Outback Hopeful

Graham Michael Freeman, a UCI alumni, will be leaving for Australia in two weeks to compete for Tourism Australia's official Outback Adventurer. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / June 3, 2013)

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Graham Michael Freeman was seated in a makeup chair before going on “KTLA 5 Morning News” when he recognized Heidi Klum in the neighboring spot.

Freeman was to be interviewed about landing a spot in the top 25 for Tourism Australia's “Best Job in The World” contest, while Klum was on hand for another segment. A conversation sprouted, and the Rancho Cucamonga resident requested the German supermodel's support in his current quest — to be crowned Outback Adventurer of the country's Northern Territory.

“She commented on how I only needed a minute of makeup, and she had been there since the early hours of the morning,” Freeman said.

Before leaving, Klum posed for a photo with Freeman and later even retweeted a message from him as encouragement.

Klum is among the well-wishers who are pushing for Freeman to become one of the top three contestants for Outback Adventurer. The contest, one of several run by Tourism Australia, chooses one person to roam the country's outback and document his or her experiences online for six months.

According to Leo Seaton, corporate media relations manager for Tourism Australia, an Outback Adventurer must be “full of life” and possess an “adventurous spirit.”

“The Outback Adventurer will get up close and personal with Australian wildlife, sleep under the stars in a bush camp, soar across postcard-worthy landscapes in a hot-air balloon, be immersed in indigenous culture, taste traditional bush foods and gaze upon breathtaking sunsets at Uluru,” he said.

The position comes with a $100,000 salary package, in Australian dollars — half of which will be spent on living expenses. But it comes with duties, including creating content, which will be distributed to media outlets and across the social stratosphere.

“Overall, Graham's entry was a standout based on his excitement for the position, his love for travel, animals, people and his strong storytelling background,” Seaton said.

Daniela Ruah of “NCIS: Los Angeles” and comedian Christopher Titus — also at the KTLA studio that May morning — as well as South African professional golfer Ashleigh Simon, TV actress Samkelo Ndlovu and “Hotel Rwanda” star Mothusi Magano are some of the celebrities who have since endorsed Freeman.

More than 450 people, some encountered during his travels and others complete strangers, also submitted photographs of themselves holding placards reading “Team Graham for the Outback.”

These demonstrations of support, combined into a video and submitted to the organizers of the global competition, set Freeman apart from among 330,000 applicants across 196 countries.

“It was amazing and very humbling to see people rallying together,” said Freeman, 24, who recalls being hopeful but not thinking too much about the opportunity, which he likened to “winning the lottery.”

Born in Sandton, South Africa, Freeman, who graduated from UC Irvine in 2011, closely followed the first competition in 2009, which earned Englishman Ben Southall the title of Island Caretaker of Hamilton Island in Queensland.

The “Best Job in the World” contest resonated with Freeman, whose childhood was spent learning about birds and animals, capturing scorpions and lending a hand at his uncle's safari camp. The contest, launched four years ago, includes six dream jobs, including that of a wildlife caretaker in South Australia, a chief funster in New South Wales and a park ranger in Queensland.

“I like being outside and removing myself from the hustle and bustle of daily life,” said Freeman, who was only 10 weeks old and strapped onto his father's chest during his first camping trip, while his mother hoisted a collapsible crib.

He now frequents Joshua Tree and Yosemite. He has spent six months backpacking across China, India, Thailand and South Africa and taught English to members of the Masaai tribe in Kenya, living out of a mud hut without electricity and flowing water. Despite his dedication to staying fit, Freeman isn't likely to be spotted in a gym — he prefers to get his exercise outdoors.

If chosen the winner, Freeman, a believer in “forget the plans, eat with your hands and always talk to strangers,” is looking forward to everything from cage diving with crocodiles in Darwin to interacting with Aborigines.

Toward this end, Freeman and his fellow contestants, Aude Mayans from France and Allan Dixon from Ireland, will depart for Australia on Sunday and do a press tour and interviews with Tourism Australia, after which they will fly to the outback to participate in challenges. The Outback Adventurer will be unveiled in a live show June 21 in Sydney.

Counting down to his departure, Freeman is already concocting ways to share his time Down Under with the UCI community, old friends and like-minded new ones.

“UCI really shaped me — I grew during those four years in college,” he said. “A lot of my connections and support have come from here. I have a lot of local pride, and I want to share that with the world.”

Southall and Freeman are looking forward to finally meeting each other. The former, happy that his work inspires people, considers “the world as one giant classroom.”

“Being able to meet Graham in person in a week's time will be great, as his morals and adventures are very much of the same ilk,” he said, adding a word of advice for the next winner: “Be prepared for a huge workload, embrace every opportunity that comes your way and don't go to bed early or wake up late — six hours sleep is always enough!”