By now, you've likely heard of Bullrun, the high-action reality TV series on SPEED that pits 12 lucky vehicles and their owners against each other for risk-filled challenges, intimidating eliminations, $200,000 in cash and prizes, and instant celebrity status. Based on the international rally of the same name and hosted by wrestling great and car buff Bill Goldberg, Bullrun follows these teams, driving everything from Corvettes to Ferraris to a VW microbus, across 3,500 miles of the southwestern United States in search of fame and fortune.
"Bullrun is a perfect fit for SPEED viewers," the network's SVP of Programming Steve Craddock told VETTE. "It has intense competition, incredible rides, spectacular stunts, and a cast of characters willing to do whatever it takes to win and Goldberg is the perfect ringleader for this over-the-top, car lover's competition."
This year, Bullrun has something even more exciting for Corvette enthusiasts: an '01 Vette driven by two self-proclaimed Hollywood freaks, Elvis Strange and Steve McCabe, who push the car to its limits while keeping the cast and crew in stitches with their wild antics and unique sense of humor.
In two exclusive interviews, we first spoke with Bullrun Executive Producer Andrew Duncan to find out what the show is all about. Then, we talked to Strange and McCabe to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to make the final cut.
Vette Magazine: What's your involvement with Bullrun?
Andrew Duncan: I'm the founder/owner of Bullrun and the Bullrun Rally and creator/executive producer of the reality TV show, alongside my co-founder David Green. [We] do everything, from creating the show to making the tea.
VM: Please describe Bullrun. When was it conceived, how long has it run, and is it still ongoing?
AD: We conceived Bullrun back in 2004 as an annual, live-event/seven-day road rally. The idea was to create a fun, invitation-only event in the U.S. that involved approximately 100 cars of all kinds and people from around the world and all walks of life. We think of it as a kind of rolling automotive party. It has run each year since 2004 as a live event. Over the seven days, we go to a different city every night, and drivers only find out where they're going the same day. Our next live event, in July 2009, runs from New York to Austin, Texas. This event is also a TV show, but we've never aired it in the U.S. It's sold in 96 countries around the world under the title Cops, Cars and Superstars. It's in its sixth season.
VM: When was Bullrun developed for TV, and what are the similarities between the live event and the TV series?
AD: We started developing the reality-show version of the live event in 2006. The current version of the show is actually very close to the live event in terms of the format. We try to keep the format reasonably straightforward and true to the live event, so every team only learns its destination each day, and it has to navigate two or three checkpoints each day before it finishes.
The reality show puts the bottom three teams-based on total time from the day's drive-into a big "we'll probably destroy your car if you get this wrong" challenge. We don't do challenges this extreme in the live event, but we hire out race tracks and other sites to do other purely speed-based challenges.
Another major difference is that in the reality-show, teams aren't allowed to use any electronic equipment at all-GPS, cell phones, laptops, and so on.
VM: What does Bullrun look for in its contestants?
AD: Great question. The show is cast based on contestant first and car second, though we do our best to get a good cross section of the automotive world. We expect drivers to be prepared to bring it-really bring it. Drivers who got on Season Two were expected to really think about Season One and what they would have done across those 10 episodes to win the show. Whom would they have helped, whom would they have turned against, when, and why? It's easy to sit at home, watch the episodes, and think, I can beat that guy, but it all changes when you're in the field, and it's so much tougher than people think.
At home, you're just watching a 60-minute TV episode. The guys actually in the show had to endure two days, about 400 miles, a challenge, an elimination, and a ton of stress to create those 60 minutes. So it goes without saying that we need interesting personalities, and we're not really interested in anyone who just claims to be the best and has nothing to back it up (you'd be amazed how many people do this). We're interested in people who have really thought about it and will do anything to win-within legal limits, of course. After all that, then we look at what they're driving.
VM: What does Bullrun look for in its cars?
AD: It really differs all the time. One thing we've never been are car snobs, either in the TV show or the live event. As the show is driver-led, we look for cars and drivers that represent a specific element and attitude within existing car cultures. The cars don't need to be amazing, one-off models. We also have stock, spec vehicles in the show. The most important thing is that the audience at home can connect with the type of team in the car and the piece of car culture it represents.
VM: How many entries did the show have this year?
AD: We had more than 10,000 applications through our website.
VM: Of these, how many were Corvettes?
AD: I couldn't tell you offhand, but it was in the hundreds.
VM: Why did you choose the TeamStrange Corvette for Season Two?
AD: They're a very interesting team, and the car isn't a new model. It's also stock, apart from the doors, which we liked a lot. We're familiar with the Corvette, and we were pretty sure the stock car would still perform well against the best of the cars in the field.
VM: What impressed you about the team?
AD: Elvis Strange and Steve McCabe are very interesting guys, and we thought they would be great for TV. The way they look means some people don't take them seriously, [but] they're actually very determined individuals who want to win badly.
VM: What types of challenges was the Corvette put through during competition?
AD: You name it, those guys did it-driving on and off a rolling trailer, a relay that involved a slalom course, drag racing, and much more.
VM: Were any of the challenges designed specifically with the Corvette in mind?
AD: No, we actually have to devise the challenges well in advance of casting. It's a very complicated process from the inception of the original challenge idea, to finding the location for the challenge, and then having it signed off for risk and insurance purposes. One thing we're always trying to do in the challenges is devise them in such a way that they equalize the different types of cars. Ultimately, the cars that perform best are the ones their drivers know inside out and handle the best. It rarely comes down to whether the car is the best performer.
VM: What do you think about a Corvette-only version of Bullrun?
AD: Yep, why not? We could then devise challenges specific to the Corvette and make it really tough.
VM: When will the show air, and where can people learn more about it?
AD: The home of everything Bullrun is always www.bullrun.com. The show starts airing on SPEED February 19 for 10 weeks, and you can also check out www.speedtv.com for info and clips on the show and our Bullrun page at www.streetfire.net.
Vette Magazine: What motivated you to enter your '01 Corvette in Bullrun?
Elvis Strange: As a production designer in the entertainment industry over the past 10 years, I've grown comfortable being behind cameras. After working around a couple of reality shows, the last thing I envisioned for myself was doing one. I was originally approached two years ago to compete in the first season of Bullrun, but my teammate and I didn't make the final cut. I was still excited and willing to take on this adventure when I was contacted for the second season. I think this is because Bullrun is unlike many other reality shows. On this show, you bring your own weapon to battle, and it's your abilities to wield that weapon that are paramount for success. Bottom line, I love my Corvette. I love to drive it hard and push the limits everyday, so I felt this was an exciting opportunity to showcase my car and my driving ability.
Steve Mccabe: It seemed like it would be a great laugh. I knew Elvis and I would have some fun terrorizing other contestants and the highways of America.
VM: Had you studied Season One of Bullrun prior to competition?
ES: Yes. I enjoyed watching every episode of Season One, although I was disappointed that my team, TeamStrange, was cut from the season at the final casting stage. However, this worked out for the best, since I had to undergo wrist surgery while Season One was filming. Additionally, it's looking like Season Two will be even more exciting. If you don't get SPEED, call your cable provider now; you don't want to miss an episode!
SM: I watched it after Elvis asked me to join TeamStrange. I expected Bullrun to try and outdo itself by attempting to kill us, or at least scare the lug nuts out of us.
VM: Did you know what dangers your Corvette would be up against?
ES: I had a decent idea of what to expect after watching the first season, but I didn't know what changes the producers had in store. This is a reality show, after all. Even still, actually performing on this show and in the competitions, the excitement level I experienced far surpassed any expectations. Half the time, I felt like a rodeo clown dodging the blades in a food processor. What surprised me was the level of game play, alliances, strategizing, and stress that was prevalent.
VM: Did the producers warn you what could happen to your car during the contest?
ES: It's funny-after watching the first season and seeing what happened to some of the vehicles, I remember being thankful I wasn't on the show. Can you believe they actually did that with their own cars? That didn't deter me. When Steve and I met the producers face to face, the first thing they asked is if I was aware and OK with the fact that my Corvette may get damaged.
Now I have a very [carefree] approach to life, I'm an adrenaline junkie and thrill-seeker, so of course I blurted out, "Not a problem, I'm all about whipping it hard." In this, I may differ from your average Corvette owner whose car is a weekend car. I risk my car everyday. I figure if I'm going to be driving daily, it better be in the car I love. Don't get me wrong-I don't have a death wish or want to wreck my car, but why would I have spent the money on this devastating instrument of speed if I was afraid to take advantage of it and drive it the way it was built to be driven? Others may say, "Drive it like you stole it," but for me it's "Drive it like you own it."
SM: Anything. They could cut it in half, toss it out of a plane, or worse, like putting Ford or Shelby stickers on it. TeamStrange doesn't need no stinkin' Shelby sticker!
VM: By running an unmodified Corvette, do you feel you proved something to the other competitors?
ES: I think we proved that even a stock Corvette is a formidable weapon and nothing to dismiss. It was designed and performs as a superior sports car. It's fast, it handles awesome, it's versatile, it's reliable, it gets great gas mileage in a rally, it has great range, it's comfortable, and it looks damn sexy. Everyone should know that a Corvette is an exceptional piece of machinery, right out of the box.
SM: The Vette proved that a stock Chevy can outperform some of the best and more expensive cars in the world while getting incredible gas mileage, sometimes topless.
VM: If you could compete in the Bullrun reality TV show again, would you use the same Corvette, or would you think about using a Z06 or a ZR1?
ES: I also have a '90 Corvette, which was my daily driver before the '01, so you'd be whistling Dixie if you thought I wouldn't love to be driving a newer or more powerful Corvette. I had the mind-blowing pleasure recently of testdriving an '09 ZR1; it was off-the-hook incredible, like a rocket booster between my legs. However, I can't say that if a Z06 or ZR1 were at my disposal I would have surpassed my performance in my own stock LS1. While speed and power are vital-and we all love them-in the competitions, precision driving and your ability to handle your car might be more critical.
SM: In a rally, mileage is key. But if you're offering yours, sure.
VM: How did the Corvette handle acceleration, cornering, and other Bullrun challenges, such as road runs and eliminations?
ES: What can I say? The Corvette is impressive. Half the battle in Bullrun is the car, while the other half is the driver. One can have the best car in the world, but if you can't drive it well, you're never going to win. Now, I feel I'm a somewhat competent driver, and being able to drive a car built for speed and handling in these challenges is an incredible feeling. But you'll have to tune in and judge for yourself how well the TeamStrange Corvette performs.
SM: Like a leisurely Sunday drive through the scenic route to hell. The Vette was amazing. It was built for Bullrun.
VM: Tell us about some of the fun you had on the show.
ES: My teammate and I aren't cut from the same cloth as most everyone else. We were out there to compete, but we insist on having fun as well. While most teams were caught up in the strategies, stress, gameplay, and trying to keep their cars running, we were trying to have fun, start trouble, make people laugh, and instigate situations. While some teams may have liked us, our presence can be intimidating, and we could easily make others uncomfortable. This, we most definitely enjoyed.
SM: We had a good old time messing with the other teams, playing pranks, teasing them, and, let's not forget, freaking out the lovely people of rural America. Maybe the best part of it all was getting to push the Vette hard and see what it's made of. Driving with Elvis is like being on a rollercoaster with a jet engine. It was pretty damn exciting.
VM: In your opinion, is the Corvette a good choice for Bullrun? If so, why?
ES: Oh, a Corvette is a great choice. It's an awesome machine, and its versatility gives you a distinct advantage in most aspects of the game. It's powerful, fast, and reliable. It handles so tight. It was comfortable driving long distances. Most teams are threatened by gas mileage and range since fewer fill-ups [and shorter] stopping times are an advantage in the driving legs. Now, I may not get the best gas mileage the way I normally drive-maybe 16-18 mpg-but we were getting more than 30 mpg on the driving legs. For long-distance driving, cruise control and overdrive worked their charm. With an 18.5-gallon tank, we had an almost 600-mile range. This was critical information to suppress from the competition, as they all underestimated the Corvette's abilities.
SM: I was skeptical of how well the Vette would do at first, but by the end I couldn't think of a better car for the rally. It performed amazingly in the back roads and highways as well as in the competitions, and nobody guessed we had one of the best fuel ranges in the rally. On top of that, it was comfortable. When you're spending as many hours in a car a day for as many days as we did, comfort really matters. In Bullrun, fuel economy, ergonomics, and relia-bility are as important as power and handling. If I had to do this again, I would definitely choose a Corvette with Lambo doors. I really think the doors gave us the edge and intimidated the other teams.