Last summer, Justin Darrigo spent three weeks living 6,000 feet above sea level in California’s Sierra National Forest with no phone, no electronics and no sugar.
For a 14-year-old kid from Tewksbury, that seems like a major lifestyle change.
But for Darrigo, who this month finished up his freshman year at Tewksbury High, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Darrigo was one of 16 contestants on “Karma,” an eight-episode American reality television program that was released on the new streaming platform HBO Max last Thursday. Incredibly, he wasn’t the only competitor from the area on the show, as Lowell High student Skyla Sousa was also one of the 16 teens selected from a pool of 14,000 to compete.
Karma’s 16 contestants, ranging in age from 13 to 15, were paired into teams of two and were taken off the grid, away from parents and the normal comforts of 凯发真人试玩首页home, to solve puzzles and overcome physical challenges, with the laws of karma setting the rules. The adventure competition series, hosted by YouTube influencer Michelle Khare, tested the mental and physical stamina of its young contestants as they unraveled how their social actions impact their success in the game. Focus, giving, humility, growth, connection, change, and patience are the path to becoming the “Karma Champion.” At the end of each episode, a team gets eliminated.
“The experience was amazing,” said Darrigo. “You know, in Tewksbury, life is kind of the same thing every day. Being there and meeting everyone with all these different backgrounds and life stories was really cool. I got to see kids my age who are sometimes going through the same things I go through, or sometimes going through completely different things. Especially where it was filming in the Sierra Forest, 6,000 feet above sea level, every night we would go look at the stars. You can’t really do that here because we’re not that high-elevated.”
The 5-foot-9, 140-pound Darrigo played running back and defensive end on the freshman football team at Tewksbury, and is a defensive midfielder in lacrosse, but that spring sport was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also an aspiring actor and has been involved with theater groups and productions since the fifth grade.
Last year, Darrigo’s mom, Anatashia, received a call to see if Justin could head down to a casting agency in Boston to audition for a spot in the show. Darrigo was asked what he does for fun and if he plays any sports.
“You could tell they wanted people who play sports and don’t mind getting physical,” said Justin. “I thought that was right up my alley and it was the perfect opportunity for me.”
The next day, the casting agency got back to Justin and told him they really liked him and wanted him to Skype with a person from the show in Los Angeles. After that, Justin sent pictures and videos of him doing things he enjoys and playing sports.
Then came more good news as Justin was invited out to Fresno, Calif. for two days to meet with producers and prominent people affiliated with the show.
Justin made a lasting impression.
“Justin is a sports fantastic, playing lacrosse and football at Tewksbury High, where he and his family live. It’s no doubt that this, along with his fun and bright personality, helped the casting team chose him out of the hat of 14,000 others who vied for the chance to be in this first season of a new Max original show,” said HBO Max publicist Alex Van Mecl in an email.
Justin’s father, Peter Darrigo, was also once an aspiring actor in New York.
“I’ve thought ‘why not try to continue his dream,’” said Justin.
Karma, which was filmed last July and August, was officially available to watch on the East Coast at 3 a.m. last Thursday, and that is exactly when Justin and his mother woke up to watch.
“It was amazing, just to see what I did last year and see it now, and see how they edited it and how I saw myself then,” Justin said. “It was cool to be like ‘oh, I remember doing that’ or be like ‘I actually don’t remember saying that.’
“Being on screen got the best and sort of the worst of me. I tried to be the best kid I could be, especially knowing maybe millions of people would be seeing me. Sometimes, tensions ran high there and I’m not a person who likes to shut my mouth and just see what happens. I like to say what I’m thinking. I tried to be respectful to everyone there, but sometimes there are arguments. You can’t really avoid those.”
During the filming of the show, Anatashia stayed at a hotel but was unable to be on location with Justin.
“We didn’t know anything except that it was going to be an epic adventure. That’s what they told us,” said Anatashia. “I thought it was a great experience for (Justin), he really loves this — he wants to do acting. He’s very involved with school, with sports, with theater. He has a good mix of everything and is very well-grounded. We all support him 100 percent — my other boys (older brothers Kyle and Shane) and my husband.”
Justin remains very friendly with the other contestants in the show, and his parents stay in contact with other parents. Anatashia says they hope to all get together for a reunion soon because they all miss each other.
Contestants on Karma competed for a chance to win $50,000, split between the two winning teammates. Justin, of course, couldn’t divulge any spoilers.
To find out what happens, you’ll just have to watch.