Team Corn Stars backpacks through Europe in Red Bull competition

By Bridget Hynes

University students Kailey Luzbetak and Dave Smulson, seniors in LAS, and Tim Lalla, senior in Engineering, are backpacking through Europe using only cases of Red Bull as currency for transportation, food and shelter. The team, dubbed the Corn Stars, are participating in the Red Bull Can You Make It competition, in which 100 teams from 27 different countries were selected to barter their way across Europe using Red Bull cans and hit checkpoints along the way to earn more cases of Red Bull.

Of these 100 teams, two teams from the University were chosen. The other team is Team Illini, made up of Matt McClone and Carson Masterson, seniors in Engineering; and Naveen Raja, junior in FAA.

Currently, the Corn Stars, referring to corn-heavy Illinois, has reached five checkpoints. As of Sunday, the team is second in amount of cans traded (138) and has traveled an average of 7 kilometers per can. They began in London, England, and have made their way through the United Kingdom and Belgium. So far along the journey, the team has wake boarded in Liverpool, hitchhiked through England and slept a total of three hours since the competition’s started last Friday at 5 p.m.

Luzbetak said she hopes to possibly see the Swiss Alps, even though it is a bit out of the way.

The game plan is to cover as much ground and hit as many checkpoints as possible first and then start doing cool things with the Red Bull cans.

They are also planning to hit up universities in Europe, in hopes that college kids will be the most receptive to helping them in the team’s travels.

In terms of food, members of the team think food-place owners may be willing to give them food in exchange for Red Bull cans and the free publicity the team’s page would bring the vendor.

Luzbetak said she might say something like, “Hey, we have 700 followers on this page. If we post a picture of your sandwich shop, people are going to know about it.”

The only mode of communication the team has with the outside world since the kickoff has been one smartphone, provided by Red Bull, shared among the three members. The phone has only a Red Bull app, which allows them to post blogs, photos and videos of their trip to the team’s website.  

The teams try to gain more “likes” on their page to win more points. They can also get points by hitting more than the required six checkpoints throughout their travels across Europe. There are 40 available stops to choose from, but the teams are not made aware of their locations until kickoff to deter teams from pre-planning. By the end, the team with the most points wins the competition. 

At each checkpoint, there is a challenge that, according to Red Bull representatives, will “challenge the mind and body” and “challenges will vary in difficulty but all relate to the culture of the particular city or country the checkpoint is in.” Upon completing each challenge, the team gets another case of Red Bull to trade with. 

They found out about the contest through Kristen Krumwiede, a friend of Lalla. Krumwiede, senior in Media, is a student representative for Red Bull on campus. When Lalla found out about the contest, he posted in a Facebook group of his friends from back home — all from the Orland Park and Palos Park, Ill. area — asking if anyone would be interested in forming a team with him. 

Originally, the team consisted of Lalla, Smulson and Kelsey Vlamis, senior in ACES, but, because of a class requirement, Vlamis was not able to go on the trip. 

All of the competition’s teams were chosen based on a video submission process. The “Corn Stars” video followed the team members as they hitchhiked their way to St. Louis for Mardi Gras using only cans of corn, their statement being “if we can do this much with cans of corn, imagine what we can do with cans of Red Bull.” The team had to first make it into the top 40 of video submissions from the United States. From the top 40, Red Bull chose a top 10. The “Corn Stars” came in third of the top 40 and then were selected as one of 10 teams to go to Europe. They were notified of their selection on March 16. Lalla said when he got the email, he was on the fourth floor of Grainger Library doing a lab report and did not know what to do with himself. 

“I just started doing laps up and down Grainger trying to find someone to celebrate with,” he said. 

Throughout that week, Vlamis tried to persuade her professor to bend some class policies so that she could go on the trip, but her efforts were to no avail. 

Finally, on March 20, Vlamis and the other team members chose her roommate, Luzbetak, as a replacement for the trip because the two are very similar in personality and appearance. At first, the team was nervous that Red Bull would not let them switch team members and that the team would be disqualified. Lalla said that if that would be the case, Valmis was prepared to take one for the team, drop the course and take it over the summer. Red Bull, though, accepted the substitution. 

“We always laugh because Kailey and Keslsey look exactly alike, they talk the same, they have the same mannerisms,” Lalla said. “Yes, it sucks for Kelsey, but we didn’t lose anything in the transition to Kailey.” 

The team then had five days to plan for the trip to Europe. Luzbetak and Smulson were both on a camping trip to Utah with no Wi-Fi for spring break. Because Lalla traveled to Honduras, he had no Wi-Fi connection, either. 

Before their departure, the three members had to pull a few all-nighters while packing for the trip and finishing up schoolwork. All three team members said their professors have accommodated the competition. One of Lalla’s professors even moved back an exam date so that he could take it with the rest of the class.  

Although all three team members have friends in Europe, they do not plan on pre-arranging anything with friends for transportation because it is against the competition’s rules, and they think it would take away from the experience of the trip. 

“The whole point of the trip is to just wing it and see what happens,” Lalla said. 

The three think they make a good team because although they are all very similar in that they are personable, they each bring different skill sets to the table. 

“If you gave us all a problem, none of us would come up with the same solution. We all solve problems creatively but differently,” Luzbetak said. 

By April 11 at 5 p.m., the team must reach Berlin to complete the competition. Red Bull will host a party for all competitors, and the winning team receives an all-expense-paid trip to any future Red Bull event. 

Bridget can be reached at [email protected]