Some fans of The Office may view "Office Olympics" as simply a funny episode where Michael got a condo and the rest of Dunder Mifflin played made-up games like Flonkerton so they didn't have to work. But, as Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey recently discussed on their Office Ladies podcast, there's an "Office Olympics" moment that impacted Michael Scott's character greatly — and it wasn't scripted. According to the stars, who were chatting with the episode director Paul Feig, it's all thanks to Steve Carell.
While chatting with Feig, who directed the third episode of Season 2 (his first of 15 Office episodes), the three highlighted how the final scene of "Office Olympics" changed Michael completely. "That was the episode that kind of started to turn everything, because that's where Steve's character started to become slightly more sympathetic," Feig said.
At the end of "Office Olympics," Michael and Dwight returned to Dunder Mifflin after their condo excursion and participated in the "Closing Ceremonies" of the games hosted by Jim and Pam. In one especially touching moment, Michael was given a "gold medal" made out of a yogurt lid, and he started to tear up. It's a moment that makes every Office fan emotional, and one that helped turn the bumbling boss into one of television's most beloved characters.
And according to Feig, Michael's vulnerability wasn't written into the script, but something that Carell improvised in the moment. "Steve just made this decision to start crying or getting all choked up," the director explained on the podcast. "I remember going, 'Oh my gosh, Steve, that's so great, keep going with that.'" The Freaks and Geeks creator also noted how this was the "turning point" in which Michael veered away from Ricky Gervais' lead character in the British version of The Office by becoming "more sort of the lovable misfit who's trying too hard for everybody to like him."
Carell's improvisation also affected the cast, specifically Fischer and Kinsey, who admitted that they still cry every time they watch the scene. They both also noted how Feig directed the cast to be "genuine" in response to Michael's tears rather than "mocking him." Otherwise, they would have been seen as the villains. Really, as Fischer explained, their characters reacted just like they did in real-life to Carell's decision — with emotion and support.
It's no secret that Michael was a controversial character. Even Carell admitted that an Office reboot probably wouldn't work in today's #MeToo era because he was so inappropriate and offensive at times. But, there's also no denying that he was lovable, in large part because of moments like in "Office Olympics." Without Michael's redeeming qualities, he never would've been the comedy's protagonist or a fan favorite.