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UB students bring mathematical approach to NBC 'Spartan' competition


You might not expect a group of math majors to also be fierce physical competitors. But a team of four University at Buffalo students are among the qualifiers for NBC’s Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge, which begins Monday night.Chris Komin, one of the members of the team, dubbed the Mathletes, says his classmate Trevor Bernard convinced him and their two friends, Zoe Herrick and Ellen Lutnick, to sign up for the competition. Komin described the moment they found out they were chosen to be on the show.

“Trevor was the first to get the call because he was kind of the captain,” said Komin. “And he sent out a group message right away like, ‘We got in!’ We were so excited, it was unbelievable. Such a cool feeling. It’s kind of indescribable to be told that you’re going to be competing on a national competition with some of the best athletes in the world.”

From there, the team was paired with an elite Spartan athlete, Kyle “Wooch” Graff. The competition is based on the challenging Spartan obstacle course race. The show bills itself as a test of "determination, endurance and will."

In the competition, Komin says the group uses its math background to their advantage.

“We didn’t go at it like other teams who had this kind of formulated plan based on other races,” said Komin. “We were just planning to go through obstacles like math problems. So, see an obstacle and right away we’d try and find the most efficient way to get through it. Maybe not the way that other people were doing, but something that worked to our strengths.”

Viewers Monday night will see the team face rope-burning climbs and crawls through cold, wet mud among other grueling obstacles. The competition, now in its second season, involves 23 other teams, with the grand prize of $250,000 up for grabs.

“It was very heavily focused on teamwork, obviously. And then there’s the famed slip wall, which is a 20-foot, sloped wall where you have to stack your teammates up like a human ladder and pull everybody over without any other assistance other than using the teammates, which is pretty crazy.”

Komin says he will be watching with two of his teammates and family and friends in a viewing party Monday night. The show airs at 10 p.m.