Queen of meat. ’Cue cheerleader. Hype girl. Gatekeeper of the vibe.
By KIMBERLY WINTER STERN
Special to The Star
Lara Wilinsky’s current job description includes whimsical nicknames that are as serious as the final round of competition in the Destination America television series she works on, “BBQ Pitmasters.”
A segment producer, Wilinsky is in charge of the meat used by competitors — including ordering, shipment, quality control and babysitting baby back ribs, spare ribs, brisket, pork butt, pork shoulder, ham and rib eye — and revving up the crowd.
“Audience engagement and interaction,” she explained.
Wilinsky also introduces the celebrity judges considered to be barbecue gods on the competitive circuit — Myron Mixon, Melissa Cookston and Tuffy Stone.
“Whatever city or town we’re in, taping a competition for ‘BBQ Pitmasters,’ I walk the crowd and invite them to participate,” said Wilinsky, a 2004 Blue Valley West graduate. “I gather them to the spot where we shoot the segment and cheer and smile and act as a pep leader.”
Now in its fourth year, “BBQ Pitmasters” follows the intense sport of competitive barbecue. It premiered in 2009 and featured the American Royal Barbecue during the series’ inaugural season.
Wilinsky joined the show in February and has crisscrossed the country since, witnessing firsthand the show’s cult status.
“I’m a barbecue girl — I’ve loved it all my life,” said Wilinsky, who lists Gates Bar-B-Q’s beef on bun as a favorite. “But barbecue as serious sport is on a whole other level. It’s deep, deep competition and has its own fascinating subculture.”
Wilinsky spent the weekend of June 8 in Lee’s Summit with the popular reality show taping the Smokin’ on the Summit BBQ competition. The episode is slated to run Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. CST.
The petite Wilinsky — who at 5 feet tall has to hoot, holler and jump up and down to get a crowd’s undivided attention — admits that while her role in the show is small in comparison to other crew members’, it’s an integral part of “BBQ Pitmasters” ultimate ambiance.
“People like being on camera, meeting the judges, watching the competitors,” she said. “I need to keep the excitement going on the set. It ends up being 45 seconds of television — the crowd shot — but I take great pride in it.”
Wilinsky employs all sorts of tricks to whip the crowd into a cable show ’cue-worthy frenzy.
“In Lee’s Summit I did the Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant and got a lot of good-natured boos,” said the 2008 University of Kansas alum. “So I did the Mizzou cheer, too. There was back-and-forth and people had a great time.”
Wilinsky, now a New York City resident, said her hometown made her one proud segment producer during the intense weekend of taping.
“Kansas Citians are a happy, go-with-the-flow bunch,” said Wilinsky. “Lots of the show’s fans were in the crowd and everyone respected our process.”
Wilinsky is no stranger to reality television. Prior to working on “BBQ Pitmasters” she was a member of the Discovery Channel’s “Backyard Oil” crew and HGTV’s “Selling New York.”
“You can also climb into a cab in New York City and maybe catch one of the pieces I produced for NYC Media, part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment,” said Wilinsky. “It’s the official TV, radio and online network for NYC.”
Wilinsky’s first television job was at ABC where she worked on “Table for Twelve,” a reality show that featured the Hayes family and its two sets of twins and set of sextuplets. She then worked for a brief period on the ABC News program “20/20.”
Wilinsky credits her whirlwind entry into television to the Blue Valley Television experience during her BVW senior year. Under the direction of instructor Bruce McRoberts, Wilinsky was part of the student team that produced the award-winning short film chronicling 1993 murder victim Stephanie Schmidt’s parents’ efforts to change employer-reporting laws through their “Speak Out for Stephanie” crime advocacy organization.
“My reporting partner and I, Matt Hayward from Blue Valley High School, worked hard on that difficult piece,” recalled Wilinsky, who was 17 when the film was shot.
The film won a regional student Emmy and then went on to win a national Emmy.
Wilinsky thrives on the fast pace that characterizes the world of reality television.
“It suits me,” she said. “I’m having the time of my life and learning things I never thought possible.”
And right now it doesn’t hurt that she’s surrounded by barbecue smoke and tasty food on “BBQ Pitmasters.”
“I’ll never get my fill of barbecue,” she said.