Shaun White: White HOT!

Watching professional snowboarder Shaun White pull off a trick is like watching a bald eagle soar through the air. They are both one of a kind: beautiful, graceful and able to capture anyone’s eye. When White snowboards he carves through the snow, powder flying every which way, the cold wind whipping against his jacket, the bright curly red hair flowing behind his helmet, and when flying off the half pipe he suspends himself in the air, the audience waiting in anticipation to see what will happen next. The red hair, the whips and spins in the air, it’s why they call him the flying tomato.

White is unarguably one of the greatest pro athletes in the world. While watching 60 Minutes' “Shaun White: White Hot” I learned the secret of his success lies hidden in a place where no one thinks to look… in the middle of the wilderness. Only accessible by helicopter, White has a 500-foot long half pipe with 22-foot high walls located in the mountains of Colorado. He spends a lot of time there learning new tricks and perfecting old ones. But the 60 Minutes piece is more about White than just the secret to his success.

I've been a huge fan of White since I can remember. He makes snowboarding and skateboarding (he is also a professional skateboarder) seem easy and graceful… and by no means are they really easy or graceful. This piece caught my eye because I wanted to learn more about White. I also felt it was timely, due to the 2010 Winter Olympics coming up soon and White being a competitor again.

After carefully analyzing this piece I noticed many parts were put together well.

The first thing that struck me was Simon’s story telling process. He starts with where White is now and why this feature piece is important. He then moves into the beginning of White’s life and builds off of that. He tells White’s life step-by-step. We learn that White had a birth defect that played a large roll in why he started snowboarding. As a 6-year-old he started off on skies but… “He was crazy on skis. And so I thought, 'Well, we'll put him on a snowboard and he'll fall all the time, and I won't have to worry about trying to dig him out of trees,'" White's mom explained. This began his life in snowboarding.

Simon’s use of words were crafted together to make the story flow. I didn’t feel that he jumped around and made the story confusing. He writes to his video very well and his standup isn’t hard to miss. Right as Simon says, “Only someone as driven and determined as Shaun White, driven to develop new snowboarding techniques that are way over my head,” White flies over him on his snowboard. Because it was so creative, it isn’t something I’m going to forget.

I also liked the use of nat sound. Most of the time, only a few seconds would pass before nat sound would be used. Along with Simon’s choice of words, the nat sound kept the story naturally flowing and also kept me in the scene. He lets the video and nat sound speak for itself, using the narration every so often to explain what is being seen and to throw out facts.

Simon uses clever words to describe White. He starts the story by saying “When snowboarder Shaun White won a gold medal at the last Winter Olympics in Italy, he was nicknamed "il pomodoro volante" - the flying tomato - for his aerial acrobatics and his fiery mane of red hair. He has since become one of the most recognizable redheads since Lucy and a veritable rock star in the world of action sports - a white hot virtuoso on a snowboard who, at the age of 23, commands a multi-million dollar empire.”

How much more can you say in such a short paragraph? Not much.

I paid special attention to the way Simon interviewed White. Some of the questions Simon asked White appeared in the feature piece and although White seems to be a short answer type of guy, Simon was able to generate some answers that fit well with the piece. I could also tell how interested he was by the way he asked the questions and how he sat forward when listening to White.

The shocking ending completed the story well. Just when the story is ending and you think White has everything in the world, Simon surprises us by showing how lonely White really is. We learn that White has a hard time making friends with those he competes against. Simon reads off a letter one of Whites competitors writes about him that says, “He's just got his self and he's in his own world. And he's doing his thing. And we all have each other. It's really kind of sad.”

White doesn’t deny it and says he finds it a bit lonely sometimes. We find that White is just like the rest of us. It may appear that he has it all, but he has his flaws too.

Simon also did something very ingenious at the end. Few viewers may have also caught this, but Simon goes full circle in his story. He began by showing us White’s half pipe in the middle of nowhere: a place where he can be alone… a reference to loneliness. At the end he ties up the story with how lonely White is. Full circle is a great way to make me feel like the story is complete.

Although this wouldn’t exactly be a story a local news station would cover, I feel any type of feature could use the same elements Simon used to make a good story. This 60 Minutes story took me through a variety of feelings: happiness, hope for those trying to reach their dreams, and sadness. It’s something any story can do, if all the elements are placed together right.

To soar through the skies with White, watch the video below:


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