Blissfully ignorant of the harsh realities in the workplace, kids dream to be doctors, astronauts, ballerinas and Olympic medalists. At 6, when Weinberg junior Rebecca Stewart was confronted with the age-old question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” she announced, “I want to be homeless.”
It wasn’t that Stewart was disillusioned about glamorous job opportunities, accepting a worst-case scenario as a realistic alternative. Stewart owed her unique answer to being “fascinated by the idea of homelessness, because it challenges you to live off of the land and the kindness of strangers.”
That is precisely why Stewart claims she makes the ideal candidate for the ‘Live Off Groupon!‘ challenge, in which one out of 400 competitors is selected to embark on a 365-day journey across 40 US cities with no cash nor amenities other than a stack of unlimited Groupon coupons. If the contestant does manage to pull off this challenge, he or she will get a handsome return on their sacrifice — a whopping $100,000, in fact.
The last line underneath the Groupon competition application persuaded Stewart most: “If you read this more than twice you should probably just apply.” Taking their advice to heart, the self-proclaimed coupon junkie wrote and produced two humorous application videos two days before the deadline. Stewart was overjoyed when she found out that she was selected by Groupon as a contender.
“I wasn’t too surprised when I heard about her being in the Groupon competition. She’s the type of person who always has some kooky story to tell, or she’s doing something a tad bit crazy,” said Susan Xu, Weinberg Junior and Stewart’s close friend and sorority sister. “One time, we all dressed up as reality TV characters, but Stewart shows up with a Where’s Waldo outfit.”
Stewart now stands as one of the last five finalists in the competition. The Groupon company selects a winner based on application videos, interviews with the five finalists, and actual medical checkups (to assure that the finalist selected is physically and mentally prepared for the challenge).
If Groupon does choose Stewart as their guinea pig for their first-ever competition, she would be armed with no worldly possessions other than her laptop, cell phone, a GPS tracking device (so followers could be updated of her whereabouts and join her on Groupon activities) and a stack of Groupon coupons as her sole monetary funds. Stewart would travel around U.S., visiting the cities with Groupon branches, occupying herself with a myriad of free Groupon activities (such as getting manicures, taking taekwondo classes and skydiving).
At the start of the challenge, Stewart would be robed in a paper suit fashioned out of Groupon coupons. These Groupon coupons would enable Stewart to live in participating hotels and dine at Groupon-partnered restaurants.
CNET dubs the Live Off Groupon challenge as “One of the most ridiculous social-media promotions that any brand has ever attempted to pull off.” Groupon’s CEO Thomas Mason says of the challenge, “Since we started Groupon we joked around about the idea of could someone survive off of nothing but Groupon, and we thought it would be fun to try.”
But what started as Groupon’s inside joke has evolved into a clever marketing strategy for the company. The company caters to a younger audience by supplying coupon deals to unique experiences (for example, classes in piloting a helicopter). The technologically-savvy audience can also read the finalist’s blogs and follow his whereabouts. Each blog would serve as a review of the contestant’s great experiences from the daily Groupon activity.
According to Stewart, random followers on the blogs can also join the finalist at a Groupon dinner or activity. This allows Groupon to reel in more potential “groupies.” Because the finalist must interact with many strangers through his or her journey, the contestant serves as a walking Groupon advertisement.
The challenge certainly sounds alluring, but the contest comes with a considerable amount of fine print. First, Stewart would have to postpone her studies in Political Science at Northwestern for a year. She would also have to say goodbye to her Delta Delta Delta sorority sisters, her friends at Northwestern and her family.
Stewart maintains that she’s not just in the competition for the handsome cash prize. She claims, “I can get so much out of this experience that I would do the challenge without the monetary incentive.”
Stewart looks forward to the social experiment aspect of the competition, realizing that she has to ask for favors and rely on people to help. “I will really get the opportunity to see the people in our country who really have a heart to give,” she says.
Stewart adds that, if she successfully lived off Groupon for a year, she would use 10K to create a ‘Random Acts of Kindness fund’, to give back to the society after 365 days of mooching off of it.
“I’ve always enjoyed doing things for people that people never expect. I thought it would be cool that, for however long the $10,000 lasted, to buy a cab for someone who is carrying too much stuff, or buy coffee for someone in line, or having an account of 10,000 dollars to bless people on a regular basis.”
At the end of the day, Stewart would be getting paid to do what she loves: traveling, sight-seeing, meeting interesting people and having new experiences. She would experience the landmarks and attractions deemed worthy by the “100 things to see before you die” list at 21 – and make a profit.
“I’ll get to go to Texas and eat ribs or go to New York to see Van Goghs’ art on display. It’ll be great to do just all the things people rave about that you brush aside because you can’t put the time or the money or the effort in,” Stewart says.
It’s easy to settle into habits and routines. According to Stewart, Northwestern students take the same paths to class and repeat the same routines on a 24-hour basis. This familiarity has grown old for Stewart.
“I want a year in my life that is completely separate from any other year I will ever have, “ she says, “and a year that can be re-lived by telling others about it afterwards.”