Eighteen-year-old Brianna Olguin got the surprise of her life when the cast of The Buried Life, a reality documentary on MTV, arrived at her high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The show follows four friends as they travel across North America in a purple transit bus named Penelope and cross things off a list of “100 things to do before you die.” They checked Olguin out of her school in May and took her on a spontaneous trip to Italy.
“Two days before the trip, they walked into my school,” Olguin said. “I had to get ready that night then we flew to Los Angeles to get me a passport the next day. Then the day after that we flew to Italy.”
Olguin, who grew up in the Pueblo of Isleta, responded to a Facebook contest seeking an “honorary fifth member” to join the cast for the week-long trip. For eight days, she said, she traveled with “four guys and a camera crew.”
The Buried Life started in a garage in British Columbia, Canada, when four friends—Duncan Penn, Jonnie Penn, Ben Nemtin and Dave Lingwood—decided they were fed up with the status quo and wanted to do something different. They borrowed an RV, bought a camera from eBay and embarked on a two-week road trip to accomplish items on a bucket list.
The list grew to include more than 100 lofty goals, including playing ball with President Barack Obama, breaking into the Playboy Mansion, kissing the Stanley Cup and being on the Oprah Winfrey show. Along the way, the crew also began giving back to others while encouraging everyone to make their own lists.
When Olguin saw the Italy contest, she immediately responded. The daughter of an artist, she grew up hoping to one day see Italy.
“I wrote a long letter,” she said. “I wrote about the reasons I wanted to go to Italy. I wrote about my freshman year of high school when I learned about the Renaissance.”
The crew at The Buried Life was touched by Olguin’s letter, said Ariana Argend, production assistant for the show.
“I think what we were looking for was to give someone the hope or the chance to travel, to do something, even if you’re from a small town,” she said. “We wanted people to know that no matter who you are or where you’re from, your voice matters.”
The trip was a dream come true for Olguin’s father, an artist and former council delegate in the Pueblo of Isleta.
“My dad is a traditional artist,” Olguin said. “I never really knew my dad’s interest in wanting to go to Italy, but I would imagine he wanted to go. When he found out, he was wishing he could go with me. The trip was for him.”
Olguin and the guys visited Florence, the Vatican and the Colosseum, she said.
“I saw museums, paintings my teacher had taught me about,” she said. “The best part was being there for my family.”
Olguin, who wants to pursue a career as a nurse, said the trip opened her eyes.
“Being Native American, sometimes people don’t want to leave home because your culture is there,” she said. “When I was in Italy I realized that home will always be home. I can travel, but I can always go back.”
The guys also saw a transformation in Olguin.
“Brianna’s story inspired us because we know what it’s like to want to go out and travel when you’re young and stuck at home,” Nemtin said. “We’ve seen how much of a difference travel can have on your life. When Brianna got back from her trip to Italy, she was a totally different person. I could see she walked with more confidence.”
The trip inspired Olguin to make her own bucket list. At the top is a return visit to Italy—this time with her parents.
“My mom would love the scenery,” she said. “And my dad would love the art.”