As a producer, surprising your correspondent with anything,especially when it's on camera, usually goes one of two ways. It can either bring about the unguarded moment you’re after, or it can fail miserably. But what about when your correspondent is someone you’ve never worked with before? And that someone is the all-time leading receiver for the Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl Champion, and God of the gridiron, Donald Driver. Things get a little crazy, let me tell you.
Green Bay, Donald holds virtually every Packers receiving record. He’s a four-time pro-bowler and still going strong at 37 -- a remarkable feat in itself. And he just walked away with “Dancing With the Stars’” coveted mirror ball trophy, not to mention a legion of new female fans across the country.Now Donald is tackling TV as a new correspondent for “ After thirteen seasons with Good Morning America.” One of the perks of producing for “GMA” is that you never really know what you’ll be working on next or who you’ll be working with. When the opportunity to produce a story with Donald arose, I didn’t hesitate.
It’s summer, pool-time, and so the assignment was to visit the most extreme water park in the country. Off we went to New Braunfels, Texas to Schlitterbahn, which has been ranked the No. 1 water park in the world for 14 years in a row. If you’ve never heard of it, Schlitterbahn is a water park on steroids: seventy acres of chutes, slides and tubes. They even have uphill “water-coasters,” if that tells you anything.
Sounds like a walk in the park, right? It was -- until we arrived at something called the Skycoaster. My surprise.
Donald brought his family to the park for the shoot, and for the first hour all went as I had planned and we had discussed. (I had sent him a detailed itinerary of how the shoot would go, what slides we’d include, etc). He’s incredibly funny and quite the jokester, so after a bunch of innocuous slides, it was time to turn up the volume.
With my camera rolling, I walked Donald and his kids over to the Skycoaster, a “ride” 18 stories high that’s basically a cross between sky-diving and hang-gliding. He looked up as some poor soul was free-falling toward earth at 80 miles-an-hour.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Donald said, shaking his head. “I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy.”
His little boy Christian said, “Daddy, don’t do it. We don’t want you to die.”
Needless to say, there was no line for the Skycoaster.
I, gently (as I remember it), suggested it might be a good idea for him to do it, that viewers would love it. He chewed it over for a few minutes, then said, “I’ll do it on one condition, Rich. You have to do it too. I do it, you do it.”
They strapped Donald into their Skycoaster body suit, and hoisted him straight up -- 180 feet to the top of the tower.
“This is crazy,” he yelled. “This is crazy! Who would do this? This is nuts. Who would do this?”
In a moment he was screaming past us at speeds fast enough to make his cheeks flap. And I knew we had a fantastic piece in the making – this would be TV gold.
He survived. But then he turned the tables on me. “You’re next,” he said, pointing at me on his last pass above. “This time I hold the camera.”
I thought he was joking. He was a hundred percent serious.
"You challenge me, I challenge you, a deal's a deal."
I complied. They strapped me into the body suit, and hoisted me up to the top, with Donald filming the entire process. And I’ll say this: the view from 180 feet above a water park is not one that I would ever choose to have again, especially when tethered to life by a single cable. I stared down at the people – they look like ants from that height – and thought: this is ridiculous, how exactly did I get here, again? The drop was mildly terrifying. Donald enjoyed every second of it – I could hear him cackling with laughter as I whizzed by him.
Back in New York, I watched the tape and his commentary during my flight is priceless.
“This is payback, baby,” he said to the camera. “‘Good Morning America,’ don’t ever have a producer come out with me because this is what I do to him. I challenge them. He challenged me. I challenged him. I’m always up for the challenge. I don’t lose, I’m very competitive and I made him do it. He really didn’t want to do it. But you see, I can talk people into anything. Now he sees how I feel.”
That’s for sure. That was a blast, in retrospect.
But to you, Donald, I say this: bring it on.