“The Contest” is Peak Seinfeld. It’s flawless. It’s the rare time when all four characters share one overarching storyline (though each is on his or her own unique journey through it, as ever). This has everything a classic Seinfeld has: Through their contest to see who can go the longest without masturbating, the four characters make the mundane absurd. They also take a taboo topic and give us a way to talk about it: Those who have held out claim to be “master of my domain” (or, alternatively, “queen of the castle”). This is Seinfeld‘s specialty, making the unspeakable speakable … and funny. Elaine’s JFK Jr. storyline is exceptional, quintessential ’90s New York.
This fourth-season episode also marks one of the few times the writers were worried the network would interfere with their plans. When NBC didn’t, they knew they had earned the chance to do anything they wanted. (Friends producers would later call “no fair!” when they wanted to show an empty condom wrapper and were denied.) Granted, the magic of “The Contest” is that it never uses the word “masturbation”; it’s the euphemisms that make it hilarious. (Many people watched this as kids and just didn’t get it, until they watched it again years later.) The writers remember this as their first real “watercooler” moment—everyone was claiming to be “master of my domain” the next day, and the expression, like so many from Seinfeld, endures to this day.