There are two ways to earn a spot at the Nitro Circus. You either do something nobody else can — the kind of aerial acrobatics that win X Games — or you do something nobody else will.
Aaron Sauvage falls into the second category.
When the producers of the show need someone to get in a wheelbarrow and roll down the 50-foot Gigant-A-Ramp, Sauvage is the guy. He's hit the ramp riding on old couch and a motorized Barbie car. He knows it's a bad idea, but he does it anyway.
"I am legitimately scared," says Sauvage, who's known in the circus as Crum. "When I land wheels down, it's the happiest day of my life."
It's a 50-50 shot whether he lands or crashes.
Sauvage serves as comic relief for the choreographed stunt-riding extravaganza, which features 40 action-sport athletes — guys such as skateboarder Bob Burnquist and freestyle motocross rider Josh Sheehan.
Some will recognize Nitro Circus as the popular DVD series, which became a popular MTV show (with more than 46 million viewers and broadcast in 60 countries). A 3-D Nitro Circus movie was released in 2012.
The live show started in Australia in 2011 and quickly drew sold-out crowds. This is the first U.S. tour.
Nitro Circus Live is like cramming four days of X Games competition into one night, Sauvage says. The cast members are some of the best extreme athletes in the world. These are men and women who dominate action sports and push the limits every night.
"You never know what you're going to see," Sauvage says.
There is a show plan, but invariably one of the athletes feels inspired to go "off script." You'll know it, because the rest of the cast will get visibly excited.
"These guys really are scared. They really are trying to do something that's never been done before," Sauvage says. "It's inspiration. And it comes from Travis Pastrana."
In this circus, Pastrana is the ringleader.
Billed as the world's greatest action sports star, the motocross and rally-car racer won the world FMX championship at age 14. He won seven amateur titles before turning pro at age 16. He since has won multiple X Games championships and holds world records for things like jumping a rally car 269 feet — from the Long Beach Pier to a floating barge. He was the first person to do a double back flip on a motorcycle.
He's the kind of guy who has his own doctor (and surgeon) on call, he's been injured so often. He's also the kind of guy who keeps coming back, Sauvage says.
He took a bad landing at a show in Cleveland last Saturday and had to fly home to see his doctor. He missed a couple dates, but he will be ready in time for the Fresno show, Sauvage says.
If the rest of the crew pushes themselves to extremes each night, it's an example they take from Pastrana.
That's something the audience can feel, Sauvage says. Minus the awe-inspiring stunts, it's the reason the show is so popular.
"You can get more from yourself than even you know," he says. "The bigger, universal theme here is that there is always a way to make your dreams come true."
This reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, firstname.lastname@example.org or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com.