What started as an offbeat promotional idea grew into a full-fledged reality competition series in the PaddleHeads’ own backyard, complete with energetic fan involvement through this week’s series against the Great Falls Voyagers.
The idea for the PaddleHeads’ first-ever Survivor Series came from the team’s “Director of WOW” Sam Boyd, more commonly known by fans as Sammy B. Boyd, who is a die-hard fan of the show “Survivor” and never missed an episode in its 42 seasons.
While watching the most recent season finale, I have dreamed up the idea and pitched it just days before the organization’s promotional calendar dropped this spring.
“I got a ‘yes’ from everybody and they were like, how are you going to do this?” Boyd said. “And I was like, just trust me.”
A few months later he stood on the field under the August sun, decked out in one of his famous PaddleHeads logo suits, watching the 10 contestants set up their tents on the grassy incline beyond left field.
“This is one of those sayings that as the PaddleHeads we believe, which is we’re going to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks,” Boyd said. “This is 100% throwing spaghetti at the wall. I don’t know if this is going to stick. I really hope it sticks.”
Put to the test
Between Tuesday and Thursday the 10 contestants spent three days and two nights at Ogren Park, eating plain hot dogs for three meals a day and competing in challenges. Instead of winning $1 million like they do on “Survivor,” the winner walked away with a pair of season tickets for next year.
They each packed tents, sleeping bags and pillows and were allowed three non-electronic luxury items. The most common luxury items brought were water bottles, playing cards, books and notebooks, but some brought camp chairs, sunscreen, deodorant and flashlights.
Most contestants signed up to chase their own dreams of competing on “Survivor,” like Sean Peterson, a soon-to-be prosecutor in Ravalli County, who is a walking encyclopedia of the show, and chock full of strategies and competitive drive.
Krys Wilson, an automotive technician at Karl Tyler Chevrolet, had never seen the show before, but threw her name in the ring for the chance to sleep in the ballpark and meet new people.
“I figured, that should be amazing fun,” Wilson said. “I love baseball and I love camping, so the combination of the two is right up my alley.”
The contestants were split into three tribes to start, named after three prominent mountains in the Missoula area, Jumbo, Dean Stone and Trapper.
After settling in, they were thrust into their first team challenge of the series, which was a race to untie tires along the outfield fence and carry them to the finish line. After shuttling the tires, each team had to complete a 100-piece puzzle together.
The first two teams to finish were granted immunity and therefore exempt from participating in the first tribal council meeting, where teammates take turns to vote to send one another home.
The PaddleHeads’ in-house production team filmed every competition and individual interviews with each contestant to produce a series of episodes on their YouTube channel.
Challenges took place during the day and at baseball games so fans could get in on the fun as well. Throughout the three-game series, fans took turns voting online for their favorite contestant. The winner received a 10-pack of tickets to games next season.
After the first night at the park the contestants sprung into a new challenge of holding 4 liters of water above their head for as long as possible — which Boyd figured would be anywhere from 20-30 minutes.
The competitive nature of the contestants extended the challenge three times as long as any of the PaddleHeads employees planned, wrapping up after an hour and 32 minutes.
Reporter joins the fun
After the second PaddleHeads game of the week wrapped up, I squeezed around departing PaddleHeads fans with my tent, pillow and sleeping bag to see for myself what it was like to sleep at the ballpark.
As I laid out my tent in the grass in front of the third base dugout, I quickly realized my tent poles were missing and my dreams of sleeping on the field were slipping away.
“You can use my tent,” said contestant Barbra Finley, who wanted to sleep under the stars that night.
I couldn’t bring myself to use the few resources available to contestants, and luckily Boyd sprang into action and grabbed a spare tent out of his car for me to borrow. When I tried to set up the tent alone the remaining six contestants insisted on helping me get settled in.
The next morning I saw just how inventive the contestants became. Cameron Warren, a college student, scored some unopened ketchup and sweet relish packets from the stands to share and dress up the dreaded hot dogs. Someone found a bat in a dugout and another found a bucket of baseballs.
Each contestant took turns pitching and hitting balls in the outfield after the morning sprinklers finished their cycle. Eventually, they killed time playing rummy while choking down their sixth hot dog of the series.
What started as a competition morphed into summer-camp style friendships — with the occasional accusation about who found one of the hidden immunity idols and was lying about it.
Lone survivor, not so alone
At the start of the final baseball game in the series, the final four contestants sat near their tents, while the other contestants who were already voted off cheered for them in the stands.
“I’m not really nervous, this is probably the least nervous about a challenge or anything that I’ve been,” said Joey McDermid. “I’m just stoked to be here at the end and we get to watch this last game.”
Wilson, who was voted earlier off that day, stood on the concourse to watch each challenge unfold. While she was excited to go home and take a shower, she was struck by how much she missed her fellow contestants as she drove away earlier that afternoon. That evening, the group started making plans to reunite at future PaddleHeads games.
As the game wrapped up McDermid was revealed as the winner of the first ever Survivor Series and Tina Ostrowski was dubbed the fan favorite and secured an overwhelming majority of votes cast online. Some fans stopped and asked Ostrowski for a photo before they left the game.
McDermid is looking forward to using the season tickets with his son Oliver next year.
“It feels really good to have won and it was really cool having my family there and my boy to watch me,” McDermid said. “That was one of the funnest experiences I’ve ever had.”
After the game, Boyd was already looking forward to reliving the experience by watching the upcoming episodes on YouTube. Despite his exhaustion from him, he’s looking forward to a potential second “Survivor” next year.
“Everything worked,” he said. “I don’t know how to put it in words. There’s going to be a lot of joy watching these episodes and how awesome our production team put it together. I’m just going to be blown away. It’s something I get to hold on to the rest of my life.”