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Chad Windham

Next time you go to Club Med, definitely try their white-chocolate bread. But whatever you do, don't try shadowing a GO, because you won't survive.


It's been two days, and things have only gotten worse. My thighs feel as if they were jackknifed full force by a Pro Bowl-bound linebacker with rage in his eyes. My right shin is engulfed in a case of debilitating shin splints, inflicting a throbbing pain I haven't felt since my 80-mile-a-week running days in high school cross-country. And my abs feel like they took an unprovoked jab from a rabid heavyweight. There is something terribly wrong about the source of all this pain, though, since I participated in none of the above activities. What I did was spend what I had thought was going to be a lazy day in paradise working as a Club Med GO in the Turks and Caicos Islands. I stand corrected.
 
GO stands for Gracious Organizer, a signature staff position at every Club Med since the French all-inclusive vacation concept was founded by a Belgian water polo champion in 1950. Though what their work responsibilities entail depends on the labor laws of any given country, at Club Med Turkoise, most front-of-the-house employees are GOs, with gigs like bartender, front-desk clerk, sports instructor, manager of leisure activities, the usual - and in addition to performing the tasks associated with these jobs, they also socialize with the guests (so the girl who checked you in last night may be sharing a Bahama Mama with you the next night). During the day, most have secondary duties like organizing the water polo matches and teaching guests how to sail. On average, a Club Med employs about 120 GOs per property (or one GO for every five to seven guests).

In years past, GOs had a reputation for being hosts of hedonism, too, but when an article in Jane earlier this decade actually exposed a few as such, it proved too much for this vacation giant once accused of exploiting the "poor and the weak" in a song by Camper Van Beethoven. It was time for change.

There are new rules for the GOs (put in place in 2000) - like no shots and no more Red Bull discounts - and Club Med has spent the past few years slowly changing its tune, converting its bare-bones villages in the Bahamas, in the Caribbean, and in Mexico from middle-of-the-road destination hotels to a more upscale lifestyle concept fit for families. The $60 million renovation of its Buccaneer's Creek property in Martinique and the new $24 million Cancún property are the company's new face. Total cost of reputation makeover to its 80 resorts worldwide: an estimated $125 million per year between 2005 and 2008.

Given that my body currently feels somewhere between having been run over by a freight train and having been drawn and quartered, I would have preferred spending 24 hours as a GO in a Club Med of yore - I mean, who couldn't handle losing a day drowning in umbrella drinks, beautiful people, and bikinis (or Speedos, as the case may be)? Instead, the new Club Med has done far more damage to me than a few cocktails ever have, thanks to a GO named Brian Tranbarger.