Travis Pastrana’s career has led him to doing a lot of interesting, perhaps even reckless, things. But concussing himself on an oversized version of a toss and catch was never on the radar when he first started riding bikes. Still, when his Nitro Circus built a larger-than-life version of the velcro children’s toy, someone had to test it. And he wasn’t going to let anyone else be the “guinea pig.”
“I wasn’t supposed to get on the toss and catch,” Pastrana told me last month as part of the press tour for Quibi’s Life Size Toys. “I thought, this is going to be awesome. This is going to be so much fun. Then I woke up in the water.”
Like everything on Quibi, it happened fast. The show’s handful of episodes all last fewer than 10 minutes, as crews build out some impressively large toys that Pastrana’s Nitro Circus crew then tests out for themselves. Go Karts get fitted LEGOs, an oversized Radio Flyer wagon and some more dangerous toys like a toss and catch catapult and jumbo-sized stomp rocket all get some run in the show’s first season.
It’s arrived on a Quibi platform that’s seen struggles in its early months, no doubt hampered by a global pandemic that’s kept people in their homes and perhaps not relying as much on mobile devices to entertain them on city commutes and other travels. But the BMX and extreme sports legend explained that there’s a nobility in going first, even if it could be painful to say the least. Uproxx spoke to Pastrana about Life Size Toys, how Nitro Circus and Quibi came up with the series and how the show’s unique format makes for a wild ride with some very familiar, very big playthings.
I wanted to start by asking how you ended up on Quibi. I know they had a lot of money to seek out new content for the platform, but how did you guys come together here?
It’s really interesting, actually. It kind of came along through Nitro Circus. Quibi reached out and said ‘We want to do something in the action sports world.’ We have a lot of comedy, we have a lot of different variety shows. Who do we reach out to?’ So they reached out to Ken Block, and they reached out to Nitro Circus.
So Nitro being most of us are pretty all across the board. Ken is more kind of car-related, not an older audience, but for action sports sort of the older side of the audience. Nitro’s still, well, playing with kids toys.
So they said ‘put together a group.’ We don’t need all young people, but it could be. But what do you guys think you could do that would be relatable, would be super fun for a younger audience. And we were actually in the process of building some contraptions and they were all, like, trikes. And we were talking about Radio Flyer and some of the guys were like ‘What about building all of your favorite kid’s toys bigger? And it kind of took off from there.
It’s a really interesting show because it’s a manufacturing show by nature, but because of the Quibi format and the time restraints it’s not a typical crafting reality show. No added drama or troubleshooting. That was definitely refreshing to see, but was it an intentional decision or something that came from the format itself?
Well, to be honest at Nitro we got out guys together who are actually really good builders and fabricators. For the most part, like all motocross guys we work on our own machinery. All BMX guys work on their own ramps. It’s surprising how much of a do it yourself — everyone assumes action sports, well who builds ramps? We do. Who builds bikes? We do. That’s all us.
But with this we just really didn’t have the time and most of us were doing other projects so it went from the original Quibi concept was a build show, which we had signed up for. And then it ended up I was strapped to an Acme rocket like Wile E. Coyote and I knocked myself out on the toss and catch. And I’m like, wait, wasn’t this a build show? (laughs) Why are we doing what we always do?
I think that’s a combination of planned and just the fact that we, one thing I didn’t want to do with Nitro Circus and our brand is to make it not stand out as action and excitement and not pushing ourselves. We’ve built our brand on ‘That’s a horrible idea. What time?’ You know? Sign me up. So we kinda took the build show concept and talked our way into building things way too big so the build stuff was kind of cut. Not cut completely, but that wasn’t the premise.
It really works in that way, though. A lot of reality TV sort of inserts this manufactured sort of drama but you didn’t do that here. It’s going to work, it’s going to be fun and we’re going to showcase our skills here. Was that the idea once you started filming?
Yeah, I mean, we’re not actors. It’s really hard for us. We had more fabricating stuff, but when the guys weren’t really involved in the ideas and concept that enthusiasm just wasn’t there. We’re an excitable crew but it’s very difficult, especially in this new world where Quibi is living in and why they’re coming up with these short episodes. It’s very easy to see through, and I think especially the younger audience — they see right through things that aren’t real. That aren’t authentic. And even some stuff that is real, they think it’s fake. So we have to be really careful as Nitro Circus, our brand, to make sure that if we are excited about something it’s genuine excitement.
And because we’re not actors, we had to kind of push ourselves to really take this stuff to the level that it could be taken.
You played around with the format of the episodes a bit. The LEGO car racing one in particular was more sketches and a true contest of sorts. Is there anything you learned filming this season that you would use to change a Season 2 of Life Size Toys?
Yeah, for sure. I think that we will definitely be more involved with the building. There was a lot of things where in Hollywood we were just under a time crunch where everything was shot. They’re used to building these awesome things and super extravagant. And Nitro is a very budget — I wouldn’t want to say redneck but that’s what we are. We get things done with high horsepower, low safety. And we have a lot of experience but don’t rely a lot on numbers and physics calculations just as much as an understanding of what things do. So we would have had more horsepower in the Barbie Jeep. But with the time we had and people trying not to kill us, it’s hard to put a V8 in the Barbie Jeep and go ‘oh yeah, go drive that.’ But if you’re the one driving it, yes it’s going to be awesome.
So I think we’ll be more involved in the builds. We give them direction, but for us to kind of understand what they’re going to be used for and how big we can go, I think that will be huge if we go to Season 2.
You got hurt on the toss and catch episode and needed to get checked out. I was asked to ask you what the dumbest thing you’ve ever done was. Did anything from the show make your list?
You know when I was sitting on the stomp rocket and it’s freezing cold and I feel like when you’re cold everything is just kind of. It’s December, January. It’s California but the lake is snow runoff.
But I was sitting on this thing and I’m like ‘Wasn’t this a build show?!?’ They’re trying to get the other guys to do their acting pieces done and stuff, and all I’m thinking is ‘this does not work out well for the coyote.’ And the one test run the we did must have gone 200 feet in the air. And they’re like ‘oh, OK we used calculations to get it down and we got it. This is the last one we have left. Get on it, it’s going to work.
I like having control. I’m a horrible passenger. And I just thought ‘man, I’m going to get ripped right off the back. I’m going to get the styrofoam fin straight up the butt. And I’ll be knocked unconscious and not even clear the pier.
So it went slightly better than expected. And the calculations they made were very good but I was just thinking ‘Man, I’m going to be 200 feet in the air without a parachute wondering how I was going to get off this tube of death. But for the most part, this was fairly within our capabilities. And it was, at the end of the day, supposed to be fun. It was a kid’s toy built up.
And I wasn’t supposed to get on the toss and catch. I thought, this is going to be awesome. This is going to be so much fun. Then I woke up in the water.
That was a good show of leadership, though. You went first, they made some adjustments from there. And then the rest of the episode went great.
The first one is always… the first one never gets the credit and gets most of the injuries. In this case, on the show it does get credit but usually the first person crashes, everyone else does big tricks over the same jump. So in Nitro it’s definitely a big honor to go first, it’s well-respected and something that if you’re outside our little circle you don’t know but inside the guys are called the guinea pigs. They’re definitely the ones that make the rest of us look good.
At the same time, Johnny Knoxville was the best guinea pig of all time. If someone else wanted a stunt, he would always step down no matter how much he wanted to do it. And if no one would step up, he was always the first one there. I learned a lot from him and how if you really want to make something work, you have to lead by example.
But I really thought that was going to go much better!
Your career has been so interesting and as action sports have sort of evolved you have, too. I wanted to ask you to reflect on that for a moment. I don’t think when you first started riding bikes that you thought you’d have a Quibi show, because it didn’t exist. But it has been fascinating to see how sports have developed and the opportunities they’ve created.
Definitely I was born at the right time. I was 14 when the first ever freestyle motocross event was held. So I was able to jump in from the very beginning. Which, now at 14 not saying you couldn’t do it, but your upbringing would have to be very different. You’d have to be a gymnast. You’d have to do everything just to be able to compete at the top level. Even the X-Games weren’t around when I was growing up. So it was cool to be at the forefront of that.
Not to get too far off subject, but my uncle was the quarterback of the Denver Broncos for two years. He’s a great athlete, best in our city and definitely in our county and possibly in the state of Tennessee. And yet still when he was done with football he worked as a health teacher and they call him Coach P. He coaches lacrosse and football at Anne Arundel Community College and spends summers with my other uncle and my dad working construction. My dad says ‘you’re never going to make a living doing what you love. But any day that you can do what you love for a living, you ride that train until the wheels fall off.’ So definitely I never look at the money as a driving factor. And I feel like chasing my heart the whole way and just being there at the right time with the sports that I’m into has really helped me to keep every time I had a career ending gave me the opportunity to get into cars or something else. So I’m very fortunate, and very fortunate to have parents that allowed me to chase my dreams.
The LEGO episode looks like it was the most fun, both to watch and maybe to film for you guys. That was probably the best overall episode in terms of format and execution and it was definitely funny. I think I’d start with that one if I were trying to convince someone maybe skeptical of the show to give it a try.
It’s funny, I was able to show my kids that episode and very rarely are they into anything that I do that they will want to watch. And the fact that they were laughing all the way through made me feel really good. Because they’re my harshest critics at times.
But I think that was the one chance where (Trevor) Piranha and Josh really shined. We were there all day at the go kart track. And we just love riding go karts. But we were there all day and those two were on that couch for six hours and they eventually stopped remembering that they were on film. Most of the stuff we couldn’t use because it was either inappropriate or inside jokes or really off the wall. But they just had so much fun. That was the episode where those two really came together as kind of a comedic asset instead of saying ‘I have to say this line and do this.’ For the rest of the episodes it really set their tone which set the driving force of the show. Instead of me talking about what was going to happen, after that those guys kind of drove the comedy and the fun.
I love doing stunts, but I’m not an actor. But I feel like Piranha and Josh are really fun and love to do that. It’s funny, a couple guys from Quibi came out and said ‘Man, we’ve gotta get a show commentating on other stuff going on.’ So it was really cool to have. Piranha is a car mechanic and a builder and Josh, he’s a handyman he can do anything. If there’s a job out there, he’s had it. He was a Chick-fil-A manager of the month all the way to running a drag strip. And he was a swim coach at a naval academy. So he’s got personality and a lot to offer.
I also wanted to ask about the tone of the show. You’ve said a few times it’s supposed to be fun, and it plays as very silly. And this hasn’t been the best year in terms of, well, everything. Is there something to be said for making something in a tough year that can give people a distraction to enjoy themselves?
Honestly, I think this whole Quibi platform has been great because there’s so much going on and so much, I don’t want to say hate. But financially and with crises and everything that’s going on, it’s been a tough time. So for Quibi to come out and you can take anything in literally 10 minutes. Like, our show, just go and have a laugh. There are some pretty exciting stunts, but they’re not built up in this ‘oh my gosh he might die’ way. Yeah, that’s a fact and you can see that when I’m getting launched 100 feet off a barge. But at the end of the day, it’s kind of what we love to do. It’s a creative group of friends coming together to have fun. And although we filmed this pre-COVID, the timing of this could not have been better to put a smile on a few people’s faces. If we can be a part of that, and just Quibi being short format, it’s great timing.