Not everyone on this year’s list of celebrities recruited to the Middle East for SAS Australia is doing it as a publicity stunt to redeem their careers or rebuild damaged reputations.
Take Doctor Craig Challen, one of the cave divers who lead the extraordinary rescue of 12 teenage soccer players and their coach from Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand in 2018.
Or the Seven network’s highly respected AFL field commentator, former player and Australian Survivor contestant, Abbie Holmes.
And what about former Bachelor and chiropractor Tim Robards? He went on to marry one of the participants, Anna Heinrich, and together they’ve carved out a happy, high-profile Instagrammable life with their daughter.
But, in the mix this year are a few in need of a makeover.
Among those buried alive in the first episode include Cassie Sainsbury – aka Cocaine Cassie, 28, who spent time in a Colombian prison for drug trafficking.
Olympic runner Peter Bol, 28, was falsely accused of being a drug cheat, award-winning actor Craig McLachlan, 57, has faced court, while champion Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice, 34, says the homophobic tweet she posted 13 years ago changed her life overnight.
Then there’s the group of controversial figures who’ve made the front pages over the years, including world champion boxer Anthony Mundine, 47, AFL Hall of Famer Jason Akermanis, 46, and Olympic gold medallist, diver Matthew Mitcham, who battled a methamphetamine addiction in 2011.
Taking this lot to a secret base in the Jordanian desert for 10 days of extreme challenges, “beastings” and living conditions beyond comprehension, is, once again, ex-Special Forces chief instructor Ant Middleton, who is back with Ollie Ollerton, plus there’s two new directing staff [DS], Jamie ‘Jay’ Morton and Anthony ‘Staz’ Stazicker.
But, it’s the private interrogations we all want to see, where they break down on national television, desperate to tell the stories behind the headlines and reveal their emotional and personal struggles so they can get on with their lives.
SAS Australia may well be the best therapy session they’ll ever get.
The Gold Logie winner has always denied claims of wrongdoing.
Last year, he cited his mental health when dropping his defamation case against Christie Whelan Browne, Nine and the ABC over reports alleging sexual abuse.
In the two-minute trailer released days before the October 9 premiere, a black hood is pulled from McLachlan’s head after he has been marched into the Mirror Room, so-called for its key function of “tactical questioning” or interrogations.
“I was found not guilty,” he tells the ex-Special Forces soldiers.
In a prepared Q&A by Seven, he was asked why he wanted to enlist in SAS Australia: “I wanted the opportunity to exorcise pain with pain.”
He said he was surprised at how thorough the ‘breaking down’ process was: “It requires you to be absolutely real. There is no way you can BS [bullsh-t] your way through it. Who you are will be revealed.”
With sage advice to future recruits, McLachlan says: “If it’s something you really want to do, understand in advance that you will have to respect the process.
” … know that you’re going to get screamed at, know that you’re going
to get called all sorts and you’ll probably hate it, but the DS do it for a reason. You must give yourself to the process wholeheartedly.
“If you don’t, you simply won’t reap the rewards. And you’ll have the sh—est time!”
Sainsbury volunteered for the show because she wanted “to give people a chance to see the real me”.
And as the four tough guys continue on their mission to break down each recruit and rebuild them to be the best versions of themselves, determining who, if any, have what it takes to be selected as a fellow SAS soldier, Sainsbury starts feeling the emotional pain early on.
Making headlines around the world, she was released from the El Buen Pastor women’s prison after being sentenced in 2017 for getting caught with a suitcase containing 5.8kg of cocaine. She had to serve another 27 months on parole.
In a March interview with the Herald Sun, Sainsbury says she “quite often gets told she’s a murderer”, has no real friends and is just trying to get on with her life.
Once she was on the ground in the Middle East and part of the recruitment program, it all got real when the DS ran or yelled at her: “For me, it was like the guards running at the inmates all over again.
“For me, it was the PTSD that [the show] forced me to face. I had to
acknowledge that prison had left a permanent mark on me.”
Olympic swimming champion Stephanie Rice, 34, says she wants to be the “best” she can be, adding there’s no way she would go out without a “big strong fight”.
She’s no stranger to challenges, having endured a Twitter scandal in 2010 that changed her life overnight, where she posted, then deleted a homophobic tweet after the Wallabies rugby game against South Africa.
“Winning three gold medals at the Beijing Olympics was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says.
“I was the golden girl of swimming; I could do no wrong. Overnight, that completely shifted. That tweet in 2010 definitely changed my life.”
Former three-time rugby league premiership player and three-time boxing world champion Anthony Mundine, says “yeah, you’re going to fail”, admitting he felt he was constantly on edge.
“But it’s not about the setback. It’s about the comeback. If I set out to do something, I’m going to do it. Period.”
Career suspended. Reputation trashed. Accused of being a drug cheat, says Seven, introducing the Australian athletics champion Peter Bol.
He was cleared of doping, but is the damage done?
Bol is determined to finish the course and pass selection, and with the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in August, the risk of injury on the course is a gamble he’s prepared to take.
“The only way you stay strong is by understanding what you stand for.
“This is the chance to show Australia what that is and who I am. The doping scandal has motivated me to be the best in the world.”
SAS Australia premieres 7.30pm October 9 on Channel 7 and 7plus
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