Fixing Festus

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February 06, 2008

Two weeks ago, Jesse finally revealed why he and Festus haven't been seen on SmackDown lately: The big man has been getting help from doctors for his "bell problem." Last week, however, an excited Jesse told our fans that the doctors have "fixed" Festus, and the popular duo will be returning to action on Friday night.

So, here's the question: What exactly was "wrong" with Festus, and how did they fix it?

WWE.com tried to talk to Jesse about his partner following last week's SmackDown, but all he would say was, "I can't wait for everyone to see the new Festus." We would've tried to talk to the big man himself, but unfortunately, besides the fact that he doesn't say much anyway, no one could find him.

In searching for answers, WWE.com made an appointment with a local psychiatrist to find out what makes the burly big man tick. However, as a condition of this service -- and as a concession for doing it for a deeply discounted price -- the doctor requested anonymity; therefore, he will be referred to as Dr. John Doe for the remainder of this expose.

On a rainy Monday morning -- a fitting weather pattern given the task at hand -- we trucked over to Dr. Doe's offices with a DVD of Festus footage and a ray of hope. After introductions, a brief explanation of Festus' usual behavioral pattern (plus an assurance that he had not been lobotomized) and a quick DVD viewing, it took all of 30 seconds for Dr. Doe to offer an initial diagnosis.

"Well, his transformation seems like a Pavlovian response," Dr. Doe immediately blurted out. "It's typical in cases of Classical Conditioning, just like Pavlov's dogs."

Dr. Doe was referring to 19th century Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov's infamous experiment which had been originally designed to study canine digestion. Dr. Pavlov noticed that the dogs first began to salivate every time they would be fed, then eventually just at the sight of the same lab technician who fed them regularly.

Pavlov reasoned that if the dogs salivated due to an external stimulus -- in the first case, the technician -- associated with feeding, he could then associate any stimulus with feeding and basically train the dogs to salivate on command.

For his next experiment, Pavlov decided to use a bell as his new external stimulus. Sure enough, it worked. Eventually, Pavlov's theory was proven when the dogs began to salivate as a conditioned response to the sound of a bell. Sound familiar, friends of Festus?

It did to Dr. Doe, who after a moment of agreement, continued to explain his prognosis.

"Perhaps somewhere in his past, Festus was classically conditioned to associate bells with hyperactivity, as the dogs were with feeding," the doctor reasoned. "Without actually talking to Festus or those closely associated with him, I can't officially or correctly diagnose that as the issue."

So then, what could have caused it?

"It could have something to do with Mr. Jesse, or an altercation from his past. Like I said, I can't know without diagnosing him personally," Dr. Doe revealed. "Mr. Festus' behaviors could stem from any number of other things; maybe the poor fellow has suffered some kind of traumatic cranial injury, or a mental disorder of some sort. If I had to guess, Classical Conditioning would be my first theory, although that doesn't necessarily explain why he goes back into a placid state at the sound of the final bell. That borders on some sort of hypnosis exercise."

The doctor paused a moment, shook his head and continued.

"If it is so, though, that's a rough stimulus to use. School in session, church bells, even the buzzer at the end of a basketball game … Mr. Festus could have become a real danger to himself and others."

With that being said, and assuming Festus is more Pavlovian dog than "Rain Man," that leaves the second half of the original question: How would one uncondition Festus?

"If it's a matter of hypnosis, that's simple enough; you'd have to find whoever put him under in the first place and have them undo the spell," the doctor stated matter-of-factly. "However, in the case of undoing this Pavlovian response, there are a number of ways to achieve it. Aversion therapy could be used; basically, that would mean introducing a negative stimulus in with the bell, which would eventually become associated with the bell and, hopefully, stop the behavior."

Unfortunately, that doesn't sound like a successful plan for a sports-entertainment Superstar like Festus, who would become a docile slaughtered lamb.

"He could have been subjected to flooding, where a fear is eliminated by being forced to overcome it; that really only works if there's an existing, innate fear," Dr. Doe continued. "Or, he could have just been systematically desensitized to it. But again, there has to be some anxiety or fear at the root of it."

And with that, Dr. Doe gave us his unofficial diagnosis:

"If Mr. Festus is coming back to action this week, it looks like his fans will just have to watch SmackDown and see for themselves if this is a man who has been cured of his psychological maladies."

So much for bedside manner.

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