It is 94 degrees. I am standing on a beach in Cancun, Mexico. There’s a long line of scantily clad college girls, waiting to please me. A topless, 19-year old cheerleader from Purdue is slinking towards me and, although I am not exactly sure what a cervix is, I’m pretty sure I just saw one.
And I’m the one getting paid.
I never had the money to join classmates on decadent sojourns to Ft. Lauderdale or the like for Spring Break. They would return with Dionysian tales of some Girls Gone Wild-type romp and I would regale them with my adventures watching every Bond movie in order. Including Never Say Never Again.
Ironically, after graduating from college, while they were toiling away as abused law clerks, pre-med interns and professional loafers I was paid to go on Spring Break six times, from 1995 through 2001, as a producer for MTV.
Before they dropped the “music television” from their logo, before anyone had been Catfished or knew what a Snooki was MTV was the textbook example of inmates running the asylum. Television for high school and college kids, made by kids barely out of high school and college. Kids that should never have been trusted with copious amounts of responsibility and money.
During my 1993-2003 tenure at MTV my co-workers fell into one of two major categories:
1) Young adults that desperately wanted to work in television and fully enjoyed the “perks” a wild-west network like MTV provided.
2) Young adults that desperately wanted to enjoy the “perks” a wild-west network like MTV provided, and maybe make some television along the way.
This distinction was harder to detect while confined to a conventional office setting but once our work-release programs like Beach MTV, MTV Beach House and of course, Spring Break were in production the freak flags flew.
On location, an MTV laminate around your neck was a free pass into any bar, club or party — in fact, at almost every location we would catch enterprising Ferris Buellers making their own counterfeit ones. Being within a few years of the students we were filming — and often armed with petty cash and/or corporate credit cards — made us the equivalent of the older kid who lived off campus and threw wild keggers for the undergrads. One could really take advantage if one was so inclined. And many did. Thousands of miles away from the MTV mothership in New York it was not uncommon for a co-worker’s two weeks of per diem to be gone in one night or for a panicked production assistant to find their envelopes of petty cash empty save for some very questionable receipts. The drinking, drugs, hook-ups and occasional arrests were par for the course. We always came back with fewer employees on the payroll than when we left. War is hell.
But it would be a few years into my professional Spring Break career before I witnessed the real mayhem firsthand. While my co-workers were sent to Panama City Beach or Daytona — the Spring Breaks of ’80s Teen-Sex-Comedy lore — my first one was spent in Lake Havasu, AZ, the Spring Break mecca for land-locked Americans. Like a dental convention in Vegas, full of henpecked married men with only 72 hours to live out every repressed fantasy, students descend on Havasu like a swarm of locusts, hanging out of pick-up trucks, flashing anything with eyeballs and getting deeply regrettable tattoos. “This is Spring Break?” I thought, “I didn’t miss much.”
My next two Spring Breaks were only slightly more eventful: South Padre Island, TX, the Redneck Riviera. That South Westerners declared this landfill Party Central baffled me, mainly because March-April is hurricane season in them parts. Both years I was there the tiny island was ravaged with gale force winds and torrential rains, turning my bomb shelter of a hotel into a virtual Hedonism for 14 days: clothing optional, alcohol mandatory and common sense strictly prohibited. Besides having my room service cart hijacked by a marginally attractive, totally nude redhead and waking up one morning to find a random frat guy in my bathroom, puking in my sink, I was unimpressed. I have cable.
The following year I got the call: the Big Leagues. The Majors. The Show. Cancun, Mexico. I would finally get the true Spring Break experience.
I’m not a stiff, but it was well known around the office that I wasn’t exactly Frank the Tank either. (The first time I ever patronized a strip club I accidentally made a 40-year old, Shalimar-infused lapdancer cry and nearly got my ass beaten — but that is a story for another time.) For that reason, my bosses took great pleasure in assigning me that year’s “King & Queen of Spring Break” special. A two-hour “competition” that was to, I was instructed, push it as far as possible. Then a little more. My skin crawled, a bit.
“Oh, and your host will be Jerry Springer.”
I knew they were fucking with me. They knew, that I knew, that they were fucking with me. So I decided to show them. I would produce the most decadent, reprehensible Spring Break special of all time. I would prove to them that I could handle any type of project they threw at me. They were counting on my Type A personality to do just that. In retrospect, I was an idiot.
My team and I went to work brainstorming tasteless rounds of competitions. We plotted. We schemed. We did full color diagrams and forced interns into ungodly positions to see if they were physically possible. Dozens and dozens of concepts were discarded for being too tame — eight because the FCC did not allow actual penetration and a few because we were pretty sure they were illegal, even in Mexico.
Casting the contestants was a slightly bigger challenge. Our first audition in Cancun drew over 100 couples. We started with some preliminary warm ups just to see if they could dance and be uninhibited.
We never made it past the warm-ups. Seventeen kids puked. Three passed out. One fell asleep standing up. For a second I thought maybe this is what “getting’ jiggy” meant and I realized I was terribly misinformed. Don’t judge. It was the #1 song at the time.
“Okay,” we thought. “Maybe we need to observe these animals in their natural environment.” That night we went to Senõr Frogs. For those unaware, from the outside this Cancun institution looks like a humungous Applebee’s or TGIF’s compete with the obligatory anthropomorphic animal mascot. Inside, it resembles Eyes Wide Shut if directed by Joel Schumacher: Day-Glo paint parties, foam pits for anonymous groping, frozen tequila ice luges and of course, plastic 48oz beer bongs that hang from your neck with an 18-inch straw inserted directly into your esophagus.
And tons of uninhibited, willing Spring Breakers. We gave them flyers with the address of the next day’s casting session.
Not surprisingly, only about a third showed up. The ones that did taught us not to cast in a dark club. (Apparently, every unattractive Spring Break chick gets their hair done in cornrows the moment they step off the plane.)
Meanwhile, our hard working riggers and lighting crew were building our set at the water’s edge. Every day, the stage rigging rose higher, reminding us of our impending show and complete lack of contestants.
We headed to the beach. Bikinis in broad daylight. What could go wrong? We could see their…assets. Clearly they could get out of bed before noon. Perfect. We got a sign-up table, grabbed some clipboards and went to work. A line formed immediately. Our Polaroid casting camera was an exhibitionist magnet.
The first couple stepped up. She slurred she was a cheerleader from Purdue. He was “undeclared.” I mistakenly said, “Whatcha got?” I am not exactly sure of the order of events that followed. If memory serves, she climbed up on his back, slunk down his chest into a standing 69 position, somehow slipped her bikini bottoms off, then arched her back, bringing her legs towards me until her ass landed on my folding table with her legs spread in my face and her ovaries staring at me.
Now this is Spring Break.
Then, the drunk “undeclared” boyfriend asked me the rhetorical question, “Hey! You lookin’ at my girl?” “Well,” I answered, “not so much at as inside, but considering she is occupying my entire field of vision, yes.”
That was the wrong thing to say.
When beach security pulled him off me I remarked at how surprised I was that I actually hadn’t seen more drunken fights since our arrival. “Nah,” he answered, “All these kids are too scared of landing in a Mexican jail.” Apparently, I found the one not afraid of Danny Trejo making him a child bride.
Two days of casting. Three epic fails. Where were we going to find young, levelheaded, punctual, hot exhibitionists?
So, when Jerry Springer introduced “Five of the hottest college couples at Spring Break” a bevy of young, levelheaded, punctual, hot strippers took to the stage. And, by the nature of their profession, they had no qualms about going through round after round of ungodly competitions we put forth. Play-at-home classics such as:
Put ‘Em On The Glass: The male partner must write a word in lipstick on the ass of the female partner. She must then transfer the word to a plate of glass and decipher it while racing the ticking clock.
Call Waiting: The couple must enter a phone booth (rigged with cameras of course) and change bathing suits in the least amount of time possible. We did a similar stunt with a Volkswagen Bug.
Edible Bikinis: Couples must go behind a screen and pick edible items such as peanut butter, whip cream, aerosol cheese and more to fashion a bathing suit they must model in front of the drunk, barely coherent crowd.
There is more but my brain has locked it away in dark places I dare not go.
In the end, my bosses stood beside me in our mobile control-room truck, aghast. “You’ve gone too far,” they muttered. Yes. Yes I had. I pushed the image of my dead grandmother crying, “This is why you went to film school?” deeper and deeper down into my subconscious.
It was decadent, it was indecent, more of it was blurred than actually aired and for the next three months Jerry Springer left me voice mail after voice mail asking for the original, unedited footage.
Maybe I was Frank the Tank after all.
Adam Freeman is the former producer of MTV’s 120 Minutes, Alternative Nation, and Total Request Live. He is now the Creative Director of Thinkfactory Media. He tweets at @mradamfreeman.