In a landscape of copycat formats, the obvious question facing Australian Spartan has got to be, how is this show not an Australian Ninja Warrior clone, and how will the audience react?
Ninja Warrior began in Japan as Sasuke in 1997 before one of its adaptations, American Ninja Warrior hit NBC in 2009. To date there have been more than 20 different territorial versions, including the TV mega-hit for Nine in 2017.
Marathon obstacle course event Spartan Race began in 2010 in Vermont by founder Joe de Sena where elite athletes would test their endurance skills under gruelling cross-country conditions. A TV format Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge was born in 2015 -also on NBC.
Australian Spartan will hit the ground running on Sunday for Seven, buoyed by audience enthusiasm for the Winter Olympics, as only the second adaptation outside the US.
Co-host Edwina Bartholomew, currently in PyeongChang, will have a busy night, first in Spartan’s debut ahead of the closing ceremony.
She acknowledges shows of this scale stem back much further than the immediate Spartan vs. Ninja stoush.
“There’s nothing really new, I suppose. It’s the same audience who loved Gladiator growing up, or Who Dares Wins. It’s Event TV you can sit down and enjoy,” she says.
“I would suggest this one is glossier (than those), but it harks back to an era of big TV. You don’t see a huge investments in massive TV shows anymore. But when we turned up we were blown away by the investment and the effort.
“And when jaded people of 15 – 25 years in TV are impressed, hopefully the audience is too.”
Produced by Matchbox Pictures and Eureka Productions, the series filmed in Queensland in December. Each heat features 20 teams, with filming running well into the night.
“Everything looks slicker at night, doesn’t it?” she laughs.
“We were working in an old oil refinery out near Brisbane airport, which they had amazingly transformed into the Spartan arena.
“We started at 3pm each day and finished next day at 4am, so it was the total reverse of what I normally do on Sunrise.”
Joining her as co-host is Hamish McLachlan whilst former NRL player Wendell Sailor is sideline reporter. From 4 heats and a semi-final, 10 grand finalists will compete on an extended Spartan course for a $150,000 prize.
The biggest point of difference for the show is in its team-play challenge. Teams of 3 (down from 5 in the US) must work together to complete challenges in a Dry or Wet Zone.
“There’s a team called Bankers By Day who work in Finance but on the weekends they let their hair down, so to speak, competing in obstacle course racing,” Bartholomew explains.
“The common denominator with all of them is they’re bloody fit. They’re teams that can come from any part of Australia and New Zealand, as well.”
But muscle is only part of the gameplay. Sometimes a team will falter for other reasons.
“It draws on different skills with some teams. They may be more adaptable, flexible or communicate better,” she continues.
“These are people who have to work together to get through the course. The slogan is ‘No-one Triumphs Alone’ and that’s definitely the case.
“Often you will find it could be a lack of communication or a ‘gung-ho’ attitude that brings a team unstuck. But the ones who work together and help each other out end up winning.
“It’s nice to see the dynamic between them. And I was surprised that when they do fail you expect some negativity, but every single person said it was amazing, and enjoyed the experience together. So the team element adds to it.”
If 2017 viewing -where family-viewing pulled big audiences- is any indication, then Seven could be poised to unleash a new hit series, with a little help from the Winter Olympics.
“It’s tapping into nice, family entertainment as opposed to drama or violence where you have to send the kids to bed early,” says Bartholomew.
“At the end of the day it’s a great family show.”
Australian Spartan airs 7pm Sunday on Seven.