Reality Rally’s Gillian Larson looks back as event celebrates 10 years of fun for funds

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Reality Rally creator and founder Gillian Larson gives some final details to racers and teams before they headed out to accomplish the tasks they need to complete to finish the 2019 race in Old Town Temecula. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

A lot can happen in 10 years, just ask Gillian Larson, founder of Temecula’s Reality Rally.

“Look how it has grown,” Larson said. “The only reason it has grown is because of the people and volunteers who have supported it over the years. It’s all done because we all care.”

Larson, who competed in 2008 on the popular CBS reality series “Survivor, Gabon,” knew she had to use her 15 minutes of fame to accomplish something good. Reality Rally came from that desire.

“The whole thing started in the jungles of Africa,” Larson, who had auditioned for the show eight times before finally being chosen for “Survivor, Gabon,” said.

Larson said that once she arrived in the wilds of Africa, she found herself, not playing the game she so loved, but instead, ending up on a “five-week vacation.”

“They wanted an adventurous old woman and I was 61 at the time,” she said. “I played for six days I lost 12 pounds and was booted off second.

“We stay there; we don’t leave,” she explained. “For the first day or two, I was so bummed. The whole experience had not been exactly how I imagined it would be.”

Larson, who had never been one to feel sorry for herself for too long, began to train for the Komen Race For the Cure, while at the Ponderosa, the place “Survivor” kept the players who were voted out by tribemates.

“I took five hour walks every day,” she said. “I had been talking to the handlers, and I asked, ‘What do people do after ‘Survivor.’’ They told me that people get together and I thought, ‘Wait, maybe I can do something with this experience.’”

While she walked daily, she decided that many of those reality stars would support a good cause by extending their 15 minutes of fame through appearances.

“I love Temecula; I love this valley and I knew about Michelle’s Place,” she said. “I had read her story maybe three years before I competed, and it just struck me.”

So, Larson combined her interest in Michelle’s Place Cancer Resource Center, her love of Temecula and her passion for “Survivor” and the idea of Reality Rally was born.

Larson, who had blown out her shoulder while instructing others from the Ponderosa on how to body surf, spent her time recovering from the injury and planning Reality Rally.

“I went to talk to Kim Gerrish over at Michelle’s Place to see if she would be interested,” Larson said.

Gerrish jumped at the chance to raise funds for Michelle’s Place, which focused at the time on breast cancer patients.

Larson also reached out to Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington, who was a Temecula City Councilmember at the time, and others throughout the area who could help her bring Reality Rally to life.

Eventually evolving over the years to one of Temecula’s biggest events, Reality Rally began in 2010 as a two-day event with a reception party the first night followed by the “Amazing Race” style game the next day.

“There were two components to it,” she said. “But after year one, it was hard getting all of the reality stars into town in time for the visit to Michelle’s Place which was essential for their fundraising, something the stars are required to do to participate in Reality Rally.”

Larson decided the event needed to be three days instead of two to accommodate the reality stars travel and to ensure each star could take part in every aspect of Reality Rally.

This year’s Reality Rally will kick off with the Evening of Entertainment Fundraiser at Wilson Creek Winery Thursday, May 14, from 6-10 p.m., followed by the Reality Rally Lip Sync Showdown, Friday, May 15, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa.

Then Saturday, May 16, the main event kicks off on the steps of Temecula Civic Center at 8 a.m. as reality stars and teams take to the streets of Old Town Temecula for the Reality Rally Amazing Race game.

For Larson, as she embarks on her 10th year of Reality Rally, she looks back at the year’s past and gives all the credit for the success of the event, which has raised nearly half a million dollars for Michelle’s Place programming, to the hundreds of volunteers and event supporters.

“I gave birth to this baby in the jungle, but we are all raising this child. I love it, it is absolutely amazing how it has grown.”

For more information on Reality Rally, visit www.RealityRally.com.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at valleyeditor@reedermedia.com.