While The New York Times described the Death Race as "'Survivor' meets 'Jackass,'" the signup form is emphatic: "This is not a joke" [source: Signup]. And if there are contestants who don't take it seriously, they're quickly in for a rude awakening. The competition is so grueling that one recent female contestant described it as "worse than childbirth" [source: O'Gorman].
That said, the Death Race's tasks do have a certain perverse sense of humor to them. In the 2009 event, for example, contestants lined up at the starting line in the 4 a.m. darkness, only to find out that just to get their race bibs, they had to first crawl under barbed wire to a field where they would find it attached to a tree stump -- a tree stump they had to dig out of the ground and bring back with them [source: O'Gorman]. Before the day was over, they also had to climb up a waterfall with a bucket full of rocks, scale a hill while carrying a wheel-less bicycle frame, quarter 20 logs with an ax, and find an egg hidden in the woods and boil it in a tin cup (with the help of a match that they had retrieved from another station on the route) [source: Tim Lewis]. Even the challenges, such as reconstructing the 23-piece Lego sculpture, required physical effort as well. They had to crawl under barbed wire just to see the sculpture, and then dive into a pond and retrieve a bag of Lego pieces from the bottom to complete the task [source: Brick]. In a previous year, contestants had to move a truckload of manure by hand [source: Tim Lewis].
To add to the torment, race organizers stand around sipping coffee and refuse to tell contestants how many events are left. In 2009, just 18 of 49 entrants made it to the finish line. The rest either gave up or failed to complete a task within two hours or the entire course within the 24-hour limit [sources: O'Gorman, Brick]. Various tasks prove to be contestants' Achilles heels. In 2009, one woman competitor couldn't make it past the first event because she had the misfortune to draw a stump whose roots were wrapped around large rocks. A seemingly incredibly fit male gym instructor had his legs give out on him while carrying logs up a hill [source: O'Gorman].
Just being in superb physical condition isn't enough, since the challenges require survival skills, toughness and an agile mind as well. It appears that military survival training is a plus -- the 2009 co-winners were both marines. In a blog that the race Web site posted, one 2009 contestant claimed that he trained by singing the National Anthem while walking blindfolded through a river, and by tying his right arm behind his back for 24 hours straight. Most likely he was joking -- but such a regimen probably wouldn't hurt [source: Doug Lewis].