“Whose Line Is It Anyway?” meets “Survivor” in popular local improv show


Season two runner-up Eric Barger, front right, presents the re-entry idol to creator and host Matt Russell. Molly Doan, back center, was declared the winner of season two during the finale.

Barbara Harvey and Barbara Harvey

Combining the backstabbing and dramatic elements of cutthroat reality shows like “Survivor” with the comedic wit of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” “Improvivor,” the popular live comedy show at ComedySportz Sacramento, is back for a third season, featuring a cast full of ARC students and alumni.

“Improvivor” creator and host Matt Russell, 29, is well-known in the Sacramento improv comedy scene. Russell, also a veteran of the theater arts department at ARC, used his love for reality television and improv comedy as inspiration when creating the show.

“I always grew up watching those ‘Survivor’-esque shows, I’ve always been a fan of them. ‘Amazing Race’ ‘Survivor,’ the new show ‘The Quest’ and stuff like that, where it’s not just the physical ‘Survivor’ game, but the mental ‘Survivor’ game,” explained Russell. “I realized, ‘Huh, I think I could probably make an improv show out of this… So back in 2011, I did the first ‘Improvivor’ then, with a cast of ten people.’”

As the show’s name suggests, “Improvivor” is highly reminiscent of the long-running reality competition “Survivor.”

“In a nutshell, 12 improv comedians get separated into two teams of six. They compete in improv challenges to win immunity, and the team that wins immunity does not have to vote (one of their tribe members) off. It continues that way until the teams merge into one tribe, and then they compete for individual immunity by playing improv games,” explained Russell.

“We take it from there, and the last person standing ends up winning $100 cash, plus gets to play in a mainstage show at ComedySportz,” said Russell.

Audrey Dyte, 19, is an ARC student majoring in biomedical engineering and a cast member of the upcoming season of “Improvivor.”

Dyte, who is also a mainstage player at ComedySportz, was compelled to join the cast after becoming a fan during season two.

“I was actually invited to do season two, and I didn’t want to do it because it felt like a big time commitment, but I found myself going to every single one because I was so drawn in to it. I was so compelled by the show that I decided to sign up for season three,” said Dyte.

“You know how reality shows are. You watch a reality show, and you go, ‘Oh god, this is dumb,’–don’t tell Matt I said that. You think it’s dumb initially, but you get so wrapped up in it, because it’s so intense, and you don’t want to see your favorite players get voted off, and all of a sudden you’re so emotionally invested in it that you pick sides. Suddenly you have favorite players and enemies–you just feel like you’re in the show with them,” said Dyte.

“It felt just as cutthroat as I feel ‘Survivor’ is,” said season two cast member and ARC student Sina Baghdadi. “Every time I had to (vote someone off), it hurt.”

According to Russell, ARC has a strong presence in the Sacramento improv scene.

“You have people that you see everywhere in Sacramento that have gone to ARC and taken either just the improv class or the theater classes there. It’s one of the best, in my opinion, theater schools in all of California. I see that some of the best improv stock comes out of–and I say stock as though improvers are cattle–some of the best improver stock come out of ARC’s Improv Club, and (ARC theater arts professor) Pam Downs is a wonderful teacher of it,” Russell said.

Russell’s background at ARC stretches over ten years.

“I’ve been going to ARC off and on for ten years. I got my certificate in technical theater and my certificate in children’s theater,” Russell said. “I have a strong ARC connection. I talk to the teachers regularly, I just did the summer children’s show, ‘Rumpelstiltskin,’ so I’ve been doing that, and I was Improv Club president at ARC–wow, I should really talk about that–I’ve been ARC’s Improv Club president four different times in my tenure there,” said Russell.

Russell takes pride in “Improvivor” being representative of the Sacramento improv scene, accomplished by crossing club borders and including cast members from numerous Sacramento comedy clubs.

“The thing I liked the most about season two was that it brought the improv scene from all of Sacramento …  It felt like more than a ComedySportz event–it was an improv of Sacramento event,” said Dyte.

Within this diverse group, however, remains a strong ARC presence.

“A lot of people know about Pam (Downs). I hear about her all the time, and it feels like she’s the improv mother of Sacramento. A lot of the people in ComedySportz or Blacktop come out of ARC. Not all, but it feels like ARC definitely has a strong presence,” said Dyte.

“This time around, I believe we have six current (ARC) students and alums in the cast,” adds Russell.

Russell is visibly excited when speaking of what’s in store for season three.

“Attendees can expect a lot more ‘Survivor’-style challenges, not just improv challenges. I’ve got some twists and turns in mind that are going to blow people’s minds,” said Russell.

“Improvivor” begins Friday, Sept. 19 at 10 p.m. at ComedySportz Sacramento, located at 2230 Arden Way, near Howe Ave. Tickets are $8, or $4 with the purchase of a ComedySportz ticket. ComedySportz matches begin at 8 p.m. For more information, visit Facebook.com/Improvivor