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Competing in ‘The Gauntlet’ on MTV

Sarah Vabulas | Thursday, October 9, 2003

Intense drama, physical challenges and long days – words that best describe the latest installment of the MTV series Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Fourteen former Real World and fourteen former Road Rules cast members signed up for “The Gauntlet,” a challenge of the mind and body.

Filmed in Telluride, Col. at the Wyndam Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa, the 28 competitors immersed themselves back into the world of MTV show production as they battled for prizes, including the grand prize of $300,000.

The cast members on the show are real people who lead real lives. The show only shows a brief glimpse into the things they go through. Editing sways the way viewers see each cast member, not showing the whole truth of their being. Matt Smith, a cast member from Real World New Orleans, appears on the new RW/RR Challenge. Smith, a Catholic, spent much time in reflection before agreeing to appear on “The Gauntlet.”

“Going into it, my biggest hesitation was that I was going to jeopardize the good things in my life like my faith and service of God in LIFE TEEN,” said Smith. “After talking with some wise friends and spending time in prayer, I decided to go for it. And it didn’t jeopardize.”

He had been asked two other times to be on other challenges since appearing on The Real World, but he declined on each. “I went on a mission trip instead the first time they asked me. The second time, I was re-roofing a friend’s house. I had a call [in Arizona] to take care of LIFETEEN.com and I was not in a place to go.”

Smith used the show as a catalyst for LIFE TEEN and encouraging faith in God. He believes in the “power of the T-shirt,” so he took nine T-shirts total, along with a Mike Sweeney jersey, an All-Star first-baseman on the Kansas City Royals, who is a strong Catholic as well as supporter of LIFE TEEN. He designed six T-shirts and had them professionally printed to take with him on the show, while the remaining three were homemade spray-painted shirts. “Every dumb little shirt you throw on has meaning,” said Smith. “You can’t deny the power of the media and T-shirts. T-shirts are a powerful way to communicate with people.”

“Everyone came with their own cause, with their own T-shirt cause or a friend’s T-shirt company,” said Smith. “I chose to have my cause be a conduit for the Gospel, which is what LIFE TEEN is, so I made LIFE TEEN T-shirts. I hope people see the shirt and get on LIFETEEN.com.”

The cast members asked Smith if they, too, could have his shirts. They were a hit. “All in all, I gave out 40 T-shirts. If I leave the show early, there will still be impressions.” On the Real World/Road Rules: The Gauntlet preview, viewers can already see the power of Smith’s hip designs. Irulan from Real World 12: Las Vegas was already shown wearing one.

“One of my favorites is the Bayside High one. It’s funny retro,” said Smith. “The Sacred Heart of Jesus shirt is real slick. It’s just so funny. I’ve never worn it without someone commenting on it or asking me where I got it.”

“T-shirts are more of an identity as a teen. You feel good about it. Confident,” said Smith. “It’s like with P.O.D. and Lifehouse. They are Christian bands, but they are also successful bands. They are so convincing people can’t help but wear them. It’s been so exciting to see people talk about the shirts.”

Smith’s shirts will be available for purchase on LIFETEEN.com store soon.

Since the biggest part of Smith’s life is his devotion to the Catholic faith and to God, he spent a lot of time while in Telluride trying to keep his faith strong. “Each morning the producer would wake us up two hours before we had to be somewhere for filming,” said Smith. “I would just lay there and really just pray. Sometimes I would sing praise songs or pray the rosary and read scripture.”

“Viewers can’t understand the stress,” said Smith. “We are all trying not to get voted off. It is a difficult place to be sincere and true to yourself.” Smith strived throughout his time there to stay true to himself, especially by living his faith.

“It’s difficult because it was overwhelming. Everyone was fighting for the camera, for attention, and to stay on and not be voted off,” said Smith.

He kept referring to his time there as “intense” and “highly dramatic.” Drama was exactly what the producers were hoping for. On the preview episode, hosts Johnny Mosley and Coral from Real World 10: Back to New York, admitted that the creators liked big drama. “That is why they created the Gauntlet.”

After each challenge, the teams, divided into Real World vs. Road Rules, come together and vote for the person from each team who they would like to see off the show since they are keeping the team from success. These two people then face off in “The Gauntlet,” which is a highly physical battle. The winner stays on the show and rejoins the people who just voted them off, while the loser leaves. The re-joining of the person voted off was meant to make for drama.

“Two weeks there feels like a year’s worth of emotion, drama. It’s TV’s dirty, little secret,” said Smith. “A lot more dramatic that people are willing to admit. A lot of people think we are spoiled. It feels so disarmed and defenseless to admit it was traumatic or more difficult than you thought. It digs a deeper wound.”

“It is scandalous – it really is. A controversy has followed me everywhere I go,” said Smith. “I was in the heat of everything.”

Smith faced challenges from many cast members about his choice to live his life as a man of God. “I went in there with no intention to be liked,” said Smith. “Over time, people came to respect me. Another cast member told me she didn’t like me and my beliefs, but that she respected me.”

On the preview episode, hosts Mosley and Coral even criticized Smith for his faith and being on TV. “I’ve taken a lot of criticism since day one,” said Smith on the preview.

Smith planned to donate his earnings from the show to a LIFE TEEN camp being built in part of Arizona.

Fourteen challenges took place over the course of filming. They ranged from climbing into sumo suits to flying airplanes and sky writing to everything in between. “Our challenges varied. Some were physically challenging, some not physically, and some were fun, but they were all intense no matter what,” said Smith.

After each challenge, a vote took place. Smith admitted that because of the voting there was “a whole different dynamic. It was strategic to be good to people. There was not much sincerity, but instead a false sense of sincerity.”

“People here are more savvy having been through it before. A lot of the case tries to break their stereotype from before. I was dealing with a lot more people, but they’ve been there and know how to act,” said Smith. “In the Real World, the plot is in your hand. But with this, it’s about the physical challenges.”

Matt works hard as national spokesperson for LIFE TEEN and as Webmaster for LIFETEEN.com. He has met many people and made an impact on teens lives all over the country with his holy lifestyle.

“I have a lot of respect for Matt. He has a lot of character in tough situations,” said Mark Hart, the vice president of LIFE TEEN and 1995 graduate of Notre Dame. “Matt is the real deal. He is not hypocritical. Not fake. His whole take is that he Catholic and proud of it. It is cool and admirable that he wants to use his 15 minutes to get people closer to God.

“He walks the walk. It is increasing rare and difficult. He is encouraging and a great example to people young and old,” Hart said. “He shows that you can be into your faith and God, yet still be hilarious and fun to live with. He doesn’t exist in a bubble. He lives a full life. Matt lives like St. John says, ‘To be in the world, but not of the world.'”

Matt Smith operates his own personal Web site. You can visit it at www.supafly.com. For more information about “The Gauntlet,” visit the official MTV site at www.mtv.com.

The premiere of the “Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet” is tonight at 9 p.m. on MTV. It will continue to air Monday nights at the 10 Spot.

Contact Sarah Vabulas at vabu4547@saintmarys.edu