TALLAHASSEE — What does it take to stay on the run from some of the country’s top law enforcement officers for 28 days?
Hilmar Skagfield knows.
“They want you to play like a game of checkers,” he said. “And we wanted to play chess.”
The 29-year-old Tallahassee native and friend Lee Wilson took home a $250,000 grand prize from the show CBS Hunted, which ended its first season Wednesday.
The duo, who have been friends since college at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., are the two-man team that eluded investigators throughout the show’s season. In all, nine teams competed.
They dodged attempts to track them with technology and state-of-the-art investigative techniques — no easy task in a world jammed with social media, drones, constant video surveillance and access to the internet.
While other players took the run-for-your-life strategy, Skagfield and Wilson overloaded the team that was hunting them by flinging red herrings in every direction.
One day, Wilson would be in charge. The next Skagfield would call the shots. They posted Craigslist ads and contacted everyone in their phones to throw off their hunters. By switching tactics regularly, it made it hard for some of the most brilliant minds in manhunting to keep up.
They were in Florida for eight days without being detected but never made it back to Tallahassee, which was a trove of information for people on the trail of two wanted men.
“We made sure we overloaded their system,” he said. “So they have to go back and review their steps. You’re on day 26 and these people are having to start over with this mound of data on their hands.”
They spent nights in houses where the flooring was still being laid. They camped for days. They got rides from strangers but also dug deep into their contacts trying to stay steps ahead of investigators.
Skagfield, who earned a degree in philosophy, worked at a tech company before joining the show. There he saw how data was being used and exploited and used that knowledge while on the run.
It also made him look closer at how much personal information is freely given up online.
“You begin to look at tech in a different light,” Skagfield said. “Yes. It’s provided me this thing, but what is this thing? Is it really valuable and worth all the info that I’m giving over?”
So what to do with all that cash?
“Tarpon fishing first,” he said. “Immediately we got the money and said, 'We’re going to go tarpon fishing.'”
Follow Karl Etters on Twitter: @KarlEtters