Area man tries hand as cowboy

Christopher Shurley of Gainesville recently participated in the filming of "Cowboy U 2004," a reality show in which he did everything from riding a wild bull to herding cattle and cleaning stalls.

JANNET WALSH/Ocala Star-Banner
Published: Thursday, January 15, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 11:57 p.m.


'Cowboy U 2004'

  • Show days and times vary for each episode. Check your TV Week for show times, or go to:
  • What: Gainesville's Chris Shurley and seven others vie for the title of "All Around Cowboy" and $25,000.
  • Airs: Friday night at 9
  • On: Country Music Television (Channel 50 on Cox Cable)

  • The last place you'd expect to find a cowboy is where Christopher Shurley works.
    As marketing director for Fairmont Oaks, a Gainesville apartment complex, his office bears a light, wooden decor, soft ceiling bulbs and tile floor. Not a hint of dust. But Shurley, a long-time model and aspiring actor, is indeed a cowboy - sort of.
    For 22 days he did everything from ride a wild Mustang and bull to herd cattle, clean stalls and scoop manure for the filming of "Cowboy U 2004," a reality-based show airing Friday at 9 p.m. on the Country Music Television channel (Channel 50 on Cox Cable).
    CMT ran a pilot show last fall, but this year expands to a production of eight episodes.
    Shurley, 28, and seven other "city slickers" from the United States headed out west for a kind of cowboy boot camp, vying for an "All Around Cowboy" title and $25,000. They trained in Santa Maria, Calif., at the school of Hall of Fame bull rider Garry Leffew. Professional cowboy Rocco Wachman, bull rider Judd Leffew and champion team roper Shawn Stephens prepared contests for "life on the range."
    With dozens upon dozens of reality shows saturating the airwaves, it seems an opportune time for CMT to continue its reality series. These types of shows seem to be the current trend.
    CBS' "Survivor: Pearl Islands" is the fourth most popular show so far this year, according to Nielsen Media Research, capturing an audience of about 20.6 million viewers.
    In "Cowboy U" contestants are not stranded on islands, but rather rough-it-out on ranches. Newfound cowboy skills are put to the test in a final challenge where they must rope a steer, barrel race and ride a 1,200-pound bull.
    The criteria, said a spokesperson for CMT, were that contestants fantasized about the cowboy life and had not had ranch experience.
    Despite living 11 1/2 years in Ocala, the fact that 28-year-old Shurley had never ridden a horse shocked show executives, he said.
    The one experience Shurley had with horses was one stomping on him at a South Carolina ranch when he was a child. Mounting one was a challenge, to say the least.
    "When you get there, they assign you a horse based on your personality," Shurley said. "I saw one horse charging a camera crew when they came in the gates. They said, 'That's your horse.' I busted out laughing."
    Soon thereafter he found himself grooming and cleaning "Honer," a wild Mustang broken not too long before. Honer would later shoot up a steep mountain chasing after cattle, with Shurley struggling to hang on.
    He made it through unscathed, but later suffered a hairline fracture on his sternum, after a tug-of-war match took a turn for the mud.
    The father of a 3-year-old girl, Shurley knew the show was risky but wanted to take a chance.
    "I am adventurous," he said behind the desk of his office, lined with three frames that bear the words Determination, Vision, Attitude - principles he acquired while a Marine. "I'm an adrenaline junkie. There's nothing I will not do, besides try and kill myself. When they expressed the show idea to me, it was something totally different. I always wanted to go out west and camp."
    Shurley says he moved from Ocala to Gainesville to pursue an acting career. Before "Cowboy U," he had acted in commercials.
    On the set of "Cowboy U," Shurley said the cast had to abide by three codes: 1. Always think of the horse; 2. Always think of the crew; 3. "Cowboy up" (in other words, face your fears).
    For nearly a month, these codes would turn his world upside-down. "I learned my physical and emotional limits," he said.
    Forget his typically tame mornings: the beep, beep, beep of his alarm at 6:30, the morning shave, a morning workout, two showers a day.
    Out West, mornings were anything but tame. Someone banged a big wooden spoon on a frying pan at 6 a.m. Then, he had 10 minutes to suit up in cowboy gear, had to inhale breakfast (eating food with one hand, swatting flies with the other) and had to do chores such as feeding cattle or putting up a fence.
    Cameras captured what Shurley describes as a "big, emotional explosion, where he went off on everybody."
    He had to endure things such as being called a "drama queen," because he ran out of a barn after seeing spiders. (He's terrified of them and said he felt like he wanted to throw up.)
    Then, he didn't get along with many of his cast members. A self-prescribed "neat freak," it was hard for him to befriend some cast members, particularly Megumi Hosogai, a restaurant hostess from Honolulu.
    "She's a slob. She was rude and self-centered," he said.
    Other cast members include Dani Armstrong, a singer and dancer from Highland, Mich.; Amir Raziq, a salesman from St. Louis.; David Bauman, an author from Burlington, Wis.; Brandie Lyons, a registered nurse from Visalia, Calif.; Frank Prather, a software salesman from Bethesda, Md.; and Elli Wootten, a flight attendant from Key West.
    They were given suede, Stetson cowboy hats and boots. Shurley's hat is still lined with feminine napkins he placed inside the brim to keep sweat from staining his forehead. His shoes, brand new when he got them, are wrinkled and dusty. The left sole has a hole in it.
    He said after four days on the show, he wondered if he'd make it through. Not everyone is cut out to be a cowboy, let alone become one in 22 days.
    For now, Shurley is happy to be back in Gainesville, with a clean-cut face and prickly, styled hair. He hasn't put the hat back on since taping the show.
    "I like my city clothes," he says with a smile, "my city smell."

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