Thursday, July 26, 2012

'World's Strongest Girl' Wins The Grand Prize Of Nickelodeon's "Figure It Out"

'World's Strongest Girl' Wins Game Show Grand Prize

Naomi Kutin, a 10-year-old women's powerlifting world record holder, stumped a team of panelists trying to guess her unique talent on the Nickelodeon game show "Figure it Out" last week.

[The above screenshot also features Nickelodeon USA's 'Nick Summer' BUG/DOG (digital on-screen graphic/digitally-originated graphic)]
In two short years, Naomi Kutin’s much-publicized powerlifting prowess has transformed her from anonymous eight-year-old to arguably Fair Lawn’s most renowned resident.

The 4-foot-9-inch, 99-pound bundle of energy has appeared in newspapers and on television programs the world over. Her feats of uncommon strength were featured most recently in The Star-Ledger and The Jewish Daily Forward. Even an article about strongman competitions in The New Yorker's next-to-last issue name-dropped Kutin, calling her "pound for pound, the strongest girl in the world."

On the evening I visited the Kutins at their Summit Avenue home a few weeks ago, Naomi had already conducted a phone interview with a British media outlet and received interview requests from two other publications – one in France, one in the U.K. – earlier in the day.

Her mother, Neshama, books Naomi's interviews.

“Sometimes I’m not just her mom,” she laughed. “I’m her media manager.”

For all of Naomi’s myriad on-air moments, her recent appearance on a Nickelodeon game show tops the list.

In March, the show's casting assistant contacted the Kutins to inquire whether Naomi would be interested in submitting an audition tape for the show's consideration. If selected, she would appear as one of the first contestants on a revamped version of the station’s '90s-era game show "Figure It Out," which tasks a panel of Nickelodeon celebrities with guessing each contestant’s unique talent, while simultaneously finding entirely arbitrary reasons to shower everyone on the set in green slime.

Naomi had never seen the show, so, like any tech-savvy 10-year-old who moderates her own Facebook fan page would do, she turned to YouTube to familiarize herself.

"I thought it was cool," she said after watching an old video clip [of "Figure It Out Family Style"]. "And I thought the atmosphere was terrifying ."

In spite of her growing number of media appearances, Naomi said she still gets scared every time she goes on TV.

"She's kind of shy, actually," explained Neshama, who credits both the media attention and the self-confidence Naomi has gained from powerlifting for bringing her out of her shell. "[The publicity] has really brought out a lot of her personality that we see at home, that other people don’t normally see."

As she always does, Naomi, whose basement weight room wall is adorned with a handwritten "No Fear," sign, pushed her on-camera anxieties aside and went for it. She submitted a "Figure It Out," audition tape in which she introduced herself, talked briefly about her propensity for powerlifting and flashed her mountain of medals.

“I wasn’t trying to be too serious. I was trying to be like my usual self,” Naomi said of her tape, giggling. “Happy and playful and hyper.”

Nickelodeon reviewed the tape and soon informed the Kutins that they’d love to fly out Naomi to appear on the show.

“It was really crazy, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’” said Naomi, recalling the day she learned she’d be on Nickelodeon. “I’ve been on news shows and a talk show, but it’s like, not a game show! It’s like, different. It’s more exciting and fun!”

In May, after a slight hold up around rescheduling the show’s original shoot date -- the Kutins are Orthodox Jews, so Naomi can’t lift on Saturdays -- mom, dad, Naomi and her 9-year-old brother, Ari, hopped aboard a plane to Los Angeles for Naomi’s game show debut.

They were met at the airport by a chauffeur holding a placard bearing the family name.

“It was fun getting VIP treatment,” Neshama smiled.

While on the West Coast, Naomi managed to make two day trips to Universal Studios Hollywood, take in a few famous sights, complete three packets of school work and, most importantly, stump the “Figure It Out” panel to win the show's grand prize.

Afterward, when it came time to perform her special talent on air, Naomi’s father, Ed, a powerlifting veteran, said a member of the show’s stunt crew unexpectedly summoned him from the audience to help spot her.

“They had assured me they had a stunt person in charge of [spotting her],” he said. “I don’t know who he had intended to spot, but next thing I know, he said to me, quietly on the side, ‘Maybe you actually can get the other side.’

“Sure, why not,” Ed said he replied. “I felt better that way, anyway.”

So Ed came out of the audience, donning a “Figure It Out” jumpsuit, for Naomi's 155-pound "warm-up weight" squat. Her world record squat in the 97-pound weight class, set this January in Corpus Christi, Texas, is 214.9 pounds.

“They didn’t want her to go very heavy,” Ed explained. “I guess they felt that was enough to show that she could lift a significant amount of weight."

Naomi performed her lift to the amazement of the Nickelodeon panelists, and, as she so often has, left the stage a champion.

“The day of the taping, she said ‘I won! I won! Wait, what did I win?’” Neshama recalled fondly. “She wanted to go out and win; the prizes were almost an afterthought.”

If you ask Naomi, she'll tell you that getting drenched with glacial green slime on national television was the true highlight of her game show experience.

“It was freezing!” she exclaimed, recalling the frigid experience as if she was literally reliving it. “I didn’t think slime would be so cold. It was really cold!"

Naomi was soaked in slime when a panelist guessed the show’s “word of honor,” and had to be wrapped in a towel afterward to keep from shivering.

She grabbed a hot shower back stage to warm up and clean off before re-appearing on set to perform her lift, but she has no regrets.

In fact, if she could do it again, Naomi said she'd ask to be slimed at least twice more.

The world's strongest girl will finish out the year with powerlifting competitions in August and October. She said she’d like to both squat and deadlift more than 220 pounds, and bench press in the triple digits, for her upcoming August competition.

Neshama said it's her daughter's competitive drive and willingness to work tirelessly that sets her apart from other kids her age.

"She has a laser focus when it comes to lifting weights," Neshama said. "A lot of kids, you’ll start them with a hobby -- a musical instrument, whatever it is -- and after two or three lessons they say ‘OK, I’m done.’ It’s a kid thing to do. But she didn’t do that."

Naomi's routine involves lifting three days a week, playing basketball, taking karate lessons and eating healthy "mother-approved" whole foods. Neshama is a nutritionist.

When she's not lifting, she likes to sing, dance, and write short stories and poetry.

"She’s actually quite a gifted writer," Neshama said. "She writes short stories that are really amazing, so she has a real creative outlet. She’s a good student, she gets good grades in school. The teachers like her, the kids like her. She’s a good kid. Silly, but a good kid."

Naomi prefers to use "crazy" to describe herself, but creative and silly certainly fit. At one point during our interview, she spontaneously hatched a plan to match the astounding strength of a soon-to-be competitor in what will be her next weight class up as she continues to grow.

"Maybe, maybe, maybe," she said breathlessly, "over night a radioactive mosquito will bite me and I’ll grow muscles out to here!"

While Naomi waits on that mosquito, she’ll continue training for her upcoming competitions the natural way -- through hard work and remarkable dedication.

Her game show appearance, other than supplying her with $400 in Skechers gear and a Nintendo 3DS, hasn't changed her. In fact, Naomi's already decided to give some of her winnings to charity and share the rest with her younger brother.

"It's a charmed existence she has right now," her mother said. "Not many people have that."

Neshama said she’s not sure where Naomi’s incredible weightlifting talents will take her in the future, but wherever they do, the family will be behind it.

“She’ll do this as long as she wants to do it,” she said. “We’ll support her.”

Click here to watch the full version of Naomi's appearance on "Figure It Out," which aired last Thursday, July 19.