“How do you feel about being shot from a cannon?”
It was one of the first things I was asked when I arrived in Thailand to visit the set of MTV’s The Challenge: War of the Worlds 2. I was the first-ever reporter to visit the set of the hit reality competition series in 34 seasons, and I was going to get to test one of the weekly challenges myself. There was no way I could say no to whatever they threw at me — and I was relieved it was something physical as opposed to eating a bunch of worms or something even more disgusting.
But I had a few days to perfect the image of myself being shot from a cannon, circus-style, into a body of water, and the nerves began to set in.
I asked for words of wisdom from some of the show’s veteran players.
“You just have to mentally stay in your zone,” said Kam Williams, 24. “That’s who Killa Kam is. Killa Kam is the person I channel anytime I go into a challenge or an elimination. That’s just the name of the competitive side of me — so just channel your inner Killa Kam. She is in all of us. She is in you, too. I can see her.”
Two-time champ Wes Bergmann, 34, first laughed and warned, “it’s going to be really scary,” before urging me to see the bigger picture.
“This doesn’t make it any better, but no one else has ever done this before — and when you get done, they’re going to take the contraption or whatever it is down and no one else is ever going to do it again,” he said. “That makes it highly dangerous because it doesn’t have a lot of repetitions, but it also makes it a once in a lifetime opportunity. You’re going to get to tell a story about this thing you did in Thailand that no one else will ever get to pay to do. It will get disassembled and be gone forever.”
With that in mind, I was ready to be fearless.
When I stepped out of the production van at the lakeside location for the challenge, which will appear in the second episode of War of the Worlds 2, I was relieved. I didn’t see the conical, red, yellow and blue circus mainstay I’d been picturing. Instead, before me stood a pair of chairs perched high atop a set of metal cranes that reached over the water.
But then, stunt coordinator Yasca Sinigaglia made an announcement: “When it is loaded, this is a dangerous weapon with a lot of power in it.” I gulped. Soon, I was going to be that “load.”
First, the “cannon” — which functioned much more like a slingshot — was tested with a big plastic water tank. Seeing that would have been reassuring … if the chair hadn’t fallen apart with the speed and force of hitting the end of the crane’s track.
Next, stunt performer Toby Fuller gave the seat a go without incident. Once he was out of the water, he began to prepare me for what I was about to face. And both he and Sinigaglia insisted I be padded to the hilt.
They strapped me into a life jacket, elbow pads and knee pads (which were both a bit too big), and a helmet once worn by Selita Ebanks on Champs vs. Stars.
“The force of the thing is quite fast,” Fuller warned. “You’ll hit a dead stop and it’s going to literally throw you and force you out [of the chair].”
Moments later, I was seated in the contraption, waiting for a countdown that seemed to take forever. Bergmann’s warning about how “dangerous” these things were because of lack of repetitions kept repeating in my head, especially when I spotted a random bolt sitting on the track in front of me.
But there was no turning back. This was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Plus, TJ Lavin, the show’s host — and famous quitter-hater — had come to cheer me on.
Sinigaglia gave the countdown and off I flew, splashing into the water at a breakneck speed, a piece of the chair breaking off and landing in the water behind me.
My mission wasn’t over quite yet though: Like the Challengers will do next Wednesday, I had to swim across the wide lake, hoist myself onto a bamboo raft, and paddle back. It was rough going — my distance swimming and rowing experience is virtually non-existent — but I made it.
When I stepped out of the water, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Everyone applauded. Lavin gave me a fist-bump and declared, “You did the damn thing!”
I sure did.
Later that day, showrunner Justin Booth presented me with one of the sleek monogrammed Under Armour water bottles the cast will be using all season (part of the show’s greening efforts). It made me feel a bit like a member of the Challenge family. And while there’s no way I could compete against the likes of Killa Kam or Wes, I’m proud to say Killa Breanne showed up.
The Challenge: War of the Worlds 2 airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on MTV.