(PCM) The reality TV show experience knocked on my door in late spring of 2013. The producers of the show Guinnes World Records Unleashed found me catching paintballs after they needed to locate a potential challenger for the current world record of 28 paintballs in 2 minutes. Having a popular online presence in the paintball community helped put me on their radar.
Guinness World Records. What kid didn’t want a copy of that in the 4th grade when it came time to order books to read? It was always on the library waiting list. Television shows like the old 1970’s sitcom Happy Day’s featured Guinness when they had characters try to set the record for most coins caught off your elbow. Then every kid in school was trying it. Now as a grown man, my name could be in that book? That was a cool thought.
It took a week to decide but once I committed to the act, it all became surreal. I was informed that I would be performing and judged on camera, but I didn’t consider for a moment there would be an audience. I thought of it more like a few people hanging around the back of an industrial complex as it’s done on the show Myth Busters.
So I practiced without any thought of an audience, nor did I think of the future. I had many other obligations in life. My only real concern was if the feat was possible. If so, I was going to break it by repeated practice.
Soon after I agreed to participate the calls and e-mails flooded in from the production company. Contacts from the legal department, to scheduling and then production. Production wanted a video of me actually catching paintballs. They were thrilled with what I sent. I sent them a montage of me starting and failing through the evolution of success.
I should have know this was going to be a bigger deal than I had in my mind because when I mentioned it to my friends at my local paintball field, they were interested in a way I wasn’t. They saw the big picture - TV. I saw another picture, “I’m not flying out to L.A. to fail.”
I had about one month to prepare. To me, that was more than enough time. I was pleased at the idea that I was going to be flown to Los Angeles, somewhere I had never been before and put up in a hotel free of charge. It would be like a mini-holiday.
The way it works is the TV Show hires a production company. The work for one show for weeks or months, knock out all the episodes, complete the post production editing and move onto a new project. It’s handed off to the network – in my case it’s TruTV and the season is set. Everything I did was shot the last weekend of June and first day of July in 2013. I had never been to Los Angeles before. I took my inline skates and during my off time, I skated around the streets and explored. My shooter, PJ Taaffe relaxed at the hotel pool and we hit Manhattan Beach for dinner our single night there.
During this time, a sense of what I was into began to hit me. However nothing hit me as hard as the next morning when we were taken to the set. I’ll get to that. You see on our first day we were taken to a location to do an outdoor interview. You know, where they cut away from intense situations and use footage of previous questions to either substantiate your greatness or make fun of your failures. I was asked questions that were meant to be answered only one way. I was excited, and I intended to succeed.
Was I excited? In a way. I was excited in that despite this being something that amounted to a trivial parlor trick, I was still going to be on TV and to fail on TV is just no fun. It’s humiliating. I think if I took any one thing away from the experience was fail or succeed, I did not want the producers to twist any fool-hearted moments into me being a fool. I didn’t want any time I was having fun, goofing off to be portrayed as someone that had no handle on life.
Worries aside, my entire experience with the on-site handlers, the production contacts I e-mailed and spoke to on phone and inevitably met in person was fantastic. These people were just hard working Americans. They just wanted to survive like you and I. They were glad to have a job.
I was however in California. That place where anything can happen. Sure enough my time inline skating lead me to a Starbucks coffee shop across from a clean little strip mall. I had skated about four miles from my hotel. The streets went from dry arid dust laden fenced in lots to palm tree lined complexes. I crossed a highway and entered what appeared to be a safe shopping center. In the handicapped parking spot was a bright yellow Ferrari. Eventually I met the owner and he let me sit in his car. It belonged to an elderly man whom looked in his nineties.
Then that night PJ and I went to Manhattan Beach for dinner an airline stewardess kept trying to talk to him. PJ tried to blow her off but after dinner she crossed our path at our bus stop and I playfully started talking to her and walked away leaving PJ to deal with her again. He told me I was evil but it was funny to see a married man dance. PJ by the way is married to a stunningly perfect woman. I knew I wasn’t really putting PJ in harm’s way but it was fun to be mischievous. What I saw in front of me was everything I heard about California. Women are aggressive. I’ve always maintained with East coast girls, you practically must pass a credit check to be considered. Otherwise, move right along. The contrast is obvious, that is certain.
The show was shot on a Sunday. We were driven once again by wannabe producers whom are putting in their time as drivers. I hear if you put in a year of driving and pay your dues, you move onto the next rung. Bottom line if you pay your dues you move up the production ladder. One of our producer drivers was from Philly, he gave us a good perspective on the differences in east coast and west coast culture. From sports to dating.
Our production building was a converted hanger. We drove down what appeared to be a side street of industrial complexes. The side of the building could have passed for an obscure bowling alley entrance. We say some of the ‘studio’ audience volunteers waiting in a line as audience members. I’d later learn an outdoor attempt was being made. They were finishing up and heading inside.
At this point I became schooled on how production works when it comes to reality TV. You sign papers in advance of everything and the print says clear, you don’t talk about ANYTHING before the show airs. You don’t tweet, Facebook or even send an e-mail to a family member about the experience. Do it and the ‘legal’ department jumps in to sue you. The threat is half a million.
In keeping with this understanding we were instructed to NOT dare take any photos of anything surrounding the set. As we came in, we could see around the back of the set and in that instant I became impressed. There were no less than 50 people working on cameras, sound, cabling, rigging and all sorts of production elements. The stage? It could have passed for something out of Star Wars. I was instructed to keep going and shuttled to a large second floor room backstage, cluttered with left-over food from previous contestants and a number of production assistants including the very man that contacted me to be on the show in the first place.
When I spoke to him he would remind me once in a while that I should be talking to the other talent in the room because occasionally a camera man would sit down in the room with large video camera and if they were going got get anything juicy in post production, I shouldn’t be talking to him. He didn’t say those words but that is what I gathered. I could see the staff was now in a very ‘careful handling mode’ with me. The camera man with the large video camera would set the camera on his leg while seated with bored look on his face. He wouldn’t even look at his camera. You could tell his plan was to somehow fade from our consciousness. But that big fat camera wouldn’t let me forget, “Don’t make an ass of yourself Lars.”
Contestants, as I think of us, would come back from their ‘attempt’ and we were not to speak to each other about success or failure. Again, a HUGE big deal to the producers whom loved to use the whole “legal department” shtick to keep us mum. And it worked. It worked with me personally that when I got back home and friends asked, I wasn’t even excited anymore. I felt like, “I can’t talk about it, I can’t even tell anyone I’m going to be on TV, so this sucks.”
We waited for a few hours but strange enough the time went fast. PJ and I discussed our plan. We geared up. The company that provided me gear, Valken, suffered the most. People came out of the woodwork putting black electrical tape over anything with a brand name, or name. I had a brand name pair of shoes on. The name and logo, no larger than a nickel was taped over.
I kept recalling that we were promised a chance to practice before the attempt. When it was time, I was a bit apprehensive but not enough to affect my attempt. My biggest concern was lighting. To catch paintballs, you need to see them. Contrast is crucial too. The first meeting was with the head of onset production. He and I talked about moving the overhead lights in a way that I wouldn’t have light in my eyes and how to light the paintballs and background properly. I thought I’d get more time to practice but after one attempt to establish lighting, I was done. I didn’t know this. I thought we were just getting the lighting right. I was told I’d get more time to practice.
This is where I went made a crucial mistake.
In practice I was easily setting the record catching over 40 and close to 50 paintballs in two minutes. I was confident. I was certain I was in good shape to succeed and therefore I didn’t worry. I asked to use the bathroom when they told me I’d be performing shortly. By now the audience was filtering in. A representative from Guinness was now checking everything. From my marker, to the paint and of course the speed at which I was shooting. Actually, PJ was shooting. During the entire experience I could tell PJ was wanting me to take the limelight and he tried to fade into the background. Internally I felt guilty, but in the big picture I knew that this was my gig.
I was the guy making the noise about setting the record or not, so he wanted any and all attention to be directed at me. I’m very easy in front of a camera. But I don’t seek celebrity. The experience was meant to be fun, yet the idea of failure was something absolutely not desired. After all, I was a real paintball player. I was here to make certain the attempt was handled with respect to paintballers. So many people think paintballers have little safety regard and we do. Injuries in paintball are almost exclusive to sports related injuries not being shot with a paintball. I’ve broken my foot twice, but no serious injury from being shot. The fact is paintball guns are guns. They are a weapon. I was here representing a sport and I wore paintball gear.
This is where the bathroom break became an issue. I walked into the bathroom and took off two layers of cover because although I knew I’d get hit all over the upper body, I also knew my community would be watching. I play paintball with NO shirt on, because I like to stay cool and because I don’t get shot. Having three layers of cover on would be an embarrassment.
I thought I’d my next practice round to test the change. No. It was time. I was surprised and now the specter of ‘what if’ set in. PJ and I were instructed to stand behind the studio audience which were going to surround me on all sides watching the attempt. Now before you think, SAFETY ISSUE, don’t. The audience was behind a 20 foot high bullet proof Plexiglas wall. Visually, this set was intimidating. It was bright, and there were a ton of people everywhere.
They took a couple takes on the intro with color commentators seated above and to the right of the audience and set. They’d throw the conversation to Dan the show host and he’d introduce PJ and I. The crowd parted and we walked up for some pre-attempt questions.
I can honestly say that part is a blur. I was hardly there during this time. I was thinking one thing. “Let’s do this already.”
Something trivial. Just a parlor trick. But I was going to be rebroadcast months to come on TV. This meant something suddenly. I didn’t think about receiving a certificate or any award. I just didn’t want to fail. It could have been a dishwashing contest, I did not want to fail.
I was introduced to Stuart. I didn’t get the greatest vibe off of him as I did with Dan. Where Dan was approachable and relatable, (we talked about our kids before the shot). Stewart was just as stiff as you see during the segment. I doubted he even worked for Guinness. He looked like a grown man in a British all boy schoolboy outfit, reminiscent of Angus Young off AC/DC. Stewart looked silly to me. Then he opened his mouth. I thought to myself, “You talk too slow dude. What the hell?”
Dan finished with me and they asked me if I was ready. We reset the shot with me on my mark, everyone in the audience was careful not to move so the continuity was in order and then I began. I got ONE chance.
Don’t be fooled, when you attempt, you get ONE chance and one chance only. We’ll that is how they treated us that day. PJ began to shoot. I think the first few balls were not being caught. I wasn’t getting them to careen off my gloves to slow them down and catch them properly. Then I felt the audience reaction. I think we got in a rhythm then. We were behind the count against the time as I gauged it in my mind. I wasn’t worried. Time was now beginning to move fast. Remember when you were a kid in school watching the hand on the clock go around?
Time dragged, a minute was so slow!
Time sped up now. At that two-minute mark I had the fleeting idea, “I’m not going to make it at this pace.” PJ had one ball fly to my right, far and wide. It must have been dented or something because it flew way wide. I was mad. In practice I already learned you just couldn’t ever hold a hand out and catch a paintball. And if you do manage to reach out accurately, it blows up on contact. I reached out and caught it quickly in desperation and pulled back a wet painted hand. I wasn’t melting down, but I was now going on with the mental model that I failed and all I could do is ride it out.
The paint kept coming.
I was getting a great number of them but now I was curious if “Stuart” would know that as I catching them I release them quickly in order to catch the next one without pause. We discussed this with the producers before I went on. This was evident in my practice video I sent to the producers a few weeks prior. It was understood, I was catching them and quickly dropping them. Sometimes so quickly that it could be misconstrued as just bouncing and falling. This is what I questioned in my instantaneous train of thought in that last sixty seconds of the attempt. In the last twenty seconds I recall it going poorly once again and when the last shot was fired, I knew. I had not succeeded. And I knew exactly why.
Dan and Stewart came out, we did a quick reaction piece where they questioned me and asked me if I felt good and by now you’ve seen my reaction. It was humble.
Stewart excused himself to review the attempt and came back to do his dog and pony act. If you have not seen the show, he drags out the statement of what is needed to succeed and if you succeeded.
I thought to myself standing there on stage with hundreds of people around me, Lars, just say it…”Stuart hurry the hell up!” I really wanted to tell him that. I recall thinking. “Yeah I get it, you do this for dramatic effect, you look silly, just say it.”
I think in that moment I was just more annoyed with myself that I knew I failed. Stewart spoke so slow I had an entire train of thought asking myself where he was going and the manner in which was drawing it out, I had indeed failed.
“Thank you Stewart. Now where are you parked?…” Is what I thought but I opted for something a bit more friendly.
Well, they escorted us off stage, we stood to the back and a camera man asked us to talk about our failure. We lamented, and then taken to the dressing room area. Waited about an hour to get our drive back to the hotel and I beat myself up for months until it aired thinking, “I do not want to see the word, FAIL stamped on screen.”
I honestly enjoyed the experience. To me it was a life experience. But I did NOT want it to overshadow who I really am. I’m a writer. I am writing a novel and it’s the book I’ve been waiting all my life to publish and tell the world who I really am. But in this experience I’m a man that doesn’t like to lose or fail. I want to go back to LA. And if I do, as sure as I breathe, I will set the world record, and that parlor trick will be damn important to me. Maybe it will be damn important to others and someone will break my record. That’s the beauty of life.
I caught 21 paintballs.
Lars Hindsley Official Website: http://dangermanslair.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DangerManXX #DangerMan