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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

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Milwaukeean returns from jaunt on ESPN's reality TV show


In April, we told you about Greg Matzek, the Milwaukee man vying for a chance to compete on ESPN's reality show, "Beg, Borrow & Deal." At the time, Matzek didn't know where he was going, how long he would be gone -- or even if he would be selected as a contestant or as an alternate on the upcoming show.

Now Matzek is back from his journey, and though he's been sworn to secrecy about many of the show's details, like who won, where he went and what he did -- we do know this: Matzek was selected as a contestant, and the two and a half weeks he spent on the road were some of the best of his life.

"It was the most challenging, difficult and rewarding experience of my life," he said, and it began with a first-class flight into South Beach, complete with a limo picking him up.

"I honestly didn't know the show was starting until they said, 'the game starts now.'"

That was April 28. From there, he had to complete 10 sports-themed tasks from a list of 50 without repeating ones the other teams already finished.

"Some sound people came in and put the microphone on us. They divided us into two groups of four. We walked outside, and the executive producer was arranging us in some sort of order. We walked over this little hill and all of a sudden, there was a huge camera crew and the host, Summer Sanders, gave us our task maps. She literally threw the maps at us and the game started."

One might assume that throwing two teams of four strangers together would result in some awkward situations, especially since the producers hope for a little conflict here and there.

Said Matzek, "The entire group of 16 (including the alternates) was the most dynamic group I had ever come across. They were amazing."

His team consisted of two men and two women, which begs the obvious question: Did Matzek hook up with any of his female counterparts?

"No, of course not," he said, laughing. "But that's the interesting thing. They tried to push for that a lot."

So did anyone hook up?

"You'll have to watch the show," said Matzek.

Did Matzek get in any big fights with his team?

"You'll have to watch the show," he said again. "But our group got along well."

Matzek said he's confident he can keep the show's details a secret, and he hasn't told a soul -- including his parents -- how it all turned out.

"I'm used to it now, because I've been asked questions all over the place. Everyone wants to know, but if I tell someone, then the show isn't fun."

Matzek wouldn't say how many cities he traveled to, but he could speak in vague generalities. "We started in South Beach and ended up on Mount Rushmore. You might be able to figure it out, since we could do one task per state and five per time zone."

That's too much math for us, but Matzek recommended looking at a map and trying to figure out the most logical route.

Without using any money in his wallet -- that's part of the game -- it seems like a cross-country trek would be quite a challenge. Food was sometimes scarce, Matzek said. He was forced to rely on friends across the country for lodging.

"My friends were very cool, but it's the random acts of kindness that really stand out."

"A team did make it," said Matzek, not divulging which team that happened to be. "But the game is over now."

"I think the most interesting episode will be in the beginning, in which in a 24-hour period, I was able to see South Beach and Lake Tahoe and get back to the eastern time zone without the use of a commercial airline."

"The 50 tasks weren't easy, and just because we set them up didn't mean we were going to pass them. They were that difficult. We couldn't even tell people we were with ESPN. You couldn't play that card."

Instead, Matzek would pull out his task map, which had the EPSN logo and show name printed across it. Frequently, contacts would remember the show from its first season and help out from there.

"Season one became a very valuable resource."

That, and the omnipresent cameras that were rolling at all times.

"I got used to the cameras because they weren't big and bulky. Whenever we traveled in a car, there would be our team of four and a producer."

The producer monitored their phone conversations at all times to make sure the players didn't divulge too much information. "They played 'good cop, bad cop,'" he said.

Matzek and his team were miked from the time he got up in the morning until he went to bed at night, but he could turn his microphone off if he was in a car.

Matzek said that being on the show gave him a better understanding of how things are done in reality TV. "It's hard to conceptualize, but now I understand how television is put together."

"I'd do it again in a second. You'd be foolish to turn down the opportunity to meet 20 new friends."

That, and to travel to some fairly exotic locales, all in the name of reality TV.

"I went to one place I thought I'd never go," he said. "I went to some places I never thought we'd get a task done, and we did."

Compelling TV, indeed.

The first episode airs July 8, and ESPN is flying Matzek to Los Angeles for the premiere party to celebrate. There are seven, hour-long episodes scheduled. In time, ESPN.com will begin revealing information about its second season of "Beg, Borrow & Deal." We'll make sure to catch up with Matzek just as soon as he's able to divulge more behind-the-scenes, juicy details from his experience.

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