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Survivor for the Fittest 

The pitch is persuasive. Picture this: there's a close up of the perspiring face of world famous New Orleans athletic trainer, Mackie Shilstone, spitting out rapid-fire encouragement to his latest charge. "You gotta win; you gotta fight; you can't let your opponent beat you," Shilstone exhorts. As Shilstone continues his nonstop motivational barrage, the camera begins to pull away, and Shilstone's client is revealed. It's a bug-eyed 8-year-old girl looking up at Shilstone, and, we find out a little later, she's getting ready to shock the world, or at least her elementary school version of it.

David Anson Russo, an executive producer and creator of reality television shows describes the above scene during a phone interview from Los Angeles. He's talking about his latest creation: Mackie's: Are You Ready?

Russo thinks Shilstone could become the next reality star and Russo is an expert in this. He has developed and brought a number of these shows to the small screen including Magic Johnson's Who's Got Game? and Combat Missions, which he co-produced with the King Midas of reality shows, Survivor's Mark Burnett.

Russo found out about Shilstone six months ago when he saw the boxing documentary, Roy Jones -- The Sweet Science, which chronicled Jones' successful attempt to jump up two weight divisions and defeat John Ruiz for the world heavyweight title. Jones was only the second boxer in history to achieve this, but Russo wasn't as impressed with Jones as he was with Shilstone, who devised the strategy for beating Ruiz.

Shilstone, who helped Michael Spinks in 1985 become the first boxer to go from light heavyweight champion to heavyweight champ, knew he had to somehow motivate and train Jones beyond his already exceptional skill levels to beat the heavier Ruiz. In order to teach Jones about the kill zone and to strategically land his punches, Shilstone placed him in the cockpit of a F-15 fighter jet. Shilstone wanted Jones to break Ruiz's nose forcing him to breath through his mouth, so he went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to find exactly where Jones' punch would have to land.

Under Shilstone's guidance, Jones tactically undid Ruiz. He broke Ruiz's nose, he shortened Ruiz's superior reach by pounding the shoulders and impinging the nerve, and won 10 of 12 rounds on his way to the championship.

Russo was overwhelmed by what he saw. He decided, however, not to make a series on Shilstone training athletes. Russo would showcase Shilstone's inspirational techniques, his complete dedication to the challenge, and his unique training methods, by using ordinary people.

"Instead of a sports show I figured we'd go in the opposite direction and prepare everyday people for extraordinary life events," Russo explains. "That could be a spelling bee, swimming the San Francisco Channel, or preparing for a wedding. Whatever everyday people have going on in their lives that's big."

Shilstone agrees with Russo. Even though he regularly trains average folks, he is known for pushing professional athletes beyond their expectations. After playing a part in numerous sports championships, Shilstone would relish the chance to help, for instance, a scared little girl win her school's spelling bee. Just don't expect Shilstone to tone down his contagious zeal.

"I'll have that young woman so confident that I can lead them through a brick wall, and I'll be alongside of her the entire way," Shilstone says.

Another part of the proposed show will have Shilstone researching whatever his client is working towards. Shilstone considers this an essential part of his success and refers to it as "reading the book. I become the opponent." That means Shilstone will learn all there is to know about ... third grade spelling bees.

Russo says this will be part of the allure of the show, watching Shilstone out study, out coach, out prepare, and overtake anything that stands in the way of his client's success.

"It'll be like swatting a fly with an atom bomb," Russo concludes.

After discussing his ideas with Shilstone, Russo flew him out to Los Angeles to meet with his co-producer and potential partner in the project, Craig Piligian, a Survivor alum and creator of the hugely popular American Chopper. Russo brought an eight-minute DVD showcasing Shilstone's accomplishments to the meeting, but midway through the DVD, Shilstone stood up and began, with his usual high-octane enthusiasm, narrating scenes to Piligian.

Russo laughs, recalling the meeting.

"Craig's an ex-Marine drill instructor, so he's not easily fazed, but Mackie is up there talking and getting excited. Craig just looks at him and says, 'My God, you are a friggin' television show."

With Piligian onboard, the next step is to film a pilot and shop it around to the networks and cable television companies. Russo says it's hard to predict the future when it comes to pilots, but "I feel pretty confident about this."

From Shilstone's perspective, even if the show doesn't come to life he's happy enough to have explored the possibility.

"No matter what happens, for me to have a man like Piligian say I have what it takes is the ultimate compliment."

While that may be true, somewhere out there a little girl brings her spelling book home every night. She sits alone in her room, struggling to get each word correct. She has the heart of a champion; all she needs is the right coach, the right person to guide her through the wall to become a spelling bee champion.

She's ready, Mackie.

click to enlarge Local fitness guru Mackie Shilstone is ready for reality - television. - MICHAEL PALUMBO
  • Michael Palumbo
  • Local fitness guru Mackie Shilstone is ready for reality television.
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