If you ever wondered how one-time Trump staffer Anthony Scaramucci, Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin or NFL veteran Danny Amendola would handle the physical and mental privations of military survival training, your oddly specific curiosity is about to be satisfied.
In the new Fox reality show “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test,” those three celebrities and 13 more will endure the most grueling aspects of military training at the hands of an elite cohort of former operators, including Marine veteran Rudy Reyes.
Reyes, 51, is best known for playing himself on the HBO miniseries “Generation Kill,” about the 2003 Iraq invasion. After wrapping up his seven-year career in Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance in 2005, Reyes went on to found ocean restoration nonprofit Force Blue and has worked on a number of film and television projects, including as a trainer on the UK-based show “SAS: Who Dares Wins.” “World’s Toughest Test” is the American version of that show, and, in Reyes’ view, it’s more than just entertainment.
“[It’s] a human revelation show disguised as military selection,” Reyes told Marine Corps Times in a December interview. “These are real, regular Americans, human beings, and we break them down to nothing, to less than nothing.”
Set in the blistering Jordan desert, the premise is simple: the celebrity “recruits” must outlast their fellow competitors in a series of challenges designed to push them to their breaking point. They can tap out anytime by surrendering a provided armband to a staff member.
“It’s always very frightening in the first few days because the recruits are dropping like flies,” Reyes said. “But … of course it all works out. Trust the process.”
The following conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
Marine Corps Times: How do you overcome the trappings of reality TV ― the cameras, the microphones, the crew ― to create an environment that feels like realistic military training for the show?
Rudy Reyes: All the cameras are hidden. And when you’re putting these recruits in such pain, and the environment and the desert itself has degraded them, the last thing they’re thinking about is who is watching. Our cameramen are very fit, some of them former forces like ourselves, and they wear the same cammies.
And since these civilians have never carried rocks, and never had to fight hand-to-hand or shoot weapons or whatever, there’s so much in your own head. The last thing they recognize is that one of these cats that’s running in the formation has a camera on their shoulder, because they’re dressed the same.
You’ll see these muldoons break down and cry. And at any time, they’re ready to freaking quit, because they can. Remember, I come from a world of real freaking war and hardcore stuff. You think I would put my name on anything that is not at my level?
Marine Corps Times: What are some of the toughest scenarios the contestants are going to encounter this season?
Rudy Reyes: Even the athletes are not used to combat, fighting each other and aggressively destroying each other. We will put men against women – you do not know who your enemy will be in combat, so you don’t get to choose by weight and height.
We choose who’s going to fight, put on the gloves, headgear, mouthpiece and you go. And we don’t call it until someone has been completely defeated, someone’s on the ground getting their head smashed. In the invasion of Iraq I did not sleep for about three weeks straight; you never know when the fight is up. We put them in [a vehicle like] the helo-dunker we do in the Marine Corps.
Remember, they have no they haven’t done this stuff before. The panic ensues; it’s pandemonium in the ring. We gas them as well ― the gas chamber, holy moley. It is amazing: SERE, gas chamber, hand-to-hand, we also do something called the red man where I am the red man, and they have to fight to get through me. So I fight one recruit after another. And I bring everything I can to bear.
Marine Corps Times: You’ve got four trainers on the show with a mix of special operations backgrounds: British Special Air Service, Navy SEAL. How were you able to put your unique Marine recon spin on things?
Rudy Reyes: Reconnaissance, I think we have a more personal way to engage. The pain, you take it personal. If you can’t sleep for three days, but you have to get to this bridge and set it up with explosives, which I did, you take it personal. There is no excuse.
In recon, we also love and care about each other very, very much. I’m still close to all my men; I think there’s a certain personal touch that I bring as a recon Marine. It’s what I do.
Marine Corps Times: What surprised you most about the contestants this season and where they succeeded and struggled?
Rudy Reyes: I came in from a time of extreme combat operational tempo, and there were very few women in our battlespace. I didn’t think that women had the bones and the muscles, maybe I didn’t think they had the savage aggression for that environment. But I have been so impressed that I’ve had to change my perspective.
A lot of our tasks are extremely physical, and [the women] are normally in the back. They’re getting crushed on the daily. But they do not give up. I’ve just been very impressed with the grit, the toughness and the intelligence of my female recruits. So I’ll be the first to say I believe there is a place for them in the special operations community.
Marine Corps Times: How long does it take for the recruits to reach a turning point where they start to be less phased by the chaos of training and begin performing better?
Rudy Reyes: It’s so condensed and intense. We lose a lot of recruits very quickly, I’ll just say that. And those that stay are galvanized by Day 4 or 5.
Marine Corps Times: Why is it important that an American audience gets to see this show?
Rudy Reyes: I think it is about time that our country comes together and recognizes the men and women who lay it all on the line. It wasn’t just in Iraq and Afghanistan; it’s happening always. I think the cost is very important to know ― our country needs to come together and value the men and women who have gone before and given us this incredible prosperity. That means the world to me.
“Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test” premieres Jan. 4 on Fox.
Hope Hodge Seck is an award-winning investigative and enterprise reporter covering the U.S. military and national defense. The former managing editor of Military.com, her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Politico Magazine, USA Today and Popular Mechanics.