How far would you go to win a Jeep? Four locals parked their pride for two weeks of boredom, heat and lousy hygiene. It stinks, but only one could win.



Six days into this smelly test of wills, things had gotten a bit too comfortable. The four contestants had been living in the new red Jeep Cherokee for nearly a week, and no one was annoyed, tired or grossed out enough to cry "uncle" and forfeit the chance to win the $24,000 dream machine.

"Roll 'em up!" says one of the four. He's talking about the windows. It's 90 degrees outside and this guy wants to sweat out his opponents.

So, they sit. They boil. They lose all strength to talk. But no one gives in. Each simply must have this Jeep, and toying with heat stroke is a small price to pay.

Forty-five minutes into the sweat-fest, though, the contest organizers, radio station WHFS 99.1 FM, alert the foursome that they are owed a bathroom break. Use it or lose it, they're told. Soaking wet, the four trickle out of the Jeep and slink off for 10 minutes of private time before piling back in to endure more endless hours of quiet torture.

Well, almost endless. The contest came to an end last night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, when one of the WHFS Jeep-dwellers was finally handed the keys. But we'll get to the end of the contest a bit later.

* All over the country, people are participating in bizarre and extreme stunts to win prizes like cars, trips and other booty. They leave their families, skip work and hole up with strangers for days or weeks, even months, to suffer indignities that most of us would never dream about.

Normally kind, friendly people morph into conniving schemers who would sell their mothers to win a new car. No trick too dirty to play. No challenge too strange. It's all about the win, the fame and the chance to get something for practically nothing.

And something odd seems to be happening. Promoters are having a hard time finding tough enough challenges.

In Washington last January, 20 people were chosen from a pool of more than a 100 for a "touch-the-car-the-longest" endurance test for a luxury Mazda. After six days, promoters realized that the stunt could go on forever and were forced to toss a coin.

In Georgia last May, three 20-somethings rode a roller coaster for two months. The promoters, sensing defeat, awarded three vehicles to the holdouts just to put an end to the contest. And in California last May, four people wore down radio station promoters by refusing to quit living in a VW Bug. Again the promoters were forced to give each a new VW.

You have to be a little crazy to do this stuff. And greedy. You also can't mind being gawked at, poked and prodded like a prized heifer. Pride is a big handicap.

The four people vying for the red Jeep here in Baltimore chucked pride out of the window two weeks ago to participate in an entertaining if shameless promotional stunt for Jeep dealers, the Coca-Cola Co. and the alternative rock station.

In the car were:

* "Cheeseburger boy," aka Will Stephens, a noisy, irrepressible 25-year-old aquatics director who once found a two-week-old cheeseburger underneath the seat of his car and ate it. "I thought, 'What the hell?' " he recalled with a shrug.

* "The butt-kicking Marine," aka Maria McMillen, a no-nonsense 27-year-old who looks like she could disembowel a 200-pound guy without ever breaking a sweat. "I've been in a smaller place with more people for a longer time," she said, also with a shrug. "This is like nothing compared to boot camp."

* "The cross-dressing cabinet-maker," aka Scott Nynan, an affable, married 36-year-old father with a Peter Pan complex. "I've always considered myself much more immature than most people my age," he said with a touch of sheepishness and a shrug.

* "The bat lady," aka Jody Biggers, a 23-year-old who illustrates Amazonian bats for a living. She's the sensitive, artsy type with gobs of deep Southern charm and breeding. She would never shrug. It's simply impolite.

For two weeks inside the Jeep, this motley crew ate, slept, chatted and annoyed each other. Three were cramped shoulder-to-shoulder in the back seat and one got to sit shotgun. They traded seats every few hours.

Like animals in a traveling zoo, they were on display at special events, such as Pier 6 and popular bars in Washington. They were on the radio constantly, their lives becoming a soap opera for fans.

Always, they were asked the same six questions: How old are they? Which one is which? Do they get to go to the bathroom? (Yes, once ever three hours.) Do they have jobs? (Everyone is on leave or vacation except Scott, who is between jobs.) When is it over? (Yesterday, after two weeks.) Do they get to shower? (No.)

The rules were simple. No getting out of the Jeep except during one 10-minute break every three hours. Sleeping permitted at the whim of the WHFS staff. No physical violence or threats allowed. If you get sick and feel like you need to leave the Jeep, too bad. They weren't allowed to drive. WHFS employees ferried them around instead.

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