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“REALITY TV” in Cozumel: Ultimate Diver Challenge Report

( – Last month I was on my tri-annual pilgrimage to the beautiful reefs and island of Cozumel Mexico. This trip offered the unique opportunity to spend a week volunteering for the Ultimate Diver Challenge, a ‘reality TV’ show based around a scuba diving competition to be broadcast on Versus TV. (Photo by T. Robert Pigot)

Set aside the fact that scuba isn’t a competitive sport, and deal first with the ‘reality’. Whether or not you’re a fan, there appears to be a premise available for just about every taste. Happily this is not the usual collection of cookie-cutter pretty people showcasing the nastiest side of their personalities. Nor a financial reward, fame and attention to the point of veneration for the worst amoral and anti-social behavior that has become habitual fodder for the great sheep herd that is the typical American viewing public.

Picture instead a group of cheerful divers, all shapes, sizes and experience levels from all over the US and South America. Like the majority of divers they were all delighted just to be going underwater. Camaraderie was rampant! They were supportive, helpful and encouraging of each other, start to finish. More like a large group of old friends than competitors. Dive Camp for grown-ups is the thought that kept running through my mind.

Without giving too much away…the challenges were diverse, creative and a lot of fun for the competitors. Each event was designed to test one or more important diving skill; buoyancy, navigation, search, profile and wreck diving, rescue protocols and more. There were stop-watches and judges with slates, so you never completely forgot the competitive aspect. This didn’t seem to affect the diver’s enjoyment in the least.

Safety was the acknowledged tenet throughout the entire challenge. Laura Walker from DAN (Divers Alert Network) was present for each event, providing hydration and answering any questions. Most days there was a local ambulance crew on scene as well. In the water there were designated safety divers for each contestant. In addition most of the officials and judges are Dive Master or Instructor level, holding multiple certifications issued by one or more agencies. My estimate was an average of 3-4 safety divers per competitor at any one time in the water. I’ve never felt so safe.

The production crew, assembled from all corners of the entertainment industry came with amazing credentials and impressive resumes. They were all professional, creative and superb divers in their own right, with several thousand dives among them. Most notable, because they talked with me more than the others, were Travis Matteson and Mark Santa-Maria from LiquidAssetsTV. Both are talented cameramen, editors and experienced divers with passport stamps to make one salivate with envy and wonder if it’s too late for a career change?

Great new hosts this year, a cute couple both on and off screen, Jennie Ford and Steve Hanneman flew in to fill the position at the last minute. You would never suspect it from their performance and can-do attitude. They seemed to throw themselves into the project whole-heartedly, as if they had been on-board from the ground up. Predictably professional behavior but a pleasant surprise was their degree of dedication, friendly and approachable attitude. Jennie used her very limited “down” time to get open water certified to more fully understand not only the competition but the passion of the divers and the sport itself. Another convert.

Extraordinary to me was the large number of volunteers, attending on their own dime and many for the fourth year in a row. What a fun and varied group; industry professionals, dive shop owners, underwater bridge inspectors, and regular working folks just wanting to be involved and help their good friend Pam.

That would be Pam Bertram, the founder, architect and organizing, driving force behind the entire concept of the UCD. She has worked tirelessly for the past four years to organize and produce the competition to draw attention to the sport of diving and the beautiful island of Cozumel. She is busier and has more on her plate than any 10 people.

Due to Pam’s hectic schedule, I had limited interaction with her during the week. However from my perspective she appeared remarkably to always remain upbeat and positive, present to answer questions, offer words of support and motivate crew and participants alike. Special credit should go out to her husband Dave and her four amazing children – truly a strong, loving and supportive family.

A quick shout out to a few of the most visible sponsors: the El Cid hotel where a few challenges and the elimination ceremony were filmed. La Palapita pier and beach bar with Isaac Uribe and Paulina Sanchez where the majority of the action took place and more than a few cervezas were consumed. Finally the two Dive Operations that include the greater part of my very favorite people on the island; Papa Hogs, owned by Mike and Margaret Gerus and Scuba Mau, owned by Maurizio and Opal Torelli. Both shops donated some of the islands best and most popular dive masters and boat captains. Additionally they provided the use of several boats, dive equipment and countless hours of their valuable time to make this event a success.

Altogether it was a great experience for me. I met some great divers and made a lot of new friends. I can’t wait to see it on TV, just pray I don’t see myself; the camera adds 10 lbs you know! I fully intend to volunteer again next year if they will have me.

To read some of Stacy’s other stories, click here: Stacy Amberson

Click here for more details on the Ultimate Diver Challenge


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