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Mine was Captain's Choice Lime Aftershave. The stuff is incredible. All the wonderful elements of an alcohol aftershave, but lots of good skin conditioning stuff that leaves you feeling amazing. I'll splash some on just as a skin-refresher even if I haven't shaved. It's really great stuff.
A few things have exceeded expectations, but for now I'll mention the Cyril Salter cream, which Shavetools hipped me to. I'm a soap guy, but this one is great, smells great (I have the Indian Sandalwood; I'm curious about the -- polarizing -- French Vetiver, so that might be next). I like it much more than the other English creams I've tried, very protective, and perfect for particularly hurried mornings.
Pinaud Clubman for me. I'm used to higher-end juice going onto my face, so imagine my surprise that a $5 bottle of aftershave would feel so refreshing and hold such a great scent. For me lately, the prize has been finding lower cost items that really perform well.
My uncle sent me a shave kit that included some pre-shave oil. I have used it twice now and I kid you not, people greet me with, "Your face looks SO smooth! Can I feel it? WOW that is REALLY smooth! Hey you, feel his face!" No lie. Happened yesterday.
And I'm still using a cartridge razor.
Gillette Yellow blade in my Feather AS-D2. It's a good all-around blade, usually well behind the Silver Blues and Personna Med Preps. But in the AS-D2 it works quickly, smoothly and with even more audible feedback than usual with this razor.
The Shavecraft 101 razor really exceeded my expectations. I had been curious about some of the crazy expensive modern razor so I found an affordable 101 and it really blew my socks off. I haven't used the vintage razors since.
As a beginner, my 24mm silvertip badger brush with resin handle from Whipped Dog exceeded my expectations. It works well, and I thought it was an affordable way to get started. Larry, the owner, shipped it out quickly too!
One product that has exceeded expectations for me is the Dorco black plastic razor. It was only a few bucks shipped, but I can count on it for an excellent shave practically every time. I thought it would be a good travel or back-up razor, but I use it frequently. Mild, but gets the job done, especially with a sharper blade such as a Perma-Sharp or Feather. Thanks for a great contest!