PHOTO: Shelby McAuliffe
PHOTO: Shelby McAuliffe

A Disco Reverend Turns Bingo Into A Ski Town Revival

This ain't your grandma's bingo

Like the beginning of any other skier's story, Rusty Reams found his way to Tahoe in 2003 after college to ski. "I moved out here because of the mountain-lake culture, the deepest storms, the legendary history, Shane McConkey," says Reams. "It just made sense."

But he stayed for the bingo.

Where most see bingo as a game for the elderly (it’s excellent during senior social hour), Reams saw an opportunity to create a revival. Based out of Squaw Valley, Reams has spent the last five years convincing skiers that bingo is their game, too.

As it turns out, bingo is a great way to entertain mountain towns mid-week at night. And the hours open up his days to get on the hill. "People get creative as ski bums," says Reams. "Some people work as musicians, some as dishwashers...I bingo." He gets in 100-plus days of skiing a year and works nights by hosting a twist of the game that he says "ain't your Grandma's bingo."

Reams' bingo is an amalgamation of funk, lights, dancing, laughter, and a packed house. He is inspired by a '70s theme--think Saturday Night Fever meets George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. DJs are dressed in 'sweatsedos' and bumping out funk tunes. 'Bingo-go' dancers are in gold sequins, flared bell bottoms, and giant wigs.

Acting as his stage persona, called 'The Reverend,' Reams is on stage calling out numbers with a tambourine, gavel, air-ball machine, a tailored three-piece suit, and a fedora. He has a thick handle-bar mustache and a long red mane of hair.

Five years in, Reams' Great Bingo Revival has spread beyond Tahoe. He hosts bingo games at festivals, fundraisers, and parties all over the states. Recently, he called a game of bingo high in the jet stream on a Southwest flight to Orlando. Next winter, he plans to branch out on a bingo tour that visits ski resorts across the country.

I took a year off from Tahoe and ended up in Eugene, Oregon, on my birthday. Randomly, I found myself at a bingo game, and I won! Everybody at the bar was singing to me and cheering me on... That was the moment I fell in love with the game.

People need bingo more than they ever have before with headlines running a muck--the president’s exploits, global warming, etc. People need a release from the stresses in the world and they find it in bingo. We specialize in therapeutic bingo for the world's stresses.

Funky mountain people need a place to get freaky and we throw down a party. People come to ski towns to have a good time, whether it be vacationing or ski bumming. You ski and have fun during the day and you do the same at night. We ski hard and we bingo hard, and you will, too.

I'm hoping to tour the world playing bingo and skiing every day. I want to create a bingo empire. I want to take it intergalactic and be planet earth's Premier Bingo Caller. I want to hit up all the ski towns and ski powder everyday so that one day I can sit next to my slopeside mansion thinking of all the fun games we played.

I've seen it all on stage. Everything from tie-breaker lap dances to naked people running around. One night, the winner of a pair of gold, spray-painted cross-country skis ski-jumped off the stage into the crowd.

Putting a onesie on somebody as a prize and watching it fit like gold only to see them with it on the hill the next day, to me, validates the awesomeness of the whole experience.

Bingo is the drinking man's chess. It offers so much. The fact that you can sit together with friends and socialize over a couple of beers or play by yourself shows the versatility of the game. There is fun all around.

At least once a day I get a called out for being 'The Bingo Guy.' It’s gotten to the point where it happens all the time.