“People often ask me, ‘Are you a daredevil or an adrenaline junkie?’ and I am neither of those. But I am someone who likes to test things out, explore and push things to the limit,” Todd Sampson explains.
“I was scared in all of these. It’s not like I thought ‘That looks easy!’ I was scared but I was managing it as best I could.”
In the 6 episodes of Life on the Line, Sampson hurls himself into extreme challenges involving fire, bullets, heights and brute force, in a test of will and science. In his third solo TV series, Sampson puts physics to the test, with his own mortality as the guinea pig.
“My goal from the beginning was to merge together a couple of genres. I wanted to create a smart adventure show, collide Brian Cox and Bear Grylls together,” he says.
“They can be entertaining and you get information.”
“It’s kind of how I live my life,”
But didn’t he put his Life on the Line on the high-wire in Redesign My Brain? Wasn’t he risking it all climbing Everest in Body Hack? Sampson insists his shows each have a point of difference.
“Redesign my Brain was neuroscience, about how we can adapt and change for the better.
“Body Hack is a whole bunch of extraordinary people living in the world today, who have learned how to adapt to do things differently. My mission is to find out the tools and techniques that they use and bring them back to make them relevant to our lives.
“Life on the Line is completely different, exploring the natural laws of the world hopefully in an entertaining way.
“I’m not standing there presenting things in a passive voice. I’m actually doing the things I say can happen, in each episode. So yes, it is true that they are all immersive. They are all about human potential, they are all about pushing to extremes.
“It’s kind of how I live my life, and how I encourage my kids to live their lives: to go for it. Without getting ‘Pollyanna’ we can do a lot more than we think, and science is showing us how.
“I see them as completely different journeys. Body Hack is about them, not me. But because I’m immersed in their culture I try to do what they do.”
And with more Body Hack coming on TEN (he has just returned from filming in Mongolia), Sampson is in demand. Thankfully both ABC and TEN are happy to share the spoils, affording him the best of both worlds.
“Some shows match better to some networks than others, but both networks have been brilliant. They provide the freedom to make the content you want to make. But I’m excited to be back on the ABC because as you know it all started with Gruen.”
In the first episode of Life on the Line, he barrels feet first into an 800-degree inferno on a custom-made sled with only a dousing of water and its heat capacity to stop him from being burnt alive.
“One of the scariest was episode 2 where I stand in front of an AK47 in a swimming pool,” he recalls.
“We were testing friction and the theory is that above-water an AK47 can fire roughly 2km on a right angle. But underwater, according to the laws of resistance, it shouldn’t be able to hit me at point-blank range.
“Let me tell you…. that got my attention. I can’t describe to you the feeling of standing in front of an AK47. Even though I know 100% that the science is certain –it does open your eyes.
“The 1 tonne wrecking ball that was inches from my face when we released it, came back inches from my face. That was also a little bit hard. So many errors could have happened.”
“A lot of things failed…but the goal is my safety”
Is he worried viewers may becoming blasé about his death-defying challenges? Indeed might they be wanting the car-crash voyeurism, where something goes wrong?
“Maybe…. I think fundamentally people want to be entertained and want to learn something on that journey. I don’t think people are just sitting there thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be great if….’ But some may, and this show opens up the possibility of that, because they are all experiments,” he continues.
“They don’t go right a lot in this series, a lot of things failed. But the goal is my safety, so we wouldn’t do an experiment that we thought wasn’t going to work. As much as I like making science and adventure shows that would be silly.”
And for the record, he has the approval of his family in each of his extreme challenges.
“There’s a misconception around my family,” he admits.
“They’ve seen all 6 episodes but if you ask my wife, she would say when it comes to life in general, of the 4 of us, I’m the weakest link!
“My 8 year old watched the series and said ‘Dadda why are you always looking so scared?’ And my oldest daughter kept saying ‘I would have done that!’
“I don’t believe fear should define our lives. It’s important and it’s a biological force, but it’s a yellow light not a red light.
“Science tells us we are the only species on the planet that can feel fear and then go through it. Every other species has to react instinctually but we don’t have to.”
Todd Sampson’s Life on the Line airs 8pm Tuesdays on ABC.
Warning: Please do not attempt these experiments. They are potentially fatal. All experiments have been conducted with safety professionals.