In a brutal and emotionally-taxing profession like bull riding, the behind-the-scenes lens is usually trained on the cowboy athletes implored to mount 1,800-pound wrecking machines.
But what about the riders’ wives and girlfriends?
What goes through their heads as their partners – breadwinners of new families, fathers of their children – settle onto animals who will eventually hurt them, perhaps badly?
Who could possibly handle that level of stress week in and week out?
Fans can now enter this exhilarating, teeth-gnashing world in the new streaming docu-series, “Belles of the Bull,” which follows four PBR couples – Kaitlyn and Cooper Davis, Peyton Martin and Gage Gay, Jilian and Fabiano Vieira, and Brittany Paige and Stormy Wing.
Harrowing and hilarious at different turns, the series releasing today on Facebook Watch spans the five days of World Finals in Las Vegas, when the bulls are the rankest and the stakes the highest in an unforgiving sport.
The women of the PBR may shriek at the decibel level of a Russian tennis star (when a husband is launched into a steel corral).
They may furiously cross themselves (praying to God for safety and eight qualified seconds would be good, too).
They may cover their eyes (when his hand is tied into the sticky bull rope) at a rate much higher than the general population.
Yet aside from these recurrent tense moments, the couples of the PBR aren’t much different than the rest of us.
They get goofy and sip cocktails and play Top Golf. They run businesses. They cuddle their young ones. They talk about the future.
But playtime always fades into crunch time, and they head for the arena with everything (meaning life and limb) on the line. Along with a possibly huge payday. Or nothing; there are no guaranteed contracts and no money when a rider is bucked off.
“The money’s great, but for (Cooper), it’s more about being able to say, ‘I’m World Champion,’” Kaitlyn Davis explains. “People don’t understand; of course they do it for a living, but they cherish those gold buckles a lot more.”
To be strong and determined, and to sit powerless, able to do nothing when your husband is in that chute – that’s the dilemma for all belles of the bull.
The series uses a clever set-up mechanism to cover each day of World Finals, with CBS voices Craig Hummer, Justin McBride, Ty Murray and Leah Garcia setting up each crucial ride on the punishing march toward $1 million and the coveted gold buckle.
The cowboys get into the chute and the camera cuts to ordinarily strong, independent women… in this moment rendered completely powerless. The future rides on the will of their husbands, the whim of the bulls, and the grace of God.
“Your husband loves his job. And his job can kill him,” says Jilian Vieira, who with Fabiano has daughters ages 6 and 3. She is a pharmacist in Brazil now living in Decatur, Texas.
As Cooper wraps his hand, Kaitlyn Davis refuses to watch. “I’m too nervous. I want to tap out,” she says.
The music is pumping and the crowd is roaring, and Kaitlyn puts her head down on a premium YSL bag. It’s the ultimate in the old PBR connecting with the new.
Kaitlyn has her own expanding line of Reign eyelashes selling to 160 stores across the U.S.
“I’m a girly girl. I’ve always loved makeup, sparkles and glitter,” she says. “I’m like a fish: keep it shiny and come find me!”
Her bombshell sister, Brittany, from the self-professed “swamp people,” reality TV-friendly and dating Stormy Wing, is a sponsored athlete for Bombshell Sportswear, doing the Lord’s work of bringing out the fun-loving side of Wing, who like Gage Gay is trying to put an exclamation point and a few big dollar signs on the best season of his career.
“Stormy, does my butt look good?” she asks during an outdoor photo shoot.
“Yes, ma’am,” Wing replies.
Indeed, one of the coolest parts of the show is to be a fly on the proverbial wall around this go-for-broke Texas Cowboy, the one guy in the locker room who J.B. Mauney says you’d want by your side if ever attacked in a bar.
Wing is a portrait of professionalism, struggling mightily in the first three rounds yet keeping his composure because at an event like World Finals, the old saw applies: it ain’t over until it’s over.
“Sometimes that 8 seconds feels like 8 milliseconds. And sometimes like 8 years,” he says. “You have to keep trying and keep a positive mind.”
“The Midnight Rider” of course turns things around on the sport’s grandest stage, and it’s a lot of fun to see the couple enjoying Stormy’s success as the points and dollars accumulate. (Editor’s note: the couple has since separated.)
“Belles of the Bull,” an IMG Original Content production, was directed by four-time Emmy nominated storyteller Narumi Inatsugu, who found himself swept into the intensely tight and loyal world of PBR.
At one point after a day of shooting, Inatsugu, who is 6’ 4” 250 pounds, was approached by an overserved gentleman intending to start a fight.
“All of a sudden, out of the woodwork pop a swarm of five foot four, 140-pound bull riders yelling, ‘Don’t mess with my friend!’” he remembered. “It was amazing to see the strong bond of loyalty these cowboys have, especially to their own families.”
Maybe that kind of loyalty is more easily bred in a sport of significant sacrifices, most of them not readily apparent to fans.
Amid the amped-up energy of the unfolding championship in the playground that is Las Vegas, “Belles of the Bull” can get very serious.
Soft-spoken Peyton Martin was a 22-year-old single mom with little Bentley when she met Gage Gay.
Peyton’s dad and grandpa rode; she understands the highs and lows, the bruises and broken bones, and massive dedication needed to make it to the top of the PBR.
“I kind of feel I took away a little bit of (Gage’s) youth,” Peyton reflects, visibly choking up. “But that was his choice.”
It’s a choice Gage revels in – evident in heart-warming scenes capturing a close loving bond shared with his new son, ever present in a mini cowboy shirt.
“Peyton is the best mother I’ve ever seen,” Gage says. “She’ll do anything for Bentley.”
Avid fans will find many highlights as Wing rides big and makes it to his first World Finals short round while Cooper Davis, with his little cowboy Mack in tow, attempts to defend his Word Title.
The best part of “Belles of the Bull” is the man who’s missing.
We never see Dr. Tandy Freeman.
That’s because nobody in the show got hurt.
Everyone worked hard and played the same; maybe you do live harder when you can die faster.
Jess Lockwood took the gold buckle and the million bucks, becoming the youngest World Champion in PBR history. And after a week in Vegas, the Belles of the Bull were all downright exhausted.
“I can’t wait to get home to cook and be boring,” Brittany said.
Anyone who watches Belles of the Bull will suspect that is likely not to be.
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