Jeremy McLaughlin stood near the edge of an Eastern Oregon cliff, ready to make the literal and figurative plunge of his young life.
The 24-year-old Central Point native was about to test-drive paragliding, the extreme sport of jumping off high places tethered to a glorified kite. And he was doing it in front of television cameras there to chronicle the wild ride that was to kick off his new, and very public, wild life.
"It was me strapping a parachute on my back and running off a cliff," McLaughlin says. "Not only was this going to be intense, but it was going to be all me right off the bat."
McLaughlin leapt off that cliff in April, and the parachute captured more than enough wind to sail him softly to earth. It launched his new career as the Northwest's television outdoor adventure man.
That paragliding moment was the first take in McLaughlin's life as the host of a new outdoor adventure series called "The Wild Life with Jeremy," now winding up its inaugural season on Comcast SportsNet.
The show airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and can be seen in Southern Oregon on Ashland cable channel 82.
The former University of Oregon wrestler and one-time African missionary is now putting the finishing touches on next Wednesday's season finale.
He earned the job in the spring by winning an outdoor reality-show contest also broadcast on Comcast SportsNet. And he's still trying to comprehend the dizzying ride into television — much like that paragliding ride that launched his series.
"I'm not going to lie," says McLaughlin, a 2003 Crater High School graduate. "It's been such an amazing ride.
"This job is every kid's crazy dream — to go out and have adventures," McLaughlin says. "It's been an experience of a lifetime. Just thinking back at what's happened really blows my mind."
McLaughlin has seen success on the show by collectively tapping into his backgrounds in outdoor sports and theater, as well as his new-found ability to act comfortable on camera despite no past television experience.
"He's a naturally charismatic guy, an appealing guy, and he's quick to tell a story," says Adam Willis, the show's associate producer. "He's definitely coming into his own quickly."
McLaughlin's ascent began innocently enough in August when a friend heard that Comcast was taking applications for participation in a new reality show called "Wanted: Adventure Host," with the winner to host Comcast's planned adventure show.
"I thought it was a job application, not a reality TV show," McLaughlin says. "It was one of those things where I didn't really know what I was getting myself into."
McLaughlin earned a slot on the show, which he calls a mix of "American Idol" and "Survivor," testing contestants' outdoor mettle and show-host potential.
"We noticed something pretty special about him from the start," says Jaimee Bremner, Comcast SportsNet's marketing coordinator. "He was comfortable in front of the camera, spoke very well and is a natural adventure guy."
When "Wanted" completed its 12-episode run, McLaughlin watched the announcement of his win with his family in Portland. Two days later, his first episode aired with him rock-climbing at Smith Rock State Park.
"It was so surreal at that point," McLaughlin says. "It hadn't sunk in for anyone yet and, boom, they saw me on TV rock-climbing. Bizarre."
His televised adventures have ranged from sturgeon fishing, fly-fishing and rafting the Deschutes River to scuba diving and sleeping in a tree, on top of that inaugural paraglide leap.
"Paragliding took a lot of training and focus," McLaughlin says. "It's amazing. There's this moment when you feel like you're falling, but you're not. You're flying. You're actually flying."
Most of the shows are shot in one day in the field, and they're rarely completed until the week they air, McLaughlin says.
The Crater High graduate says he's become more comfortable over time as a host, and now he's hoping Comcast picks him up for a second series.
"We'd love to do more with him," Bremner says. "We'll see."
In the meantime, McLaughlin is living in Portland, brushing up on his acting and hoping to parlay his recent television success into live theater.
Already viewers are recognizing him on the Portland streets as the new adventure guy. He's even autographed a kid's tackle box.
McLaughlin's spent a lifetime prepping for this role, yet still fits him like a strange new set of clothes.
"If you told me a year ago that I'd be hosting my own adventure show, I'd say no way," McLaughlin says. "But here I am. It's amazing."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.