December 2007 Issue
For most fifth-graders, summer means swimming pools and keeping a close lookout for ice-cream trucks. But 9-year-old Cody Mendenhall of Newport spent part of his vacation helping transform a dusty, abandoned town in New Mexico into a functioning community.
This summer Mendenhall was one of 40 children from across the country chosen to participate in the new reality show on CBS-TV, “Kid Nation.” The show takes place in a ghost town called Bonanza City, where children make the rules sans adult input. Mendenhall got his big break after his father, Tim, tried out for another reality show, “Survivor” during an open casting call in Lima. Although Tim didn’t make the cut, producers noticed Cody. It was quite a surprise when the family got a call back that wasn’t for Tim.
|Cody Mendenhall and cast members from "Kid Nation" watch a game of charades.
The TV experience pushed Mendenhall, a fifth-grader at Lawrence Elementary, to Hollywood status among friends and classmates.
“They thought it was pretty cool me being on TV and asked me questions,” Mendenhall explains, “and I said you’ll just have to watch the show.”
For Mendenhall, the opportunity to be on television was too good to pass up.
“I was really excited, to tell you the truth,” Mendenhall says. “I was excited, nervous and happy. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that a 9-year-old would get to do once in probably 30 to 50 years.”
Bonanza City was bustling with fun for the young pioneers. Mendenhall took full advantage of the town saloon, which contained a generous supply of his favorite beverage, root beer. On one daring excursion, Mendenhall climbed to the top of a massive mountain, a feat he isn’t likely to forget any time soon.
However, life in Bonanza City wasn’t all fun and games. Being away from his family was a big adjustment for Mendenhall. He decided to cut his trip short and head home after 13 days.
“I missed my family,” Mendenhall says, “and I really missed my brother.”
Back at home, his mother Brenda says she saw a more responsible Cody.
“It [being on the show] gave him a better understanding of money,” Brenda says, “He asked me, ‘What can I do to earn money?’ He didn’t want us to just give it to him.”
Mendenhall adds that his experience taught him more than just the value of a dollar.
“The biggest lesson I learned was that any kid could be a good leader,” he says matter-of-factly. “It doesn’t matter the age.”