deal with the same things most kids deal with—sin.  It doesn’t matter where it is or who it is.  Sin cuts us off from God.

Being a preacher’s wife, I dealt with that the whole time our kids were growing up.  Several years into our marriage, I had an affair that lasted over a year.  No idea why.  Actually, I do know why.  I was never really a Christian.  I was converted to the Robertson family, but I was not converted to Christ, so I had a darkness in me that raised its ugly head.  We went through that traumatic experience. At that point in my life, Alan was a preacher, and I felt like everyone watched everything we did.  You lived in a glass house.  So 15 years into our marriage, I tell people I was baptized into Christ and not into Alan, so whenever God truly became the Lord of my life, I came to understand it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  They’re going to throw stones at you anyway, so why does it really matter?  If I’m who God is proud of…if I’m the wife my husband needs me to be…and if my kids love me and adore me and can learn from my mistakes…then that’s who I’m supposed to be, and that’s all that matters.  But that took 15 years to be able to say that.  Being in a glass house is tough, and it’s tough on your kids.

Do people at church treat you differently now?

I don’t know, because I don’t care! (laughter) But yes, absolutely.  I think the reason, though, is they saw I had the same struggles they did.  They covered theirs up; I didn’t cover mine up.  I am actually treated better.  I’m more respected now, I think. We’ve all got struggles!  I’ve just become an open book.  You want to know something about me—ask me.  I’ll tell you anything about me you want to know.  I don’t hide anything.

That seems to be a kind of theme for the whole Robertson Family.  Both the women and the men seem to be very matter-of-fact: “This is who we are.”

It is.  And that’s the way we want our kids and grandkids.  We want our kids to know they are put in this place and this time for God’s purpose.  John Luke talks about it in his speech he does.  I’ve traveled with both John Luke and Sadie on speaking tours recently, and they have Willie’s friendliness and Korie’s goodness.  They are just good kids.  All of our kids are good.

Alan and I say God prepared us a long time ago for TV, because in 1986 they started doing the videos (for Duck Commander and then Buck Commander), so He made all the guys where they are not afraid and are perfectly fine on camera.  He put different struggles in each one of our lives that made us say, “Okay, what’s the most important thing?”  You go to Christ, and that’s the most important thing.  We really believe God knew all this was going to happen and when, so He just made us a little strong in each one of those areas.  We have some that are not as strong as others, but we’re older so we’ll pick ‘em up and drag ‘em if we have to.  Just the success of the TV show has been enormous.  The kids this year at camp—there were 10-15 kids that came to camp just because they wanted to go to camp with the kids from Duck Dynasty, and Alan and I went out there and did our testimony.  One of these kids came up to Alan after and asked to study with him.  The next day, he and Alan studied and he gave his life to Christ and was baptized.  He told Alan, “I just knew I could trust you, because of what you had shared in your testimony.”  This kid had some of the same struggles—just the whole sin thing. He was from Dodge City, Kansas, and he now lives here and works for us.

Sometimes people look at us and say, “Wow, y’all are lucky!”  No, this was totally a God thing.  How could “luck” orchestrate any of that?  Where a kid comes here, finds Jesus, and his life is changed forever?  That’s not luck.  That’s God.  All our family feels that way.

When we celebrated Thanksgiving this year, Alan led us in prayer and, when it was over, Phil said, “Now just a minute before y’all start eating.  We really are blessed. I don’t know that y’all realize how blessed we are, but maybe you do.  But we are also very watched.  Everybody is watching us.  I’m not telling you to be someone you’re not; I’m telling you to be who you are.   Remember who you belong to.”  The entire family was there including the kids. We want them to remember you’re a Christian first.  We only get one chance to make a first impression.

We have a “Remember the Alamo” magnet we bought everyone in the family after Duck Dynasty started, to remind us that we are a family, and if you start acting in a way you’re not supposed to, you gave us permission to come and tell you that.  It’s family first.  We are always going to do what’s best for the family.  It might be what’s best for you at the time, but if it’s not what’s best for the family, then we’ll choose what’s best for the family.  That’s what we TRY to do.  Do we succeed at it all the time? No.  We’re just like everyone else.

What if anything do you miss about life before Duck Dynasty?

Solitude.  Kay will tell you that when they had to put a gate up at their house, it broke their heart.  Kay and Phil’s house has always been a place where you can just go.  It doesn’t matter—day or night—you got a problem, you can always drive to Kay and Phil’s. That was anybody in the church; that was anybody.  They knew how to get out there, and they could go down there. But, when you’ve got 75-80 cars in the road, or Kay’s sitting outside trying to talk on the phone, and people are walking up in the yard, they had to do something—but it broke their heart, because it cut them off from everybody.  They actually walked into their house several times where people had gone in and left notes on their table!  It was a hard thing for them to do, but they had to.

What are some of the craziest requests your family has had?

The $30,000 was one of them.  It is mostly about money.  We got one a few days ago that was a request for a $10,000 loan with no interest.  We are not a bank.  We don’t even know you, and that’s not how we’re going to help you.

We did get a bra in the mail that was trying to raise money for breast cancer research.  It had all the guys’ pictures on it, and they wanted them to sign it so they could auction it off.  We got them to sign it, but we tell people now, “If it’s supposed to be covered up, we don’t sign it.  That goes for undergarments, bellies, chests—all of it.”

With the increased amounts of travel, how have the women’s roles at home changed?

They actually travel a lot with the guys, but all the women speak, too.  In their day-to-day lives, they just have more people around to assist them!  As far as at home, they may have a housekeeper, nanny, tutors….

I figure Korie has a cook?

No, Willie does that!  He doesn’t trust anybody’s cooking!

Most of them have an assistant.  Jessica and Jep don’t yet.  I’m really Kay and Phil’s, and sometimes Si’s, but his daughter-in-law has been doing a lot for him.

Almost every day of the week, they have somebody doing their hair and makeup, because they are on TV, and that’s just part of it.  That’s the one thing I’d love, and they hate it!

Over the years, the girls have become more and more a part of the show. Was that something they’ve grown into, or was it the plan from the beginning?

I think it just naturally progressed.  I think they figured out the girls are funny, too—and they’re all beautiful, so it just sells more TV!  And who doesn’t love Miss Kay?  There are kids that will come up to her at events and say, “Mammaw Kay!” She doesn’t know who they are, but they love her because of her personality and how she is on the show.  I think it’s just progressed because of that.

Jep was not a main character in the show to begin with, but he has really gotten funny and says some funny things.  And Jep is like that…having three older brothers who are outgoing and outspoken is pretty tough on a kid.  He’s 14 years younger than Alan, so Jep was 5 years old when we got married. He came over and told us he was just going to live with us and be our little boy.  He looks to Alan in a really special way.

We all interact very well.  Even when we’re not filming, we are still together, because we like to be with one another; we like to do things with one another.

Is it hard to be yourself with everyone around all the time?

No it’s really not.  We are the same no matter where we are.  I guess you are probably a little more guarded with what you say. You’re not totally free, but for the most part, we are who they portray us to be.

So how have you stayed out of it so much?

We really don’t know!  They’ve only had Alan in a couple of things.  We prayed about this decision a year before Alan left ministry and we came back.  We trust this is where God wants us to be, but what does God want us to do?   We really believe God wants us to provide a spiritual oasis…for us to be the ones who encourage them…‘I know it’s tough, I know today’s been a long day, but can you do this?’  We’ve kind of felt like that was our purpose.  We put ourselves out there as available, but we remind one another that is a God thing.  There may be a reason God doesn’t have us on this show.  If God wants us on the show, we’ll be on the show.  People ask us why we aren’t on yet, but God’s in charge, so we’re not worried about it.

Our biggest thing is marriage.  We want to promote it, to give people hope about it. That’s what we want to do more than anything.  We would love to do marriage retreats and seminars.  We teach dynamic marriage classes at church—we don’t care, whatever God has in store for us, we want to promote marriage and Godly marriages.  Anybody can stay in a crappy marriage, but why?  Why would you want to stay in it?  I’m not wanting you to say, ‘Okay then, I’m getting a divorce.’ I want you to change it!  I want things to be better for everybody.  I’m not unrealistic to think every marriage can be saved, but there are some that are not being saved because they don’t have the right perspective.  If both parties are willing, it can be saved.  If you love him and he loves you, there is always hope.  If you’re willing to allow God to change your life, and you’re willing to work really hard to change things you need to, you can make it.

What opportunities does this show provide you to have a voice? And about what?

We have a book coming out this spring, The Women of Duck Commander, where I tell a little of our story. Then Alan and I are working on a marriage book that will come out next February.  We have no formal training in marriage and family counseling, but we do it because we feel like that’s why God saved us, so we could help other people and give them hope.   If we can do it, they can do it!

In looking at all of this, what do you want your legacy to be?

It doesn’t matter where you came from, and it doesn’t matter where you think you are, God always has a way of bringing you back to where He is.  If I could have advice for my kids and my grandkids, that would be to love God first and then your mate. Those commitments are made in front of God, both of them, and they’re not to be taken lightly.  Work your tail off, do whatever you have to do.  Be willing to change, do counseling, do whatever. But always stick with what God gave you—first His Son, and then the spouse you are supposed to live the rest of your life with.  Stick with those two.  If you do, your life may not be filled with riches as far as money goes, but you’ll have riches from God, because He will bless your life.  I’m amazed at where we are from 15 years ago, and it’s all because of God.  He did this.  I didn’t do it.  I was just a willing vessel.  Work hard.  Put Christ first, your spouse second, and your family next, and everything else just falls into place.


Miss Kay arrives and joins us, returning from a Muffins for Moms weekly Bible study. The group has grown rapidly of late, with some thinking this is due to Kay’s presence.  Kay says that’s fine with her, because what they hear is so good, it doesn’t matter why they come. Today, Kay had a micro-muffin small group to spend time getting to know other women more closely, and had lunch with a lady who shared her life story.

What do you miss the most about life before Duck Dynasty?

I do miss the freedom I had.  I could do things with my grandkids and people we work with—all the freedom and time I had.  I love people, and I love my fans, but for example, one of my little muffins with me this morning is an introvert, and all this fame of me scares HER.  People asking can I have a hug, can I have a picture—that makes her nervous.  So today, for me to take her out, she was a nervous wreck. But at lunch in the restaurant, no one came over and asked for anything, so it was okay.  It was a miracle that happened, but God took care of it.

Speaking of your grandchildren, has the show or the time we live in made a huge difference in the way they are raised compared to how you raised your boys?

My sons are raising my grandkids much the same way they were raised.  The difference is we didn’t have all those electronical things.  That makes a difference, and not always in a good way.  The popularity of my grandkids—so far so good—but we just pray for it all the time.  I worry that it will go to their head. I pray all the time that if our family changes in a bad way, I hope we lose it all—the show, the money, everything—and if it takes us being humble again, then so be it.

Sadie’s video series – I Am Different – is an example. A long time ago, if you had the values of not having sex before marriage, not drinking, and not doing drugs, you wouldn’t be the most different people in the world…but now you are.  And they are putting it out there; letting people know, and talking about it—not ashamed—I love that.  And look what a beautiful girl she is!

Do you really do all the cooking for your family?

When I’m not working I do, and I always have.  I’ve been cooking a lot since the TV left—a whole lot!  Nowadays, Phil and I do a lot of it together.  I do a lot of the prep work, and Phil helps put it all together, or vice versa.

How often do y’all get together to eat?

Well, of course with the TV show, once a week.  Other than that, like now that the TV’s gone, the boys will eat with me a lot of times at noon when they come in from hunting, but that doesn’t mean the whole family does at the same time.  Sometimes Willie will call something special like a meeting and supper at his house, and we’ll just combine them.

How the heck do you put up with all the stuff those guys do to you…like crawfish in the bathtub?

Oh yeah, I’ve had frogs in my bathtub.  It’s just the way we grew up.  Phil did stupid things like that when we were dating.  He told me to open the ice chest one time, and a bullfrog jumped right in my face.  It’s a good thing we have a sense of humor is all I’ve got to say!

How have you seen the girls’ roles change at home as the boys have gotten on the road more?

The women are a lot busier with their jobs because of Duck Dynasty and the things going on with the guys.  I think that, in their case, they just don’t cook as much cause they’re not able to.  In every case, each one of them has a lot more help at home.

Do the boys really call you ‘Miss Kay’ or do they call you ‘Mom’?

Willie and Jase call me Kay.  Jep and Alan call me Mom.

Does Phil really call you ‘Miss Kay’?

Sometimes, but usually it’s more joking-like.  He just really calls me Kay, but sometimes he does call me Miss Kay!

How did Jase and Willie get started calling you Kay?

Alright, that’s interesting.  When we bought our place out in the country, for the first 15 years, Phil’s mom and dad helped us buy the place and lived in a little camp house right beside our house—that was Granny and Pa.  Somehow in the transition when the kids were coming up, Willie and Jase got in the habit of calling us Phil and Kay. But it never offended me and Phil, so we didn’t care.  I know it bothers some of our fans, but it doesn’t bother us.  Granny and Pa were helping raise them, too. They were like the mom and dad of everybody, and I just think that’s how it happened, but I never noticed it or paid that much attention to it, because we were just like that.

As this whole thing has happened so quickly, is there anything you would change or do differently?

I feel like the reason this is so important is that America needs us.  Sometimes I say ‘I wish I wasn’t as famous’, or ‘I wish I could be back normal again’, but then I weigh it against the good I hear we are doing. I know it’s making huge audiences for when everybody goes out to speak. I know they’re hearing the gospel of Jesus, and they’re hearing about God. I know that’s our main purpose and the reason we did everything, so then I have to say I don’t regret what we did.

What would you say is the most memorable experience you’ve had with this so far?

Oh my goodness!  I guess the trip to Hawaii and us doing the wedding, because that would have never happened had it not been for the show.

You have a twinkle in your eye just talking about that!

Well, last night was a perfect example. I was at Jep and Jessica’s house, because I had taken the grandkids to a bonfire celebration for my great granddaughter’s birthday.  When we got back, Jep and Jessica wanted us to stay and watch the CMA Christmas Special that Willie was in. A commercial came on, and it was Hawaii.  Priscilla (one of Jep and Jessica’s little girls) said, “I’ve been there.”   Someone said, “Yeah, you were on a show.” She said, “I know, we do that; we go places like that on our TV show.”  She’s six.  I laughed my head off, because she was so nonchalant!

In all of this, what do you want your legacy to be?

It’s kind of a multi-answer.  I want God to come back to America, and if it has to come back through our show, I hope it does.  And if anybody ever hears my testimony, in my speech they’ll hear that marriage matters to me very strongly.  Marriage matters and needs to be as important in America as it once was.  The other would be to find joy in your journey and never give up.  Never give up on your marriage, never give up on your kids, never give up on you.  Never give up.  Always stick with your family, because they need you, and you need them.

As you have added all these “daughters” through the years, what makes you most proud?

That we’ve never had a fuss. I’m not saying they always agree with me or they might not be different than what I am, but we have never had a MAJOR problem—never.

That speaks volumes of you, Miss Kay.

It’s just great.  I always dreamed of having four kids and being married to a pioneer man. I had the four kids, but God made a joke by giving me four boys.  I wanted two boys and two girls—that was my ideal family. Now I’m glad, because I realize a lot of houses we lived in didn’t have enough room for girls.  Boys do a bathroom like a locker room—who cares?  They’re a bunch of boys.  I said all along I couldn’t see Phil walking a bride down the aisle, and what’s hilarious is he wound up walking both Anna and Alex, Lisa and Alan’s girls, down the aisle because Alan was doing the ceremony.  Isn’t that funny?  Guess what he wore?  With Anna, it was just a black shirt and black pants. With Alex, he had on a black shirt and camo pants, and she did not care; she was just as happy as she could be!

What’s next?

My goal during this time off was to spend some one-on-one time with my muffin group.  It’s been the best thing.  I told one of my girls today that God’s grace is there for all of us. We’ve been saved, and we have different reasons and things we’ve repented on, but everyone has got to work on whatever their struggle is from now until we die. I am not the judge of you—that’s God.  Here’s what I am—I want to help you mature and grow in the Lord like somebody helped me, but I’m not here as a judge or here with the rules and regulations. It is a command for us to love each other and to become more like Jesus.

The entertainment world is one of the most ungodly professions, and yet they are fueling the fire for US to give us bigger audiences and all these people to preach to. They are putting millions of dollars into our advertisements, because it’s making them money.  If we weren’t making them money, they would have no interest.  We know that, but guess what?  While they’re pouring millions into advertising us, it’s making bigger and bigger audiences that we can preach to.  Everybody is on the road during the year preaching—the teens—even Mia, Jase’s 9 year-old daughter, has a testimony.  She was born with a cleft palate.  She’s had four intense surgeries and has many more to go. Not only does she give her talk, but she sings a solo.  It’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.  All our sons, their wives, and children are out their sharing their faith…how can you beat that?

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