Published July 25, 2017
The Mathletes’ heroic run on NBC’s “Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge” has come to an end.
The team of four UB math students fell short of winning the $250,000 prize after being eliminated from the competition during a semifinal round that was decided in the closing seconds.
Despite the loss, the Mathletes have plenty of reasons to hold their heads high. The youngest team in the competition with an average age of 20, the students were billed as the underdogs at the start of the show’s second season.
Their inexperience was hardly a disadvantage. The Mathletes took their competition by surprise with strong performances in the first two rounds of the Spartan Race-inspired series. On Sunday night, they were among the six remaining teams vying for the grand prize.
“No one thought that we’d make it to the semifinals, but yet, here we are,” said Trevor Bernard, a sophomore math major. “We have probably some of the best team chemistry in this entire competition.”
Bernard competed with UB classmates Chris Komin, a senior majoring in math and film study; Zoe Herrick, a junior majoring in math and biomedical engineering; and Ellen Lutnick, a junior who switched her major from math to exercise science. The team was led by elite Spartan athlete Kyle “Wooch” Graff.
The competition series emphasizes teamwork, often requiring contestants to work together to problem-solve instead of relying on individual strength and athleticism.
“We went in as friends but we came out as family,” said Herrick. “You don’t go through an experience like that without doing some major bonding. There is so much trust involved in being a team and working through the obstacles.”
The team’s bond was tested before the semifinals after Lutnick dislocated her shoulder during the second round of the series. Doctors cleared Lutnick to compete on race night, but participating at less than full strength could risk placing her team at a disadvantage.
Lutnick offered to sit the round out, allowing the Mathletes to substitute in another player. Her teammates refused.
“We weren’t going to break up the family. Even if she wasn’t 100 percent, for better or for worse, we finish as a team,” Herrick said.
The semifinal round presented the most grueling course yet. The one-mile course increased the number of obstacles to 10. Teams were tasked to raise and then climb an 850-pound timber pole, roll a 2,000-pound barrel up a hill, throw spears at targets and build a human ladder to ascend a slippery, tilted wall.
They also were presented with a new obstacle: carrying a 300-pound pendulum through a 200-foot maze.
Donning their signature thongs, the Mathletes raced in the first heat against Heart of Texas and Stunt Junkies.
Early mistakes by the Mathletes and Stunt Junkies allowed Heart of Texas to hold a firm lead. By the final obstacle, the slip wall, the Stunt Junkies and Mathletes were neck and neck.
Both teams overcame the wall at the same time, but the Stunt Junkies edged the Mathletes in the final run toward the finish line by a few seconds.
After crossing the finish line, the Mathletes locked arms for one final huddle.
During the embrace, Herrick told her team, the UB community and the millions of people watching around the nation: “We didn’t beat them, but we showed them exactly who we are.”