It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog that matters. And this 5-foot-4-inch Bulldog had enough talent to have his “fight” aired on national television. After 2000 miles and six months of secrecy, John Hodges’ EPH ’01 adventure as one of 15 competitors on “No Boundaries,” the WB’s newest Survivor-style reality television show, will be revealed to the nation Sunday.
Hodges is a 24-year-old research associate at the Yale School of Medicine, a recently named residential fellow for Timothy Dwight College, and a coach for the lightweight crew team. Described by friends as “ridiculously easy to get along with” and “incredibly driven,” he was selected to make the daunting trip from Vancouver Island to the Arctic Circle from a pool of over 6,500 applicants.
But making the final cut was merely the beginning of Hodges’ journey.
“No Boundaries” is FOOT like you’ve never seen it before. The show, produced by Brady Connell of “Survivor,” places 15 competitors in the breathtaking wilderness of the Yukon and asks them to work together as they travel the 2,000 miles between British Columbia’s Vancouver Island and the Arctic Circle.
Participating in everything from kayaking to ice climbing, the contestants vote every 48 hours to elect a new leader who, along with guiding the day’s adventure, has the difficult task of eliminating one traveler at the end of the two-day period. The leader at the end of the voyage takes home the grand prize of $100,000 and a Ford Explorer.
Unlike “Survivor,” in which ex-competitors trade their torches for a one-way ticket home, eliminated contestants on “No Boundaries” are housed at the Tin Cup Lodge in the Yukon, where their athletic experience continues and they “hang out” with other removed teammates. “No Boundaries” emphasizes the positive aspects of teamwork and attracts a different type of person than a show like “Survivor.”
“I would not eat bugs for money,” Hodges said with a laugh. “All the teammates were driven, competitive people — you’d have to be — but no one was driven by the money.”
Hodges said the reward was “the journey itself. It was an incredible trip and it was free.”
The lengthy selection process for competing in “No Boundaries” included an audition videotape, multiple interviews, psychological exams, and “running on a treadmill ’til you pass out,” Hodges said.
“My audition videotape won big points,” Hodges said. Hodges’ video was a medley of “good songs” edited by Jonathan Smith ’04, including an Austin Powers-esque sequence in which Public Health School females chased Hodges down the street, a cameo appearance made by the mayor of New Haven at Gourmet Heaven, and a finale in which the crew team threw Hodges into the Housatonic River.
“The producers loved it,” Hodges said.
Hodges first applied for the show after being rejected for a Fulbright Scholarship.
“I thought half of Yale got accepted [for the scholarship],” said Hodges, who wanted to do AIDS-related work in South Africa.
“So when I heard about ‘No Boundaries,’ I thought, ‘What the hell?'”Hodges said. “I had nothing to lose.”
When Hodges received the call from the producers of “No Boundaries,” who told him he would be flying to Vancouver as one of the top 30 finalists vying for the 15 positions last June, he was nothing less than excited and shocked.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Hodges said. “When we got to Vancouver, none of the contestants were allowed to speak to each other. But of course you can’t help sizing up the competition.”
Sizing up the competition may have been what set Hodges apart from the rest of the group.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m the shortest guy here.’ I thought maybe they were looking to cast someone as the underdog,” Hodges said.
Hodges’ plan to play up the “little guy with big heart” persona was facilitated when the medical examiners for the show measured him as 5 feet 3 inches, a full inch shorter than he had said on his application.
After hearing that he would in fact be traveling 2,000 miles later that summer, Hodges began training.
“The idea of the journey was very intimidating,” Hodges said. “I’ve never trained that hard in my life.”
Hodges noted in awe that everybody involved with the show was in top physical condition. “You wouldn’t think of it, but the cameramen have to be able to do this, too,” Hodges said.
Hodges was no less impressed by his fellow competitors.
“The women on the trip were amazing,” Hodges said. “They have to be physically capable to hack the journey. Stephanie was bomb.”
Six months after the fact, Hodges said the experience still “feels like yesterday.” Hodges hopes to continue the friendships he made on the journey.
“I went skiing with [contestants] Ina, Steph and Matt at Whistler for New Year’s and saw a Broadway show when [competitor] Jill came to New York City.”
But Hodges has not let his newfound fame go to his head.
“I think my guys here have more fun with it than I did,” Hodges said of the crew team.
“He’s still the same person as before the show,” Chris Peckover ’04 said. “But I myself am a little star-struck.”
Hodges is happy to be back in New Haven, working with the Community Health Care Van, which serves as a free mobile clinic for five underprivileged neighborhoods in the area, and coaching the crew team.
“I love it here,” said Hodges. The lightweight crew team is like my second family.”
And the feeling seems to be mutual.
“Hodges is like our fourth roommate,” Justin Loring ’04 said.
Fans drooling for any bit of hint of the show’s outcomes can rest assured that the competitors won’t be hiking and telling, as strict secrecy policies could cause the winner to face a lawsuit if information leaked out.
But many Yalies who know Hodges have their own opinions.
“We’ve all got our bets for how far he’ll go,” Peckover said.
“He’s going all the way,”Smith said.
“He’ll be out in three weeks,” Peckover said.
“You’ll see,” Hodges said with a broad smile. “All the secrecy just makes it that much more fun for everyone to watch. It is a game, and there are certainly surprises in store.”
Hodges also thanks “No Boundaries” for giving him a vehicle through which to promote AIDS awareness and prevention.
“Every contestant has a Web page, and mine will have information about safer sex on it,” Hodges said. “If I can use my education to do something more positive than just entertain, so be it.”