hahaha! wow lentil! I don't know why we cater to be honest ;) just kidding! I do it for the smiles at the end of the day.
I forget the wording that Anna used from pink cake box but it was as you mentioned some sort of flimsy plastic type layers, but some of their stands hold over 200 cupcakes.
I want to try making some cupcake stands by using the fake cake circles (styrofoam) using them as the center of the tower, going smaller up as they reach the top and for each layer using a thin to medium size 1/4" piece of wood as the base of each layer. then decorating with foil, paper, ribbons, you name it. I think attaching all of this using glue would suffice, if not i'm sure there would be a way to anchor it.
Pink cake box has been a great inspiration for me, im making a 3 tiered topsy turvy specialty cake, this cake will only be for practice, it will be inspired by some of the cakes on her site.
Hope i've helped thus far! :)