Aaron Thomas Raye’s fledgling acting career will take a reality-series turn this month when the 14-year-old from Newburgh participates in “Karma,” a competitive outdoor adventure series described as a “kids’ ‘Survivor.’”
All eight episodes of the show are scheduled to be released June 18 and will air on the new HBO Max streaming platform.
“It’s so authentic and unscripted it even surprised me because you watch those kinds of shows and you’re like, ‘There’s no way that could happen, that’s staged, it’s fake’,” said Raye, who will be a freshman at Hampden Academy in September. “But there’s no way it was because I was the one competing.”
Raye spent three weeks filming the series last July after being one of 18 participants ages 12 to 15 selected from 14,000 applicants.
The show was set in the California wilderness at an altitude of 6,000 feet, with nine two-person teams competing for a first prize of $50,000.
“The higher you got, the harder it was to breathe, so even if I was in really good shape the altitude would knock me down,” Raye said. “Everything we did that’s hard at zero altitude was three times as hard all the way up there.”
Raye and his teammate, Andi, competed against eight other teams in a variety of physical and mental challenges, all based on the laws of karma.
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“I didn’t believe in karma before the show,” said Raye, whose team chose to be guided by the law of connection, or how one step of a process leads to the next step. “I honestly thought it was blind luck that I got on the show, and it was just such a good opportunity, but as the show went on karma displayed itself and it was pretty cool.”
The winning team of each challenge then selected two other teams to enter the Cave of Karma for another competition, with the loser of that activity eliminated from the show. That process continued to reduce the field until the champion was crowned.
“There was no break,” said Raye, the son of Mike and Monica Raye. “It was fun, but tiring.”
Raye can’t reveal how he fared on “Karma” until after the series’ release, but the middle-school football player compared its competitive level to his experiences at home with older brothers Mikey and Andy Raye, teammates on Hampden Academy’s Class A state championship boys basketball team last winter.
“I might not play the same sports or work out with them, but I’ve been around all that they have pushed through over the years to be the best they can be,” he said. “That perseverance to not give up was just molded into my brain.”
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Raye was the youngest participant in the competition — just 13 when it was filmed. That concerned his mother, who accompanied him to California, but along with the other parents on hand had no direct contact with their children during the production.
“It was pretty intense for me because he’s the third of three boys and I’ve never been away from him for that long without any contact,” Monica Raye said. “By the time we talked to the producer a couple of times, we knew he was the youngest one, and my thought was that he was going to be the immature one because you never know how they’re going to portray them when they air the show.
“But afterward when I got to see him it was amazing. He was a totally different kid when he first got back. I thought he grew a little bit, and he did mature while he was out there.”
Aaron Thomas Raye has been acting since age 8 and made his movie debut in an uncredited role in “Bluebird,” a 2013 production filmed in the Millinocket area.
He originally sought a larger part.
“I guess I didn’t know being the lead in a movie was cool back then because when I auditioned I couldn’t do it because I was laughing too much,” he said. “I was really little, but I got to walk off a bus and build snowmen.”
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Raye also has worked as a model and is affiliated with Dynasty Models and Talent Agency Inc. in Boston, which helped him secure the “Karma” audition.
Raye now is cast in another movie that will film in Boston, though production has been stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the exposure he’ll gain from his “Karma” appearance will benefit his career goals no matter the competitive outcome.
“I think it’s going to look really good on my resume,” Raye said. “This is all like show business, obviously, and I think having my name at least somewhere out there, whether it’s a reality TV show or a movie, is really good for me. If someone were to look me up for a job, they’d see I’m not completely new to this.”