The hooting and howling cranked up a few notches earlier this month at Seven Bar & Grill in Santa Barbara, Calif., as local surf photographer and filmmaker Branden Aroyan made the cut to the final three contestants on the season premiere of Wipeout.
With frosty pints of Firestone 805 raised high and all eyes glued the flatscreen above the bar, the gathering of friends and family suddenly realized that Aroyan was the gameshow's strongest contender for the $50,000 winner-takes-all prize.
At the bar with his lips sealed by ABC's confidentiality agreement, Aroyan could only smile and watch himself on TV as partygoers pressed him for details, asking, "You're gonna win this thing, aren't you?!?"
They'd all have to wait until after the last commercial break to watch the lanky and athletic 38-year-old get flipped 50 feet into dark waters by a human catapult before mightily outpacing both his opponents across the final obstacle course to post the fastest time and claim the 50 grand.
"It was definitely fun, definitely scary," said Aroyan, who's planning on using the money to travel. "I do feel lucky that I got out of it without really getting injured."
Aroyan told XGames.com that he watched Wipeout a few times a couple years back. "I was watching it one night with my wife and told her, 'That looks fun; I want to do that,'" he remembers. "I jumped on the computer and sent in the online application."
ABC eventually called him in to audition for a spot to compete on what the network bills as "the world's largest extreme obstacle course designed to provide the most spills, face plants and wipeouts ever seen on television," according to its showpage.
"They told me, 'We really want to see your personality. Like if you're a cowboy, show up in your chaps and ten-gallon hat,'" he remembers. So, as a surfer who grew up in Southern California and photographer with a Brooks Institute degree, Aroyan showed up in his full-body wetsuit, holding a surfboard and underwater camera.
When he finally got an invite to compete, he turned down a lucrative weekend shoot with Deckers footwear company to be on the show. The gamble paid off.
Foreshadows of Aroyan's big win came early in the broadcast as he charged the course with a sprinter's speed while deftly avoiding many of the pitfalls that brought quick demise to blindsided contestants.
Also a key to victory was Aroyan's strength as a swimmer, honed from years in the water surfing and shooting with the likes of Santa Barbara's Lakey Peterson, the Malloy brothers, and 11-time world champ Kelly Slater.
Aroyan's next big trip will take him to Nicaragua this summer with the Surf For Life nonprofit group.