The plan began to materialize, appropriately enough, in a bar.
Ryan Jones and longtime friend Jessi Ahrens had set up shop on the patio at Buzzard Beach, the popular dive in the heart of Westport. Over the years, nights out had often devolved into tangents about their various transgressions, with the two engaging in a kind of one-upsmanship in questionable decision-making. Who was coming out of the worst relationship? Who had made the worst drunken online purchase?
Lately, they’d begun to wonder: What if there were an event centered on horrible decisions, where shamed Kansas Citians could stand in front of a roomful of strangers and reveal their biggest mistakes?
“There’s not really any secrets in midtown,” says Ahrens, who along with Jones began scribbling rules for a hypothetical “bad decisions” competition on a bar napkin. “So we figured we’d turn it into kind of a roast, with everyone sharing their stories and having fun with it.”
And thus, the first Westport Poor Decision Awards were born.
And why not?
This year will be remembered for many things — Kimye, the trials and tribulations of Edward Snowden, the birth of the royal baby — but perhaps nothing will mark the past 12 months more than the endless stream of awful choices, ill-advised moves and overall questionable judgment.
All you need to do is peruse the year’s biggest headlines.
A husky major metropolitan mayor admits to using crack cocaine, then rumbles through a month-long stretch of unprecedented mayhem …
The U.S. government launches an already controversial health care website, apparently before bothering to see if it works …
The scantily clad spawn of a former country music star twerks her way through the awards-show circuit …
Call it the Year of the Bad Decision.
Poor decisions are nothing new, of course; since humans have had the capacity to make their own choices, they’ve been making the wrong ones.
But while you could once get away with the occasional blunder in judgment — or at least conceal it — today’s climate of social media oversharing has made that increasingly difficult.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have ensured that many of our most unfortunate moments are broadcast to our friends and followers as quickly as they happen.
So rather than hide from our bad decisions, why not stand up and own them?
That’s the thinking behind Jones and Ahrens’ event, which focuses on fessing up to your poorest choices in a very public way.
“Everybody has made some sort of stupid decision,” Jones says. “Why not get together and laugh about it?”
The two got to work.
For starters, they picked Westport Saloon as the competition’s setting. What better place to celebrate such misguided decision-making, they figured, than that pocket of unbridled debauchery known as Westport?
They picked a date, Jan. 8, that would facilitate any last-minute tomfoolery that might translate well to the stage. “We were originally talking about doing it on New Year’s,” Jones says. “But people do so much stupid stuff around New Year’s, so we thought, ‘Why leave that part out of it?’ Let them wake up and be like, ‘Well, I have my story.’”
Jones and Ahrens spent the past few months working to devise a game plan.
For next week’s competition, they’ve settled on five categories: Social Media, My Bartender Is Upset With Me, Dating Facepalm, I Was Totally Sober and Call Out a Friend.
The ground rules are simple. Contestants climb onto a stage in front of a bar full of people and relive their most vulnerable moments, detail by horrifying detail. Stories must be from 2013. They must be limited to two minutes.
And, perhaps most notably, they must resonate with a panel of five judges who have witnessed — and, in many cases, lived — some of the city’s most intelligence-averse blunders.
To adequately pick through the wreckage of people’s social lives to determine whose stories are, in fact, the most abhorrent, Jones and Ahrens tabbed an elite unit of bartenders and bar owners, a group with an admitted history of questionable decision-making and a somewhat jaded disposition, honed during countless hours inside Westport bars.
Explains Ahrens, “They’re experienced in the field.”
To get a better idea of how next week’s competition might play out, Ink spoke with those five judges recently about the criteria they’ll be using to score, their own decision-making history and what, exactly, qualifies them.
- How’d you get involved with the event?
Candice Moore, 29, bar manager and head bartender at Riot Room: I might have aided in some of the founder’s bad decision-making in the past, via whiskey and High Life.
Ryan Shank, 35, assistant manager at the Gusto Lounge: Ryan Jones and I have known each other a long time. We’ve known about each other even longer. Let’s just say we have similar interests.
** 2. In terms of scoring, what will you be looking for as you listen to contestants’ stories?
Moore: I will most likely be scoring contestants based off of the throw-up-in-my-mouth factor, or the sympathetic factor. At this point in my life and career as a bartender, nothing surprises me anymore. I have seen it all.
Jessica Murray, 29, bartender at Chez Charlie and Hi-Dive Lounge: I’m not sure what the scoring scale consists of. Hot mess being a 10, angelic being a 1? If that’s the case, I’m betting the judges themselves come up to a strong 8.5 average.
Rachel Freeman, 29, bartender at the Kill Devil Club: I will be looking for shame. Pure, unadulterated shame.
** 3. Being a judge seems like the perfect way to experience an event like this. What are you most looking forward to?
Murray: I’m looking forward to the safety bubble that I hope comes with being a judge. By being a judge, I won’t be judged — fingers crossed.
Shank: I’m looking forward to hearing these stories so I don’t feel so bad about my own poor decisions. I’m sure the other judges feel the same.
Sam Kirk, 40, owner of Buzzard Beach: Being a judge is nice, as it exempts me from participating as a contestant.
Freeman: I will be looking forward to my favorite pastime: judging people. And this time, I’m being encouraged to do it!
** 4. Are there any kinds of stories you might be partial to?
Shank: I’m the king of drunk Facebook. I don’t think anything relating to social media will impress me much. Hookups are always high on the list for me.
Moore: The bad/drunken hookup is funny, but who hasn’t been there and isn’t willing to talk about it? I think more people are embarrassed to talk about their bodily function mishaps than they are about anything else. You still get some sort of reward from the hookup, versus being superembarrassed about peeing your pants, sharting or pooping your pants at a show.
** 5. In your opinion, what criteria should the winning story meet?
Moore: A story that makes you want to take a very hot shower (afterward), then burn your clothes in a trash can.
Murray: I think if a story is good enough to share during the contest, it should divulge ALL the dirty details. Not some polished version.
Shank: The winning story will have to be funny, embarrassing and uniquely disturbing. I’ve seen it all. I’ve probably done it.
Freeman: Once again, shame. And probably tears.
Kirk: The winning story should be humorous, embarrassing and really boneheaded. It is also important that the only person adversely affected by the events related through the confession is the storyteller.
** 6. What was your own worst decision of the year?
Murray: My worst decision? Nice try.
Shank: My worst decision of the year was … well, I don’t want to say her name.
Freeman: That’s for me to know, and you to never find out.
Kirk: My poor decisions are varied and numerous; choosing just one would be difficult.
** 7. In your opinion, what best qualifies you to judge a bad decisions contest?
Moore: The founders of the awards have known me for quite some time, so maybe they witnessed my questionable decisions back in the day.
Murray: My qualification is that I may have made a bad decision or two in my life. Maybe three. But three, tops.
Shank: I’m Ryan Shank.
Kirk: If I am qualified to judge this event, it owes to years behind the bar in Westport. Bartenders are privy to people’s stories, good and bad.
Freeman: After living in Westport for the past decade-plus, and working there, I can safely say I have my doctorate in bad decisions. I’ve seen, and lived, a LOT of things.