It’s been a few years since 26-year-old Kyle Kleiboeker has been to summer camp in the metro area.
By RUTH BAUM BIGUS
Special to The Star
Since he left the area, the Shawnee Mission East grad has traveled the world as a singer/dancer on a cruise line, performed off-Broadway in New York, appeared on network television and worked as a model.
And now Kleiboeker is a cast member of the new, 8-week reality television series, “Summer Camp,” that debuts on USA Network at 7 p.m. July 11. Kleiboeker is among 16 adult campers who compete to win a grand prize of a half million dollars. Filming took place in May and June at an idyllic lakeside retreat in Big Bear, Calif. — quite a different place than the hustle and bustle of New York City that Kleiboeker calls home.
While visiting Kansas City this week, Kleiboeker shared some of his experiences on the reality series.
“As a grownup when do you get to go back to summer camp?” asked Kleiboeker. “We played summer camp games you play as kids but with an adult twist and at a whole new level.”
The competition pitted men against women, with contestants coming from various walks of life. Kleiboeker is tagged as “The Broadway Performer,” a title he wears proudly.
“There’s a lot of strategy,” Kleiboeker said of the competition. “They were over-the-top mental and physical games...It’s a lot of pressure — you want to do well for yourself, your team and all of America sees what you’re doing.”
During filming, the contestants all but disappeared from their regular lives.
“We were completely cut off from the world,” he said. “It was especially hard for my mom because we’re so close.” Kleiboeker’s mother, Tionne Ellegard and his father Mark Kleiboeker still live in the Kansas City area.
Kleiboeker learned about “Summer Camp” during a visit to Los Angeles last September.
“I had kind of slowed down the last year and a half and a needed a little break for my soul.. Living in New York is a little hard.”
While making the rounds in LA, Kleiboeker saw a casting notice that caught his eye.
“It said, ‘If you’re outgoing, athletic and want a chance of a life time, come to this interview,” Kleiboeker said. An admitted fan of reality shows, he filled out the form and went for an interview.
“They really loved my story of my grandfather Ed Budde, who was a (Kansas City) Chief who played in the first Super Bowl,” Kleiboeker said. “Then you had me, this black sheep of the family going into an entirely different direction.”
Kleiboeker submitted a home video of himself that focused on a day in his life, including workouts at Barry’s Boot Camp in New York City, which is known for its work with celebrities. Months passed without word. Kleiboeker got a call to return to Royal Caribbean cruise line and work as a performer on one of its ships.
“I was on the ship for one month when I got a call that the show had been picked up and that I was needed in LA for a final audition,” he said. Producers required Kleiboeker to be there in person or no job; Royal Caribbean would not let him leave and return.
“It took me two weeks to decide and I thought, when would I ever have this opportunity again?” said Kleiboeker. “So I took the leap.”
Kleiboeker spent his youth taking dance lessons locally from Liz Kelley and attending performing camps with Camellot Academy and Music Theatre for Young People. He performed at high school, at Theatre in the Park, and in a world premiere production at Starlight Theatre of “The Prince and The Pauper.” Yet athletics was the dominant activity in Kleiboeker’s family. In addition to his grandfather, Kleiboeker’s uncle Brad Budde also played for the Chiefs and his mom was athletic, as well. With those genes, Kleiboeker decided to physically push himself to prepare for “Summer Camp.”
“It was a huge opportunity for me to prove myself as an athlete,” he said. “I wanted to impress my family and myself. I wanted to be in the best mental and physical shape I could be.”
Already fit due to his musical theater training, Kleiboeker pushed himself even harder, running daily and lifting weights. He worked out at a gym and with a personal trainer. He cutting all caffeine and soft drinks from his diet.
“A lot of it for me was cardio and building stamina,” Kleiboeker said. “And it definitely helped me in the competition.”
“We’re real proud of him,” said Ed Budde of his grandson. “I was hesitant that he take this chance and leave a job. I was kind of nervous (but) that’s what it’s all about. He took the challenge and made something of it,” Budde said.
Kleiboeker’s glad he took the risk.
“It was a life-changing experience,” he said. “I had been down on myself (and) this experience made me love me again.”
As reality show protocol dictates, Kleiboeker is sworn to secrecy about the results of “Summer Camp.”
“We’re seeing it unveiled with the rest of America, which is a little nerve wracking” he said. But Kleiboeker knows where he’s headed next — back to Los Angeles.
“This experience will be a launching pad for me. I’ve admired Carson Daly and other entertainment reporters and would like to try that,” Kleiboeker said. “I love pop culture, and I think it would be fun.”