A day in the life: Subaru Impreza Challenge 2008

We\'ve always wondered how far people will go to own a car. After covering the Subaru Impreza Challenge, we now have a pretty good idea


I was right in front of the Takashimaya Shopping Center along the famed Orchard Road in Singapore, but instead of choosing which shopping area to visit next--whether it be electronics mecca Lucky Plaza one block away, or the HMV music store down the road--I was holding on to a black Subaru Impreza and making sure my hand didn\'t go outside the designated hand-shaped sticker.

Despite fidgeting under the sweltering Asian sun and sweating in the humid Asian climate, it was so-far-so-good. I was focused on the task at, er, hand, and I was trying to enjoy myself along the way. I told myself that this was an experience I could tell my kids someday, if I would have any.

We all have something we want in life, whether it\'s a new car, a shiny gadget, or that next step up the corporate ladder. The question is: How bad do you want it? What are you willing to do to get it?

In November, Subaru gave 400 people the chance to win a Subaru Impreza WRX, a turbocharged variant of Subaru\'s iconic rally stalwart. It was the chance to own one of the sportiest and trendiest cars on any market.

Subaru distributor Motor Image and media partner MediaCorp set the most basic rule for this extraordinary contest dubbed the \"Subaru Impreza Challange\": Contestants would place their hand on one of ten Subaru Imprezas, and the one who held on the longest, got an Impreza WRX as grand prize. This was anything but a beauty contest; you either won the car or went home with the sorest arm you\'d ever had in your life.

The Subaru Impreza Challenge was first held in 2002 and saw 120 Singaporeans vie for a brand-new Impreza. By 2007, the record had stood at 77 hours and 13 minutes.

Last year, the challenge was opened to ten regional contestants each from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. The 40 regional representatives would compete with 360 Singaporean contestants. Our reps were chosen through a similar competition held in Greenhills, and the last ten finalists holding the car were sent to Singapore. Motor Image took care of their travel fare and hotel accommodations, and gave them 600 Singapore dollars (about P20,000) each in pocket money.

I spoke with some of our representatives, who could not have come from more diverse backgrounds. There were 25-year-old triathlete Giovanni Lapiña; 42-year-old father of two Bernie Bañarez (incidentally the oldest challenger); 23-year-old sole female contestant Farrah Aggarao; 32-year-old businessman Jojo Dimapilis; and 29-year-old Gerald Gonzaga, the barangay kagawad who was also the Philippine winner, having held on for 47 hours and 58 minutes during the eliminations.

I asked them what they planned to do with the car in case they won. Except for Lapiña, who planned to set up the car and enter it in car shows, all those I spoke to said or implied they would sell the car. I looked around the Lion City and saw boutiques of Cartier, Bulgari and Calvin Klein, while Orchard Road was littered with BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class sedans. The trappings of wealth made me doubt if the Singaporeans who entered this challenge wanted the prize as much as the Filipino contestants did.

If I won a Subaru Impreza WRX myself, I\'d enjoy it for a few months, then sell it and put the money in the bank. Honest journalism is great for the soul, but it can be challenging for the wallet.

At 12 noon, the contestants were herded into the challenge area with ten Imprezas. Each car was festooned with 40 numbered hand stickers. The day before, the regional representatives had drawn lots on which sticker they would hold. The organizers reiterated the rules: At 1pm, challengers would place their right hand--and only the right hand--on their assigned sticker, only to be removed every six hours for five-minute food and bathroom breaks; the challengers couldn\'t bring caps, umbrellas, or sunscreen lotion--anything that could help them cope with the sun or rain; contestants could squat as long as their butts didn\'t touch the ground; no body part except the right hand might touch the car; any violation of the rules would result in disqualification and all decisions by the marshals were final.

It was a challenge that was simple yet difficult to execute. It was designed to show the length and breadth of human endurance. After barely an hour, two contestants from Hong Kong dropped out. Perhaps the sales in the shopping centers were too hard to ignore. After two and a half hours, a female student from the Thai delegation left.

Until evening, the Filipino contingent was in high spirits, but heavy rain past midnight sorely tested the mettle of all the challengers. The contest even had to be stopped for 46 minutes because of thunderstorms.

In the Philippine team, the first to drop out was Aldrin Mariano, an OFW who held on for 14 hours and 34 minutes. This was followed by several departures hours apart until Farrah Aggarao gave up at the 21-hour-and-21-minute mark.

Here, we witnessed the Filipino spirit at its best. When other Filipinos working in Singapore saw our local contestants, they helped cheer them on. We knew they were Filipinos because they flocked to Philippine Star reporter James Deakin, a dead ringer for Jestoni Alarcon. James, in turn, posed with them for pictures as if campaigning for office. It doesn\'t hurt to have a backup plan, I suppose.

After 40 hours and 37 minutes, Bañarez was out of the running, and at 41 hours and 43 minutes, Lapiña gave up as well. Philippine elimination winner Gonzaga threw in the towel at exactly 62 hours. But the last Filipino standing was a diminutive 39-year-old carpenter named Roberto Tomas who carried our flag for 53 minutes more after Gonzaga had left.

Our boys--and girl--put up a good fight, but the grand prize ultimately went to George Lee, a Singaporean soldier who held on for an inhuman 81 hours and 32 minutes. This was Lee\'s third attempt at the challenge.

What about your cuddly Top Gear writer? I\'m glad to report that I won a prize, too. After 30 minutes of holding on to an Impreza, I was given several Subaru mobile-phone straps. The competition that I joined was a side contest designed to give one a taste of the main challenge. I thought 30 minutes was a breeze, until I removed my right hand and felt a slightly painful twitch. If I joined the real thing, I\'d start eating the car after a day.

I learned two important things in this event: The Singaporeans\' Hainanese chicken is awesome, and you can get what you want if you hold on long enough.

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