REPOD S4E9 – Ukrainian Resilience: Tasha Tarkhanova, creator of Project Avatar, Ukraine

In Season 4, Episode 9, we share stories from Ukraine. We talk to Nataliya (Tasha) Tarkhanova of Hypno Dive, creator of the Project Avatar series of virtual escape room games. Project Avatar is an incredible virtual experience that plays like a live-action video game, where you are directing a live actor (the Avatar) through an enormous abandoned warehouse. With stylish, acrobatic moves and impressive special effects, tech and visuals, Project Avatar was a high point in quarantine-era virtual escape rooms.

Then war happened. On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, which began in 2014. This episode is a bit of a departure for us, but we wanted to share Tasha’s story. We begin with discussion of Project Avatar and escape rooms, but in the second half of this episode, we dive into how the invasion has turned Tasha’s life upside-down. It’s a heavy episode. It’s not graphic and there are no explicit depictions of death or violence, but Tasha candidly shares stories of the upheaval in her life and business. There is an emotional story of the war’s impact on her daughter that brought both David and Peih-Gee to tears.

woman with blue makeup and tribal like facial markings next to a stylized logo for project avatar. titled Ukrainian Resiliance: Tasha Tarkhanova, creator of Project Avatar, Ukraine

The stories that you’re going to hear are tragic and hilarious and kind of off-the-wall. Tasha is resilient, creative, and captivating. We think that this is a really important story to tell.

We are donating all of REPOD’s income from this episode to Direct Relief, earmarked for the crisis in Ukraine. If this episode touches you, scroll to the end of the show notes and click the button to donate.

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REPOD S4E8 – Expansion & Hospitality: Mark Flint, CEO of The Escape Game, USA

In Season 4, Episode 8 of REPOD, we return home to the United States for a chat with Mark Flint, CEO of The Escape Game (TEG). With over 26 locations in 14 states, TEG is positioned to offer a shared American experience. Many of their locations have the same games as locations in other cities, all with consistently high quality rooms, accessible venues in high-profile shopping centers, beautifully decorated sets, and friendly customer service.

Mark operates his company with a businessman’s brain and an escape room enthusiast’s heart. The emphasis on hospitality lies at the heart of The Escape Game experience. Their mission statement is Every Single Guest, and Mark shares insights on how he incorporates their mission into every location and experience.

escape room decorated to look like a moroccan marketplace, with image of smiling man in a suit, titled Expansion & Hospitality: Mark Flint, CEO of The Escape Game, USA

With their commitment to warm and welcoming customer service, well-maintained, clean lobbies and games, and an eye towards rapid expansion, The Escape Game reflects American values. Mark emphasized their in-house leadership training program, and in chatting with him, it was clear that his strong vision and leadership is reflected through his company.

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REPOD S4E7 – Fandoms & Foodies: Prolific Escape Room Designer Gai Bosco, Israel

In Season 4, episode 7, we head over to Israel, a relatively unexplored escape room region that has a bounty of creative, lighthearted themes. We chat with prolific escape room designer Gai Bosco of Cerebro, who has designed over 200 escape rooms, or roughly 25% of the Israeli market. Gai is not only an escape room creator, he is a mega-enthusiast and self-proclaimed nerd who got his start creating sci-fi fan fiction.

The Israeli escape room scene is teeming with family-friendly fandom themes, with escape rooms playing homage to many movies including The Lion King, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and TV shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother. One of the other notable and unique Israeli escape room themes we discussed culinary escape rooms, where you gather ingredients for a recipe and that you actually bake or cook over the course of your game.

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Gai is a passionate ambassador for Israeli escape rooms. His game The Sting is his love letter to escape rooms, and includes many enthusiast-insider nods and plays with the concept of escape room tropes. It was clear that Gai really loves his craft and wants to share the joy of Israeli escape rooms with the world.

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REPOD S4E6 – Blacklights and Blindsides: Dino Paulo, Survivor South Africa and owner of Hinthunt Africa

Attention: Survivor Spoilers in this post. We recommend you watch Survivor SA: Return of the Outcasts before reading on if you don’t want to be spoiled.
smiling man with curly short brown hair, wearing a survivor buff and necklace, and backpack, carrying a yellow tribe flag against greenery backdrop

In Season 4, episode 6, we chat with Dino Paulo, owner of escape room company Hinthunt Africa, located in Cape Town, South Africa. Dino also happens to be the winner of the reality show Survivor South Africa: Return of the Outcasts. In his first season, Survivor South Africa: Immunity Island, Dino was voted out early on. However, he established enough of a presence to return for an all-star returnee season, eventually winning the title of Sole Survivor.

This turnaround from downtrodden underdog to eventual winner is echoed in his experience as an escape room owner. Dino candidly shares the story of an early business partner who committed financial malfeasance, lessons learned, and how ousting the ex-partner was a bit like blindsiding someone in Survivor. He shares some of the difficulties in working with an escape room franchise. We also spend some time exploring the differences between American and South African Survivor.

Dino is a charming guest and extremely self-effacing despite his impressive achievements. He speaks from the heart, is guided by an analytical brain, and radiates boundless enthusiasm. It’s easy to see how he won Survivor (and our hearts).

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REPOD S4E5 – Epic Proportions: Jonathan Driscoll and Sacha St.Denis, owners of Escaparium, Canada

In Season 4, episode 5 of Reality Escape Pod, we headed to Canada to chat with Jonathan Driscoll and Sacha St.Denis, owners of Escaparium escape games, Nuit de Terreur haunted attraction, L’Atelier resto-pub game cafe, and Ezkapaz immersive experiences. As you can tell from their list of businesses, Jonathan and Sacha have big ambitions. Not only do they have over 30 escape rooms under the Escaparium brand, they have recently expanded into a haunted attraction with escape room elements, a game cafe integrated into their Laval location, and an immersive experience at a local speakeasy bar.

banner image with tall man with short brown hair, middle is a school aged child with long hair sitting crosslegged on a steel barrel, on the right is a smiling brunette woman with long hair. They are wearing matching black tshirts. behind them is a brick wall and yellow pipes. Titled:REPOD S4E5 - Epic Proportions: Jonathan Driscoll and Sacha St. Denis, owners of Escaparium, Canada

It’s not just the number of experiences that are epically sized. Their flagship games Rain Corp., Wardrobe for Sale, and The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen are jaw-droppingly enormous, filled with endearing characters, immersive puzzles, and touching storylines that actually made me cry. When setting out to build a haunt, Jonathan and Sasha didn’t want a generic maze. Instead, they created a haunted attraction that’s part maze, with mini-escape room elements and private immersive interactions.

It’s no easy feat juggling so many different projects. Jonathan and Sacha are supportive leaders and are extremely appreciative of their large creative team. The owners of Escaparium have managed to stay humble and are receptive to constructive feedback, while maintaining their ambitious aspirations. Escaparium is an immersive gaming brand of epic proportions. It’s hard to put into words how massive their games are, and that’s why I highly encourage you to visit their locations in Montreal.

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