Groupon contestIt sounds like the deal of a lifetime: Spend a year eating out at restaurants, living in hotels, skydiving and doing other exotic activities, all for free. And at the end of the year, collect $100,000 for your troubles.

Troubles? What troubles could anyone have after living such a high life? The kicker, and it's a heck of a kicker in the "Live off Groupon" challenge, is that the person chosen for this year of living wildly has to do it with nothing more than a free, unlimited supply of Groupons to give to merchants for everything from food and clothing to hotel rooms, bus rides and massages.
All possessions will be taken away during the year and put in storage. That means no apartment to rent, no bank account, credit cards or cash to pay for life's incidentals, such as toilet paper and underwear. Nothing. You enter the contest as you enter the world -- naked -- with a suit of clothes made from Groupons that will, hopefully, include one accepted by a nearby tailor.

"The idea here is someone can survive off just nothing but Groupons," Andrew Mason, 29, the company's CEO, told WalletPop in a telephone interview from his office in Chicago.

WalletPop has covered Groupon before. The service is available in 30 cities, allowing users to purchase coupons worth about 50% with a local merchant by agreeing to "buy in" with other customers. Once enough people agree to buy the deal, usually within 24 hours, it's sold at the sale price and people can redeem it later.

A customer paying $50 for a $100 meal at a five-star restaurant, for example, is getting a 50% deal. The Groupon challenger would get the $100 meal free without paying for the coupon, but may have to find someone to share the meal with since Groupon deals don't always include tax and tip. The $50 fee would be waived for the contestant, making it totally free.

The company will give the contestant a camera, phone, GPS and computer to document the experience by blogging almost daily. The hotels, transportation, food and other stuff Groupon expects to give to the contestant will be worth more than $95,000.

"He's going to basically be a living, bottomless Groupon person," Mason said.

And cashless. Because tax and tip aren't always included in its restaurant deals, the person will have to make friends and invite someone with some money to join them for a free meal. Groupon deals can't be sold for cash or bartered during the contest, said Mason, who expects the Groupon online community to help police the event.

"If the guy cheats we're going to be pretty ruthless about booting him out," he said.

But it won't be ruthless in health care, and will subsidize the contestant's health care during the year.

"We're interested in seeing this person struggle, but not perish," Mason said.

About 150 people have applied for the contest. The deadline to apply is Feb. 24. A winner will be selected in March and will start working in mid-April.

Some applicants are submitting Youtube videos, including Ian O'Dea, 21, who is about to graduate from college and promises to be the "dirty jobs guy" of Groupon, who will skydive with a rented monkey while taking yoga if he has to.

O'Dea, who lives in Chicago, told me in an e-mail that the only real downsides he sees to the contest is that he'd lose his iPod and thus his music collection, and going out to concerts and other live shows would be limited because Groupon doesn't offer much of those.

Whoever gets the job -- and that's what it might as well be since they'll probably have to quit their job and live off nothing but Groupons for a year for the $100,000 payoff -- will have to give up a lot while gaining a lot in return.

"Think of how terribly we're going to spoil this person," Mason said.

Living in hotels and eating at fine restaurants sounds great, but consider the possibility of gaining weight and the simple pleasures at home of snacking on your couch or sleeping in your own bed. And if you're married or in a relationship, this may not be a good time to go off on your own for a year.

Mason said the best candidate is someone who is struggling to find their purpose, is entertaining but hasn't figured out how to get paid for it, and is a competent writer who is amusing to observe.

"They're amazing at doing all sorts of different things, none of which they're able to get paid for," he said.

If someone can live off free deals for a year without using cash, it will be a heck of a payoff.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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