In their six years of dating, Carmine Arpaia and Stephanie Cohen have always had a running joke. Arpaia loved to talk about how he really wished he could have competed on “Guts.”
Though the '90s Nickelodeon game show is long defunct, Arpaia couldn’t seem to let it go. So, when his 30th birthday began to approach, Cohen had the brilliant idea to make her boyfriend’s childhood dreams come true.
Planning the surprise bash in their hometown of New York City started about a year in advance. Cohen did her research, watching just about every episode of the game show on YouTube.
Cohen and her close friend, Mike Janela, developed an entire run of show that very closely followed a typical “ Guts” episode.
For non-“Guts” fans, here’s the gist of the show: Three kids compete in four athletic events in the “Extreme Arena.” Then it's all topped off by the contestants climbing an obstacle-covered “mountain” called the “Aggro Crag.” The winner gets a medal and a trophy that looks like a glowing piece of the “Crag.”
Cohen prepared to play the role of female co-host Moira "Mo" Quirk, while Janela prepped to play male host Mike O’Malley.
“He [Janela] watched so many episodes of ‘Guts’ to get in character,” Cohen told HLN. “We had secret meetings. We had a run of show. It was intense.”
Cohen, who works in sports management, said there was even a multi-tab spreadsheet involved, but admits she may have gone overboard because she loves planning things.
She rented out a huge rec space at New York City’s Chelsea Piers and replicated several “Guts” activities to the best of her ability. The final challenge, involving the elaborate mountain climb, was the toughest to replicate. So, she decided to leave the piers and use the stairs at the High Line elevated rail park in New York.
When Arpaia’s birthday finally arrived, last month, Cohen had of course developed a ruse to get him to the party -- and it worked.
“He thought he was going with some friends to hit golf balls at the Chelsea Piers,” she said. “Even as he was walking towards me, and I was yelling ‘surprise’ and wearing a referee shirt, he said he thought, ‘Oh that girl really looks like Steph.’"
The party was made up of about 50 people, including close friends and relatives who flew in from out of town.
“He was so unbelievably happy at how we made his dream come true,” she said. “He loves reliving all the moments. His face lights up every time he talks about it.”
Though Arpaia, an associate producer for the MLB Network, experienced the “pure joy of a little kid that’s actually 30 years old,” Cohen said her one disappointment was not being able to get an actual trophy from the show.
“I searched high and low for a piece of the ‘Aggro Crag' [on eBay]," she said. “But they were hard to find and super expensive.”
Cohen’s sister ended up making a trophy out of Styrofoam, and Arpaia’s mom made "Crag" cake.
Cohen said Arpaia was thrilled with his gift, but he was a little disappointed at how winded he got during the games, which she says he legitimately won -- no staging.
“He did, and we didn’t even cheat for him,” Cohen said. “He truly won.”