In last week’s premiere, “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test” unveiled a slew of challenges that pushed the show’s new “recruits” to their limits.
Four of the 16 celebrity participants were eliminated, including TV host and celebrity addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinski. He joined singer Montell Jordan and reality star Kate Gosselin, who were medically eliminated from the show. Celebrity chef Tyler Florence left voluntarily.
“I got sicker than crap in like an hour,” Pinski told Military Times. “I just went completely down. It caught me so off guard. They took me to the hospital, I was in the ICU a few hours later, and I was going in and out, I was not there. I’m furious about that.”
Despite the short tenure on the new FOX reality show, which forces recruits to complete challenges out of the Special Forces selection process playbook, the trials the celebrities faced in the Jordanian desert made a family of them all, Pinsky said.
“No matter how long you spent in the camp, we were all equally bonded,” he added. “It’s very strange, but we’re all close friends now. It was that camaraderie, that closeness, that connection to each other that made it tolerable. ... We were sort of in it together.”
During the episode, participants were ordered to run two miles in the Wadi Rum Desert and jump out of a helicopter into the sea, among other tasks that tested mental fortitude and physical strength.
“It could traumatize you really easily,” Pinski said. “You do a lot of psychological screening before you go in and a lot of psychological follow up. ... I could see where, if somebody were traumatized, watching the show could be a little problematic.”
Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy, who is still in the game, said parts of the show were surprisingly difficult despite making a career as a professional athlete.
“I’m used to pushing myself and pushing my body and dealing with injury and setback and digging deep,” he said. “But when I was training for the Olympics, at the end of the day, if I was sore, hurt or frustrated, I got to go back to my hotel room or my house and shower and have a nice meal and be in a comfortable bed. This was like all of that same pain, then being on a cot [with] wet clothes.”
Both Pinksi and Kenworthy explained that the show was different from reality TV in that the experience wasn’t one that felt filmed. While in the tents or carrying out select tasks, for example, the recruits were not typically followed by a film crew. Instead, the show employs hidden cameras and drones to provide an experience more authentic to a Special Forces training environment.
“When we were in the barracks, it was just the cameras that were mounted everywhere, so you really forget that you’re even being filmed,” Kenworthy said. “It definitely allowed you to be present in that and buy into it, because it felt very, very real, and there was no break from it.”
At one point later in the season, Kenworthy is set on fire, which can be seen in the previews for later episodes. That, however, was not the worst thing that happened to him, he said. For Kenworthy, being yelled at by the crew, the ex-U.S. and U.K. special operators, was the hardest part.
“I’ve never been anywhere in my life where I’ve been yelled at like that,” he said. “It kind of makes you feel like a little kid again. And you can’t yell back, obviously.”
Kenworthy, like Pinsky, felt the greatest takeaway from the show was the camaraderie. The pair also said that among the 14 other recruits, they both connected most with former NFL wide receiver Danny Amendola.
“I feel like my strongest connection was probably with Danny Amendola,” Kenworthy said, joking, “I actually didn’t think he was going to like me going into it because he’s an actual jock — a straight football player, a hotshot Super Bowl winner — and I’m ... gay. But he was the sweetest guy ever.”
In keeping with military tradition, the celebrities also had battle buddies, which for Kenworthy, meant accompanying Amendola everywhere. Learning to be in close quarters with people for the duration of filming emphasized the need for that level of teamwork, he added.
“You get really bonded when you don’t have any privacy, and you really end up with your guard down,” he said.
There are 12 “recruits” left on “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test.” The second episode airs Jan. 11.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.