Stuntin’ is a habit

March 1, 2010, 12:50 a.m.

In the article below, The Daily incorrectly reported that former Tree Tommy Leep ’07 parachuted naked into the football stadium, then evaded arrest by fleeing through a tunnel he had dug under the field. In fact, his Tree stunts were slightly less impressive. We regret our “Leep” of faith on this one. Well played, LSJUMB. Well played.

What would you do to be Tree?

Would you eat a live snake? Bathe in diluted acid? Get shot with a .45 caliber bullet–while wearing a bulletproof vest, of course?

Past tree hopefuls have, in fact, done all of the above.

Legend has it that prior to the establishment of a formal selection process in the 1980s, the Band manager’s girlfriend assumed the role of Tree. Nowadays, the Tree is an awfully coveted position at Stanford–despite its frequent appearances on “top ten worst mascot” lists. With the exception of prohibited stunts that involve hospital visits or breaking the law, candidates go to all extremes in the hopes of securing the title of the LSJUMB’s official–and the University’s unofficial–mascot.

At the end of Tree Week last Thursday, Ben “Bollox” Cortes ’11 emerged victorious as next year’s Tree. His stunts consisted of drawing his own blood to mix a Bloody Mary, playing ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” on the roof of the “Band Shak” and reciting “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” after inhaling helium.

“I want stunts to be something I would have a relatively good time doing,” Cortes said.

Cortes’ Tree tryouts from last year didn’t hurt his chances either. For one stunt, he curled up inside the Band’s bass drum while fellow Band members played four or five songs on top of him.

“Within about 30 seconds, it instantly starts to fog up with sweat in there and you can’t really see in,” remembered Patrick “Patches” Fortune ‘10, who was Tree in 2008-2009. “Every mallet hit that came down, you can hear a little ‘squeak, squeak, squeak’ [coming from Cortes].”

Fortune undertook more of a blood-and-flesh approach to his Tree stunts. His favorite stunt was riding through an egg and water balloon firing range–six times. He ended up bleeding in several places and received a black eye.

“Adrenaline is probably my favorite drug,” Fortune admitted. “I mean, really, you don’t feel too much. A black eye just feels like somebody kissed you.”

Despite the blacks and blues, Fortune has a high opinion of Tree Week’s ability to bring out the most daring traits in a Tree candidate.

“Even if I hadn’t gotten Tree, Tree tryouts are still worth it,” he said. “Tree tryouts are my favorite time every year [even though] I no longer get to be Tree. It’s still so much fun to see what people can do, see what you yourself can do and really challenge yourself to be what you think you can.”

Fortune’s predecessor, John Whipple ‘10, boasted about the tradition-establishing stunt he initiated as a “sapling.”

“I hosted the first but not last annual K-Y Jelly contest in White Plaza,” he said of the wrestling match, which involves the Johnson & Johnson brand water-soluble personal lubricant. “It’s been running three years strong now. It’s pretty fun. It’s good for the skin.”

Perhaps Whipple’s most infamous stunt, however, was branding a tree shape on his back–using leeches.

“I got nine leeches to represent the nine Pac-10 challengers, put them in the shape of a tree and left them on my back for a while,” explained Whipple. “There’s this little ringlet scar.”

Before Whipple, Tommy Leep ’07, the 2006-2007 Tree, also had a penchant for the dangerous in his tryouts. His first and most well known stunt upped the risk of bodily harm from leeches and bruises to an exponentially higher level: he went skydiving.

Tree Week back in Leep’s days occurred during fall quarter rather than winter quarter. Taking advantage of football season and his roommate’s training as a flight pilot, Leep “leaped” out of a plane over the Stadium at halftime. Part of the stunt was to remove his parachute, take off his clothes and then put the parachute back on–all while mid-air.

“It’s pretty frightening when you’re holding onto a parachute with just five fingers,” Leep acknowledged.

Once safely on the ground, Leep had to deal with the additional complication of evading arrest.

“Before the game we had dug a tunnel under the stadium, so as the cops were running, I ran over and disappeared under the field,” he said. “How else are you going to get out of the stadium naked?”

No doubt such stunts as these amplify the excitement surrounding the Tree-choosing process. Yet, when all’s said and done, what matters is not which candidate rallies the most popular support, but who can best impress the current Tree.

Jonathan “Shu-Fry” Strange ‘11, who will step down as Tree at the end of the school year, noted that stunts do not necessarily indicate a sapling’s potential as Tree. Incidentally, Strange’s most notorious stunt consisted of constructing and occupying a life-sized bowling ball and rolling himself into a cluster of kegs.

“You could potentially get Tree without stunts,” Strange said point-blank. “It’s just that stunts are a way of showing your personality, and we want to see someone that’s awesome.”

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