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The Buried Life’ cast asks Ohio State to dig deep into life’s biggest questions

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What do you want to do before you die?

For the cast of MTV’s reality documentary series “The Buried Life,” this simple question has turned into a journey of fulfilling bucket list dreams, such as playing basketball with President Barack Obama and crashing a party at the Playboy mansion, to giving back to charitable causes and helping strangers cross a wish off their own lists.

Ben Nemtin, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn and Jonnie Penn shared their stories with almost 300 students Wednesday in the Ohio Union’s Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom as part of their “Buried Life Mega Tour.” Lingwood, who showed off his break dancing skills in a white jumpsuit for the mostly female audience, told The Lantern why the show is inspirational to fans.

“I think asking the question, ‘What do you want to do before you die?’ enables you to really look at what you’re passionate about and kind of brush away all the bulls- – you’re surrounded by, and focus on what you really want to do in your life,” Lingwood said.

Nemtin, Lingwood, Duncan Penn and Jonnie Penn took turns telling the story of how “The Buried Life” went from a simple concept to the MTV show, a 22-date college tour and soon-to-be-released book, “What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?” The group used a presentation of photos and videos to help share their story, including never-before-seen footage of them playing basketball on the White House courts. In one episode, the cast failed at their attempt to shoot hoops with Obama, but they later had the opportunity to fulfill that dream.

“The hardest thing on our list by far, by far, was playing basketball with the president,” Nemtin said. “We’re Canadian. Why would he want to play basketball against us?”

Lingwood said along with meeting Obama, losing his virginity is the most memorable goal he has crossed off his bucket list.

“I lost my virginity once,” Lingwood said. “That was pretty memorable. A special moment. I think it’s on everyone’s list.”

Before “The Buried Life” project started, Lingwood said he was going to university for general studies and never figured out what he wanted to focus on.

“We all felt very discontent with what we were doing,” Lingwood said. “We came up with the idea of going on a road trip, making a film out of it and asking the question, ‘What do you want to do before you die?’ to strangers. It was supposed to be a two-week road trip and it just kind of kept going.”

Jonnie Penn told students when he was a sophomore in college, he was paying $200 a month to live in his friend’s walk-in closet. He said he went to the grocery store to buy himself dinner and realized he wanted to do more.

“I had a dollar to my name, so I decided to buy a yam for dinner,” Jonnie Penn said. “I picked one that cost $1.25, so I had to return it for a smaller one. I decided then and there in my crappy room with my crappy yam dinner that I would do something.”

After Jonnie Penn wrote an essay based on the poem “The Buried Life,” written in 1852 by Matthew Arnold, he was inspired to start the project. The four men compiled a list of everything they wanted to do before they died.

Their first goal was for Nemtin to be a knight for a day. Dressed in shining armor, Nemtin knighted children in their neighborhood and landed on the front page of the local paper, another goal on the list. They decided that for every goal they accomplished, they would help a stranger cross something off their own list.

“Whatever you can do to help others along your way, do it,” Nemtin said. “Not only will it influence someone else’s life, but you’ll be amazed at what it actually does to you. Happiness is only real when it is shared.”

They showed touching footage of themselves going on a shopping spree with children who have terminal cancer. They also gave an update of a father and son they helped reunite after 17 years.

In 2007, the four friends said they managed to sneak into MTV’s Video Music Awards in Las Vegas. They filmed themselves inside the awards show and sent the footage to executives at MTV. They were given their own show. They said it was important for them to have creative control and they didn’t want help from MTV to complete any of the items on their list.

“We thought, ‘We can’t make ‘The Hills’ because that show sucks,'” Jonnie Penn said, with a laugh. “We believed in ‘The Buried Life.’ We wanted to make something authentic.”

While the second season of the show has ended, Lingwood said the series isn’t over. They are working on a new show with MTV that will be similar to the concept of “The Buried Life.”

The group was able to cross a life goal off someone else’s list at the event. La’Ria Ruiz, a first-year in psychology at Otterbein University, came to the show in hopes she would meet the members of “The Buried Life” and get a kiss from Jonnie Penn. Her dream was fulfilled on stage at the event.

“I basically almost cried and now I’m clearly freaking out,” Ruiz said. “I want to get Jonnie to marry me, but I won’t tell him that. They probably think I’m a stalker already.”

Ruiz said she posted on their Facebook page for 92 days before they responded. The men finally messaged her that she should come to the event to meet them. Ruiz said she wishes the show was more popular than other reality TV shows because it has a better message than shows such as “The Jersey Shore.”

“They just stand for something so important,” Ruiz said. “It’s not about what you look like, or who you are. It’s about what you do and how you do it and who you help. We’re all supposed to help each other and they portray that.”

Lydia Kuhn, a first-year in psychology, is the president and founder of Ohio State’s chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit support group for students struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. Kuhn helped bring “The Buried Life” to OSU.  

“I think people can really learn from “The Buried Life,” that these are just normal guys,” Kuhn said. “Here we are, we think they’re awesome, but at one point they were just normal people like us. I think people should take from that and learn that they can do anything they want to if they try hard enough.”

Kuhn said she hopes students are motivated to go after their own bucket lists.

“I think this event helped people realize this is a time in our lives when we can get our ideas off the ground cause we have so much energy, so much ingenuity and so many connections we can make here,” Kuhn said. “Anything is possible. I really believe that and I think this was a great testament to that.”

The men asked students to take part in an online challenge to tell them what they want to do before they die. They said they plan to return to OSU and help the winner accomplish their dream. “What Do You Want to Do Before You Die” is scheduled to be released March 27.

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