Of all the uniquely bizarre, oh-my-gosh-I-wish-I-could-do-that moments during ESPN’s now annual “Ocho” programming, nothing grabs the attention of TV viewers like the Slippery Stairs event.
The event, literally a competition to climb the slipperiest of stairs — one in which seemingly clear winners suddenly slide back down the stairs in the final moments — makes viewers wonder just how difficult it could really be.
That was Katie Touhey’s take when she watched the competition last year. And, after suggesting to her sister that she could do it, her sister suggested she should apply to be a contestant.
Months later, she was actually picked.
Then, a few weeks before the event, an even crazier thing happened. A contestant had to withdraw. So, while Touhey was on pre-event call, an ESPN producer asked if she had a friend who would want to join her.
That’s how Touhey and Jada Scimeca found themselves among four other competitors at the bottom of a flight of slippery stairs last Friday night in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
It wasn’t anything like you see on TV.
“I can tell you, it’s a lot taller than you think,” Scimeca said. “You can’t really get a sense of it until you’re there.”
Suddenly, it was go time.
Scimeca, 24, laughs at the idea that she’s an athlete. She was on her high school surf team. And she plays a little pickleball. But …
“I don’t consider myself athletic at all,” she said.
Of course, no sport could have prepared her for what she was going to face. For starters, there are no rules.
“They said, ‘Be as aggressive as you want to be,’” she said.
Then there’s this: None of the competitors got a practice round.
“The first time we touched the stairs was after they blew the horn for the first heat,” she said.
The stairs were a lot more slippery than she imagined.
“It was a water-based ‘slopp’ that was super thick,” she said. “You couldn’t dig your feet into anything. It was really weird. You wanted to have fun. And you didn’t want to get hurt.
“I just kept on sliding back.”
While Touhey took second in the heat, Scimeca did not do well. She didn’t even reach the top. Her day was done.
Or so she thought.
“One of the women who advanced pulled out with an injury, so they asked me If I wanted to go on to the second round as a wild card,” she said.
Scimeca was more than happy to do so. After all, having paid for her flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, and a hotel room, she wanted another crack at the stairs. Her 15 minutes of fame were not up, after all.
No one was happier to see Scimeca advance to the second round than the patrons — and the bartenders — at Leggetts Sand Bar in Manasquan.
Scimeca’s boyfriend and father both tend bar there on Friday nights. Both stopped serving when she was on TV.
“I heard they were having a watch party,” Scimeca said. “My dad was working inside, and he had all the TV screens on. The same for the patio, where my boyfriend was bartending.
“I heard the whole place was going nuts. I was talking to a waitress last night and she said everyone just stopped serving their tables and told everyone to watch the TV.”
Scimeca, after getting a tip from Touhey on how to climb, took second in the next round — advancing to the finals, along with Touhey.
There, she took second again — good enough for a spot in the coed final. It was a race that Scimeca and Touhey both declined.
For starters, Scimeca said, she was tired. The fact that she’s only 5-foot-2 played a part, too.
“I didn’t need to go against a bunch of aggressive 200-pound men,” she said.
Of course, battling those men wouldn’t necessarily be more pain than the one part of the course no one can see on TV: the trip down.
“There aren’t any stairs,” she said. “The only way back down is to slide back down. It feels like you’re going 40 mph. It hurts more going down than going up.”
Scimeca returned home to Brielle on Saturday morning with a few bumps and bruises and stories for a lifetime.
She’s eager to tell the crew at Hurricane Productions in Red Bank, where she works as an event coordinator. And eager to tell tales at Leggetts, too.
Most of all, she’s just happy to be part of the Ocho.
“I think it’s a great weekend of weird sports that’s super entertaining,” she said. “I’m a big fan of the show and very happy that I got a chance to be a part of it.”