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Article on BBV in SI

Augster

Rules Nerd
Supporting Member
Mar 9, 2005
1,473
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Had to edit it to get it down to 10000 characters:

This is what it takes to capture -- or is it create? -- reality: eight cameras, four dozen Golf Channel staffers, 30 walkie-talkies, 24 golf carts, one rules official, one makeup artist, one lawyer, one medic and, not least, two golfers. That was the awesome assemblage of gear and manpower that rumbled down the fairway during the taping of the finale of the Big Break V: Hawaii, the latest installment in the popular reality show that has become an increasingly important part of the Golf Channel lineup.

For 17 days last October the Big Break V (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET) took over the Turtle Bay resort on the North Shore of Oahu, as 800 hours of footage were shot of the 11-woman cast. All of this tape was winnowed down to 14 episodes, the first of which premiered on Feb. 7.

The Big Break is golf's version of Survivor, and already three contestants have been eliminated. Over the next nine weeks one winner will emerge, thanks to her golf skills and mastery of interpersonal dynamics. SI was given exclusive access to the making of the show on the condition that we not reveal the results. This backstage pass was a portal into an artificial world in which pasty thighs are covered with tanning spray, the sequestered contestants are forced to lie to their families during monitored phone calls home, and the inevitable catfights are orchestrated by the unseen machinations of the show's producers.

But what was real about this so-called reality was the surprisingly compelling golf and the palpable desire among a diverse group of women looking for the break that may launch a career.


The big break was born less of inspiration than desperation. From Thursday through Sunday the Golf Channel lineup is chock-full of tournament coverage, highlights and analysis from all of golf's major professional tours. Finding programming for Monday through Wednesday has always been the challenge.

The first Big Break debuted on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2003, to an uncertain future. The Big Break was ultimately won by a 26-year-old named Justin Peters, who turned out to be a nice little story -- a career mini-tour grinder and single dad who had taken out a bank loan (at 12.9% interest) to chase the dream (see sidebar).

The second Big Break helped establish in the public's mind what have become the show's signature skills challenges: breaking panes of glass with pitch shots and hitting flop shots over a wall. (In most rounds, through a series of knockout competitions, one player is eliminated.) Big Break II drew better ratings than the first season's, but, like Peters, winner Kip Henley III lacked that certain star quality necessary to cross over to a wider audience.


It wasn't until season three, telecast in the spring of 2005, that Big Break began to gain traction. Given the low ratings for women's golf, it was a risky move to go with an all-female cast, but Big Break III: Ladies Only wound up being a must-see soap opera in spikes. The eventual winner, 28-year-old Danielle Amiee, was a perfect antihero -- an emotive blonde with a racy wardrobe and an uncanny ability to irk her fellow competitors with colorful trash-talk.

Big Break IV: USA vs. Europe recently concluded, its slightly awkward team format redeemed by the glorious Scottish venues, which included the Old Course at St. Andrews and Carnoustie. Even without a compelling hero or villain, the ratings climbed for a third season in a row.


The franchise is now so well-established that the Golf Channel received several thousand written applications for Big Break V. This group was cut to about 500, and a half-dozen auditions were then set up across the country, at which the applicants were put through skills challenges and a series of oral interviews. Once the pool was reduced to 50, Golf Channel execs selected the final cast, looking for the right mix of backgrounds and personalities.


"The skill level is tremendous," says executive producer Jay Kossoff, noting that Big Break V's cast includes a handful of college All-Americas, a former U.S. Women's Amateur champion and a onetime member of the Swedish national team. "This is by far the best group of golfers we've had. These women can flat-out play."


One of the marketing slogans being used to promote Big Break V is "Golf has never been hotter." How important was physical appearance in the selection process? "It was part of it," says Kossoff. "Golf skill was the primary consideration, but being attractive certainly didn't hurt your chances of being selected. Hey, this is show business."


The reigning Miss Minnesota had been selected for the Hawaii lineup but, sadly, she had to drop out to concentrate on the Miss America pageant. Among the cast members sure to be popular with the Golf Channel's overwhelmingly male audience is 27-year-old Nikki DiSanto, a va-va-voom M.A.W. (model-actress-whatever) from Los Angeles whose lack of meaningful playing experience was obvious when she was ousted in episode three; Kristina Tucker, 25, a leggy Swede with an adorable smile; and Kim Lewellen, a 34-year-old mother of two with the kind of six-pack abs usually seen only on late-night infomercials or the cover of Shape.


To the victor of Big Break V goes some significant spoils: an invitation to the LPGA's Safeway Classic; exemptions into the final 12 tournaments on the Futures tour schedule following the Big Break V season finale, on May 9; reimbursement by the Golf Channel for all travel expenses to these Futures events; an equipment contract with Bridgestone; $10,000 in cash and merchandise from Golfsmith; and a Chrysler Crossfire convertible. The prizes are certainly nice, but it is the simple opportunity to play that drew these women to the Big Break.


While a junior at Idaho, Julie Wells was the Big Sky Conference player of the year, but in three years since turning pro she has barely been scraping by on various mini-tours. To pay the bills Wells, 25, works at the Oregon Golf Club in "outside services," a euphemism for cart girl. Shining clubs for tips had Wells contemplating the end of her playing career, but Big Break V changed all that.

"Being selected for the show is the first good thing that's happened to me in a long time, golfwise," she says. "It has me super fired-up to get after it again."


Lewellen was an All-America at North Carolina in the early 1990s but put her career on hold to raise her two children and coach the men's and women's golf teams at The Citadel.

Her motivation for coming on Big Break V? "To show these kids that I can still play a little," she says.


Maybe the easiest player to root for among the Big Break V cast is Divina Delasin. If the name sounds familiar, it's because her older sister, Dorothy, is a four-time winner on the LPGA tour. It was Divina's sacrifices that helped launch Dorothy's career. Divina, 24, was an accomplished player as a junior golfer, but when her family fell on hard times, she dropped out of high school to work multiple jobs, supporting her sister and parents. Now teaching at the First Tee of San Francisco, she came to Hawaii determined to seize the opportunity.

"It's finally my turn," Divina says.



Says one fellow competitor, "There's no doubt Ashley studied Big Break III -- not only the challenges but also the psychological aspects. She's gotten under the skin of a couple of girls, and I don't think it's an accident."


The tensions were hardly confined to the golf course. The contestants were forced to bunk together in pairs assigned by the show's producers. The down-to-earth, crunchy Lucidi and the glam, high-maintenance DiSanto spent much of their stay in Hawaii getting on each other's nerves. At one point Lucidi buttonholed a Golf Channel staffer and asked, "Do you hate me? Are you punishing me?"


Not exactly, but the Lucidi-DiSanto tiffs were not unwelcome. "We knew those two wouldn't get along," says Kossoff. "We're trying to create tension, and it has worked beautifully."


The players' cabin fever was understandable, given how little contact they had with the outside world. Each woman signed a confidentiality agreement pledging not to reveal any details of the show, even to loved ones. To help maintain the code of silence, the players were allowed to phone home only in the presence of an eavesdropping Golf Channel staffer.


When watching Big Break at home, the viewer sees what looks like slickly packaged entertainment, as the golf action is set to jazzy music and continually interrupted by quick cuts to the taped interviews. But when you're on-site the challenges and, especially, the elimination matches have the tension of real golf.

Even the jaded Golf Channel staffers get into it. As the final match is winding down, contestant coordinator Laurie Gannon stands on the edge of a green, dabbing at her eyes. "These are not simply characters on a show; they're real people, and their lives are changed forever," she says.


Yet the only competitive ripple a Big Break contestant has made came last fall, when Big Break IV's Tommy (Two Gloves) Gaines won the Tour Championship on something called the U.S. Pro Golf mini-tour.

"Our job is to create a compelling TV show, and what happens after that is out of our control," says Kossoff, "but it would certainly enhance the reputation of the show if one of our contestants won something big. I think this is the group that will break through."

And if not?

"There's always another season," he says.
 

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