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Chris Jones

Another Rite of Passage: Contest Show Returns

8 May 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- One year ago, state tourism leaders successfully climbed a major marketing mountain.

They liked the view so much, next week they'll set out to conquer a similar summit -- this time with an expanded audience in tow.

Monday will kick off the second edition of "Nevada Passage," a made-for-television adventure competition sponsored by the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

Ten amateur teams, each made up of one male and female with similar professions, will criss-cross the state during the six-day-long athletic challenge.

With TV cameras documenting their every move, the athletes' battle for bragging rights will indirectly promote Nevada's outdoor recreational opportunities before a syndicated audience that's expected to surpass 2 million viewers.

The commission has also taken the program into the online realm, allowing Internet users to watch last year's events on their home computer, or download coverage to a portable device such as Apple Computer's video iPod.

The 2006 competition, which will cost the commission about $500,000 to produce, will go online when it's completed its syndicated television run next spring.

Commission Director Bruce Bommarito said a tech-friendly approach is further expanding the "Nevada Passage" brand.

"People like to watch it on TV, see it there the first time when it's new and fresh," Bommarito said. "But a lot of these (programs) are something people like to go back and see again. Having it online gives them a chance to do that on their schedule."

Television stations in 50 U.S. markets will syndicate this year's program starting in August; more markets will be added in the coming weeks.

Because last year's show proved popular among viewers -- many stations aired it multiple times after initially agreeing to just one showing -- Bommarito expects a better showing this time around.

"Last year was our first time out, but we still syndicated it through more than 100 stations on a sight-unseen basis," Bommarito said. "That was a gamble by the TV stations; this year it's not a gamble."

Unlike 2005's "Nevada Passage," which began with events at Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead, this year's challenge will begin in Northern Nevada with Monday's speed bicycle races near Battle Mountain.

Tuesday's action will feature a rodeo competition in Winnemucca, followed on Wednesday with hand-car races in Virginia City.

Thursday brings a combined mountain bike/running race near Austin, with Chevrolet Corvette races scheduled at a track in Pahrump one day later.

The competition will end May 13 with a personal-watercraft race on the Colorado River near Laughlin.

Tim Sprague, a 47-year-old Las Vegan, will compete in this year's event alongside financier Becky Batizy, a 30-year-old from Boulder, Colo.

The vice president of finance for KB Home has competed in a dozen or so triathlons and said he's looking forward to participating in the diverse array of "Nevada Passage" events.

"I'll have an opportunity to do a lot of things that under normal circumstances I would not get any exposure to," Sprague said. "I'll see parts of the state I normally wouldn't see."

Sprague believes he'll do well at the hand-car races, provided Batizy can excel there as well.

TEAM Unlimited, a Hawaii-based production company, will condense the events into an hour-long program.

Sponsors include Paul Mitchell hair care products; XTERRA Gear; Zorrel apparel; and CitySports and Competitor magazine.

Separately, commission spokeswoman Chris Chrystal said the state will this month host seven Chinese journalists here to develop stories on Nevada's travel industry. The group will include magazine writers, and a television crew from a station with more than 300 million viewers.

Because the Chinese government won't promote the Silver State's gaming industry, the visiting journalists' coverage will focus largely on Las Vegas weddings.

As cameras roll, two Chinese models will pose as bride and groom during a mock ceremony with an Elvis Presley look-alike at the Strip's Graceland Wedding Chapel.

Another faux wedding will occur atop the pirate ship deck at Treasure Island's Buccaneer Bay, Chrystal said.