Guide to the Weekend Editor and Parliamentary Debate Team member Sara Jane Panfil tells the story of the Team’s recent brush with MTV fame.

On November 19th, three members of the Columbia University Parliamentary Debate team will make their MTVu debuts on the Woodie Awards, MTV’s college choice awards.

MTV producers decided that they wanted to go with a debate theme for this year’s ceremony, so they contacted several college teams in the New York area. The producers came to our team try-outs to get a feel for our style, and we, along with a few other teams, were then invited to audition in the Viacom building in Times Square (on the Nickelodeon floor). The team front of a camera and informally debated such penetrating topics as “Does music help you get laid?” and “Does music help relieve constipation?”  Columbia—with our in-depth analysis and heartfelt personal anecdotes on such subjects—naturally beat out the other schools, including downtown antagonists NYU.    

We had to be in midtown by 5:15am on filming day, October 10th, and when we arrived it was apparent that we were beginning to have second thoughts.  We weren’t getting paid (as far as we knew at this point), and frankly, the torture of waking up and braving the subway system at such an excruciatingly early time of day seemed a bit excessive for a few minutes on TV.  However, the mood lightened when we met the actors who would be working alongside of us. Our calls of “Wow!  You’re a real actor! Tell us all about it!” were answered with, “Wow!  You’re a real debater!  Tell us all about it!”  By the end of the day, the actors wanted to be lawyers, and we debaters aspired to be on Law and Order.   

When we got to the “location” at Wagner College on Staten Island, we dined on sumptuous catered breakfast food and coffee, and then moved straight off to hair, makeup, and wardrobe.  By the time the sun came up and we got to the business of filming, the high-quality caffeine and giddiness over the general rock-star treatment had transformed our all our nervous energy into excitement.

Needless to say, we weren’t so good at first.  But, quick adapters as debaters ought to be, we mastered the formula after a few takes.  The crew had astounding patience with us—the actors later explained that the only reason for this was because we weren’t professionals—and to our pleasant surprise, the take and re-take/repeat, repeat, repeat formula of scripted television didn’t feel tedious at all.   

Of course, as the day wore on and the sleep deprivation became more and more acute, we got progressively more sluggish.  But morale never wavered.  Staten Islanders would pass by and gawk, searching our faces to look for one they recognized.  It was a nice ego boost. MTV kept us well-fed and well-caffeinated, so the positive energy flowed until the very last take right before sundown.    

By the end, it all seemed like a glorious hallucination.  And best of all, they paid us for our time—a reward we had not been expecting—and later drove us back into Manhattan.  We rested our heavy heads on one another’s shoulders and tuned into our iPods while the downtown Manhattan skyline whizzed by the courtesy van windows. 

Tune in on the 19th on to see the fruits of our sleep-walking labor.