17 famous Australians have put themselves through punishing conditions, being dropped by choppers into ice-cold waters, with no flushing toilet or hot showers, living conditions between -5°C to 8°C and sleeping on cots, with one sleeping bag and an army blanket.
There’s no prize for making it to the end of the gruelling SAS Australia course and nobody is actually recruited into anything. So why would anybody undergo it? A network cheque? Ego? To jumpstart a flagging career? All of the above?
According to Chief Instructor, Brit Ant Middleton, some do it to reset public perceptions.
“Maybe they’ve been misinterpreted by the media, by one story that’s defined their whole life. … misinterpreted by an article, by a photo that’s been taken of them, and they want to come out and prove that they’re not that person,” he explains.
“They have the opportunity to define themselves in front of their nation.”
SAS Australia is based on a UK format SAS: Who Dares Wins (not to be confused with 1996’s Who Dares Wins). Middleton served in the Special Boat Service, Royal Marines and 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, including tours in Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, and North Macedonia. Since 2015 he has fronted the reality series in which both civilians and celebs have tested their endurance through unforgiving challenges.
He insists the condensed training course replicates elements of Britain’s SAS selection process, and that the celebrities are all known by a number, not a name. In many cases Middleton and his team have no idea what the 17 Aussies are actually famous for.
“I don’t care who you are”
“I don’t care who you are, where you’ve been, where you’ve come from, the slate is wiped clean. You are a number until you prove otherwise. That way, it just keeps everyone on a level playing field.
“If you haven’t got what it takes, or if the course is simply not for you, you can hand in your number. You literally take off your armband, and hand in your number,” he notes.
“You either pass the course, or you fail the course. There’s no winners at the end of it. We might have one that passes the course, or none that pass the course.”
Testing their stamina are such names as Schapelle Corby, Firass Dirani, James Magnussen, Merrick Watts, Nick Cummins, Roxy Jacenko and Shannan Ponton.
Middleton insists the course will test not just the physical but the character of participants.
“What we do is flip the mirror on people”
“What we do is flip the mirror on people. We identify who they are, and we flip the mirror. And a lot of people don’t like what they see,” he maintains.
“The moment we identify the real them and we show them a snippet of themselves… if they don’t know themselves, if they don’t acknowledge that, then you’ll see them hand in their numbers very, very quickly.”
There are 41 fixed cameras at base. Producers are also forbidden from interfering in the course, and no-one enters the base apart from the recruits, Middleton’s team and a doctor. Recruit injuries include fractured ribs, hypothermia and stitches.
“They struggle with the bare basics”
“They struggle with the bare basics,” he says of the recruits. “I’m talking about dressing themselves, feeding themselves, watering themselves, grabbing a map and a compass and making their way around… it’s quite shocking.
“They’re constantly wet and cold and miserable. That’s just psychological. There’s nothing physical about that. We’re just teaching them to dig into their mental reserve in order to keep themselves alive.
“The people that you think aren’t going to last too long, probably will”
“The people that you think aren’t going to last too long, probably will and people that you think that will last longer, probably don’t. You’re definitely going to see a whole different side to them,” he continues.
“You’re going to see the true them. We cut away the armour. We see a chink in the armour, we drill into that, break it all away and we expose them to themselves.
“I was quite surprised at how how willing they were to us doing that.”
SAS Australia premieres 7:30pm Monday on Seven.