“Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test” is back for its sophomore season with an enticing slate of celebrities — including Tom Sandoval, Blac Chyna, JoJo Siwa and Tyler Cameron to name a few — all of whom had distinct reasons for coming on the Fox reality competition show.
“Everyone has a different motivation — Tom Sandoval wanted to be punished in a way and also prove himself — a bit of a public punishment — for what had happened,” EP Sophie Leonard told TheWrap, referencing the “Vanderpump Rules” star’s cheating scandal. “You’ve also got people who are quite controversial characters, like Blac Chyna. [She] wanted to show the public who she really is … there’s two different sides to her.”
Many contestants who have signed up for treacherous 10-day challenge have “something to prove,” according to Leonard, pointing to Jack Osbourne, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012. For others, putting themselves through the brutal tasks is a way to understand their veteran family members better, including NBA champion Robert Horry or “The Bachelorette” alum Tyler Cameron.
“Some people do it because they really want to know who they are — maybe they’re a bit lost,” Leonard said, adding that recently retired professional athletes like former NFL player Dez Bryant and Olympic gold medal-winning alpine skier Bode Miller might be searching for their next chapter. “There’s no better way to find out who you really are than when you’re in an extreme environment — your mask of who you project to the world is taken away — there’s no agents, there’s no hair and makeup — there’s no like green room where you can step out of it. This really is an immersive experience.”
Whereas casting for last season’s first try at the U.S. series started almost completely from scratch after adapting the U.K. format, this season representatives for figures across entertainment and sports reached out to the EP team to sign their client up. Additionally, the casting team reached out to potential contestants with the aim of securing a wide range of recruits, including varying ages, different types of careers, backgrounds, work and with all of the reality stars competing this season, did you think that you know, they were somehow able to embrace the situation as their reality more what was that dynamic? Likelived experiences.
“We knew the cast of Season 1 had really amazing experiences, and the best way to convince anybody is to talk to someone that’s done it, so we asked our cast of Season 1 to do testimonials,” Leonard said, adding that some previous cast members hailed the show as having a “massive impact” on their lives. “When you have somebody that’s gone through the experience explaining [their experience] firsthand to someone that’s thinking of signing up, it’s a really useful and informative thing for those new cast members to hear.”
In the below interview, Leonard previews what this season’s brutal New Zealand winter will bring, and why she thinks reality stars have a tougher time adjusting to the experience than their counterparts.
TheWrap: What are some new elements can viewers look forward to for Season 2?
Leonard: We have moved from the desert, which is extreme heat to the opposite end of the scale. We went to New Zealand, and we did winter warfare training, and it is freezing cold — it’s snow, it’s icy water. In the first season, people were literally like, ‘I’m so hot, I’m about to pass out,’ and in the second season, they’re freezing and shivering. We really went to the other end of the scale with the elements.
They’re incredibly brutal when you actually have to operate in those places, which is why special forces trains in those places, because it’s the most physically challenging environment and a really hostile environment and everything about the environment wants to kill you, which is quite fun to try.
With all of the reality stars competing this season, did you think they were somehow able to embrace the situation as their reality more than the others? What was that dynamic like?
I think, in a way, it’s harder for the reality stars, maybe because they have an expectation of what TV is, and they can’t do this show … You get the feeling that they’re like, ‘Oh, hang on a minute, when am I off camera?’ And it’s like, ‘no, you’re not ever off camera.’ We film 24 hours a day, so they don’t get a break.
That’s where that performance element that a lot of people have on reality TV just comes away, and it shows people who they really are. People that are in reality TV sometimes there is a level of performance involved — they’re themselves, but when we all go to work, we put on our best front, don’t we? When you’re doing a show like “Special Forces,” you might do that for the first few hours the first day, but believe me, when you’re freezing cold, starving, hungry, you’re haven’t had any sleep and you’re being dumped in a freezing cold frozen lake and being asked to remember mnemonics, you can’t pretend anymore.
How long do you think that it took most contestants to accept this was truly their new reality?
When they meet the DS [Directing Staff] for the first time because the DS are not acting — They’re not doing this for television, they’re doing it because this is what they’ve done for their jobs for however many years. As soon as the celebrities meet the DS, they realize, ‘oh, this is not a game’ — these guys really mean it, and they’re going to treat us like everybody’s equal. It’s an amazing leveler. [The DS] really want people to have a genuine experience and learn things about themselves.
Were there any challenges you had to adjust?
We try everything in advance. Our production team are the craziest, most hard working, extraordinary production team. When you see the celebrities running, you’ve got to remember the camera are ahead of them, running ahead and carrying a camera kit. When we’re doing all of our trial runs, and all of the tasks, our crew always volunteer to do the tasks, so we test it out.
All of our tasks, they can be run for longer or shorter. If someone’s being dunked under the water, they will bring themselves up when they’re ready to come up. And obviously, they will get judged by the DS about how long they were able to sustain the task for etcetera, etcetera, bu no, we would never make it easier for people. That would be against the “Special Forces” ethos.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.