Five-ring Circus

Somebody Needs to Make a Movie About John Shuster and His Ragtag Team of Curling Rejects

John Shuster of the USA competes against Switzerland during the men’s curling round-robin on Day 10 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Ice Cube Curling Center on Feb. 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
John Shuster of the USA competes against Switzerland during the men’s curling round-robin on Day 10 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Ice Cube Curling Center on Feb. 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.

There’s a great, crowd-pleasing movie to be made about the 2018 U.S. men’s Olympics curling team. Their story conforms to every slobs-vs.-snobs cinematic underdog narrative you’ve ever seen. The unheralded group of USA Curling castoffs, led by skip John Shuster, had to struggle against long odds to even make it to the Olympics. In Pyeongchang, they’ve dispatched one more-heralded team after another. After beating the fearsome Canadian squad on Thursday, the Americans have made it to the gold medal match for the first time ever. They are the Bad News Bears with brooms.

Our movie begins with Shuster (Paul Rudd), the skip of a squad that underachieved at the Sochi Games, earning a disappointing ninth-place finish. Shuster returned to the United States determined to work with curling’s powers that be to ensure that such a fate would never befall the national team again. Shuster is an appealing, relatable hero: a former bartender from the north woods who loves pizza, works at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and once listed his sports idol as Kent Hrbek.

Shuster is the kind of guy everyone wants to see succeed. Well, not everyone. Soon after Sochi, USA Curling held a combine for the country’s best curlers, meant to identify 10 athletes who would be asked to join a brand-new high-performance training program meant to rejuvenate the program. When the roster came out, Shuster’s name wasn’t on the list. The three-time Olympian was devastated. “I thought I was going to help develop the [high-performance] program, and all of a sudden, I wasn’t even picked to be in it,” Shuster recently told the Star Tribune. “They said, ‘Sorry. You’re not wanted.’ That’s maybe what hurt the most.” This movie is getting good!!

Cast into the curling wilderness, reviled by curling fans who, during the Sochi Games, made him “the subject of cruel Twitter memes and GIFs, with #JohnShustersucks trending online,” Shuster was faced with a classic first-act dilemma: accept defeat and find something else to do with his life or work even harder to stick it to Big Curling. Ultimately, he did what every sports-movie hero does when confronted with an insurmountable obstacle: He assembled a ragtag team of combine rejects and started training them on his own.

The supporting players in Shuster’s story are just as likable as the hero. Tyler George, the team’s vice skip, hadn’t even bothered to attend the combine and was considering retirement when he got the call from Shuster. George, who manages a liquor store in Duluth, Minnesota, had never been to the Olympics and was willing to take a chance on an unlikely shot. He is known for wearing quirky socks and “8-year-old Skechers with more holes than a spaghetti strainer,” as the New York Times put it. (The Times was so disgusted by George’s shoes that the paper actually bought him a new pair.) George will play himself if he can get time off from the liquor store.

Minnesotan John Landsteiner (Jackie Earle Haley) was one of Shuster’s Sochi teammates and had been in love with the sport ever since he was a little boy. “Curling has been a big part in developing our son into the man that he is today,” Landsteiner’s mother said. (She will be played by Sally Field.) Landsteiner, who works full time as a corrosion engineer, was cut from the combine and initially didn’t join Team Shuster because of work conflicts. But he missed the sport too badly to stay away, and Shuster welcomed him onto the team. Wisconsinite Matt Hamilton likewise didn’t make the cut at the combine. Hamilton, Team Shuster’s second, sports a goofy mustache and a big personality. He will be played by Nick Offerman and will get the movie’s best lines.

Shuster had his crew. “People coined us Team Rejects,” he told the West Fargo Pioneer. Soon enough, the rejects started to win. First, they won the 2015 national championship, defeating all those who had made the cut at the combine. Then the team finished fifth at the world championships. After the rejects made good, USA Curling realized its mistake and brought all four members of Team Shuster back into the fold. This will make an excellent scene. Tears will be shed. Flags will be waved. Kent Hrbek will cameo.

The strong results kept on coming for Team Rejects: a bronze medal at worlds in 2016, the U.S. national championship again in 2017. Shuster himself dropped 30 pounds, cutting junk food from his diet and rebuilding his formerly soft body. When Team Shuster defeated Heath McCormick’s squad at the U.S. Olympic trials to qualify for Pyeongchang in November, it seemed like the rejects had completed their redemption arc.

But their underdog story only got more incredible in South Korea. Bolstered by George’s new shoes and some emotional support from unlikely curling superfan Mr. T (Mr. T), Team Shuster made it through the round-robin section of the tournament. On Thursday, the Americans beat hated Canada with Shuster clinching the win on the final stone.

Team Rejects will play Team Sweden for gold at 1:35 a.m. EST on Saturday. Our story has reached its third and final act. How will it end? I don’t know! But I’d be willing to buy a ticket to find out.

Update, Feb. 24, 9:30 a.m. EST: They won!

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

An Interview With the Figure Skater Who Did the Only Legal Backflip in Olympic Competition

The United States’ Thrilling Cross-Country-Skiing Gold Was Everything Great About Sports

In Praise of the Women of U.S. Hockey, Who Really Hate Canada and Really Deserved a Gold Medal