Zombies invade the Orange County Fairgrounds as part of Zedtown

In Features, Lifestyle
A player participating as a zombie with realistic makeup roams the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa as part of Zedtown USA.
(Caitlin Bartusick / Daily Titan)

A post-apocalyptic showdown between zombies and Nerf gun-wielding survivors made for a thrilling, adrenaline-fueled experience for participants in the Zedtown event at the Orange County Fairgrounds on Saturday.

Using actors, makeup artists, a mobile app and intricate storylines, Zedtown recreates popular forms of zombie media like “The Walking Dead” or “Zombieland” within a chosen venue. The four-hour game of zombie tag allows participants to immerse themselves in a doomsday fantasy while testing their ability to survive.

“There were some people that I just started talking to out of nowhere and started yelling, ‘Brains!’ while running after people,” said Cal State Fullerton alumna Kristina Van Hoogmoed. “It was really weird and a good opportunity to be silly and unleashed.”

Shakeera Khan, one of the creators of Zedtown, started organizing the event in 2012 with a small group of friends in Australia. Khan said what started out as an event with around 100 participants grew as people started bringing their friends along for the experience.

“This is the first game we’ve done this particular event out of Australia,” Khan said. “It’s one of the only genres that has that ‘What would I do if this was me?’ And I think that’s exactly what this is. It’s a real apocalypse, not as terrifying, but it gives you a good idea.”

The game brings the horror of flesh-eating zombies to reality. Participants are encouraged to dress in attire reminiscent of “Mad Max,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Hunger Games.” However, rules were in place to ensure a safe environment, including a ban on modified Nerf guns and tactical, intimidating outfits.

Nerf gun darts were scattered across the venue throughout the game — a sign of action-packed confrontations between players in different factions and lurking, life-like zombies. In the chaos of players running, hiding or stunning the zombies with their Nerf guns, the survivor count dwindled as players were tragically tagged by zombies.

But creating a zombie fear factor wasn’t supplied with the use of cheap makeup and phony costumes; wardrobe and costume designers skillfully dressed the 10 costumed non-player characters and initial zombies who roamed the streets of the fairgrounds scouting for victims to build their undead army.

The makeup process took approximately 15 to 30 minutes for each starting zombie, and about an hour for two makeup artists to work on each specialized zombie, said Amanda Levenf, the costume and wardrobe designer for Zedtown.

The Zedtown mobile app, which is linked to player’s dog tags, tracks the number of survivors and zombies. The app kept players busy with different missions to carry out, including gathering flags or fuel cans. Characters assigned as faction leaders rallied support from their members to gather more supplies and survive the zombie outbreak.

The app updates players achievements and allows them to tune into a call-in radio station for tips and receive status updates on the growing number of zombies. Once a player is tagged by a zombie, the zombie scans the participant’s dog tag and the victim proceeds to the zombie hub for a zombie makeover.

Much like “The Walking Dead,” survivors worried about zombie ambushes, hordes and other team factions trying to make it out alive. Among the security, medical and logistic factions, sounds of laughter, screams and dramatic war cries were heard as battles went on. It was only when a fearless zombie decided to make its presence known to the trigger-happy survivors that opposing factions would team up and take down the undead together.

Despite being separated into factions, the community spirit was alive in the undead game as players gathered among potential enemies in the beginning and left with new friendships and memorable stories to share with one another.

Crystalyn Kuhlneyer, 25, said it was exciting to participate in the first Zedtown game held in America and appreciated the heart-pounding experience where she made a few friends within her faction.

“It was a blast. It was just so much adrenaline. Even the first ambush when I lost pretty much my entire damn squad … that was terrifying. But I had a lot of fun,” Kuhlneyer said.

Zedtown currently has no set dates to return back to Orange County. The next planned event in the U.S. will be held in Texas on April 14 and Arizona on April 21.

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