Popcorn and Burpees: Mission Mudder Episode 1 – It takes a team

Welcome to Popcorn and Burpees, a Solo Mudders view on the various OCR offerings in the world of TV, film, podcasts and books.  Today we will be reviewing episode 1 of Sky Sports Mix’s original series Mission Mudder.

If you are not familiar with Mission Mudder, it is a series in which six British Olympians take part in a series of challenges before taking on Europes Toughest Mudder (ETM), Tough Mudders 8 hour overnight endurance event.

The six Olympians chosen for this task were:

  • Jade Jones – Olympic Gold Medalist for Taekwondo at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
  • Jess Varnish – Track cyclist who competed at London 2012.
  • Aimee Fuller – Snowboarder who competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics and is competing at the 2018 winter Olympics
  • Perri Shakes-Drayton – Track and Field star who has been a world champion in 4 x 400m relay and has also competed in hurdles.
  • Ashley McKenzie – Competed in London 2012 in Judo and won a Gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth games.
  • Anthony Fowler – Boxer who was the 2014 Middleweight Gold medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth games and competed in Rio 2016

I will be honest, prior to the commissioning of the show; the only name familiar to me was Jade Jones.  However kudos to Sky Sports for seeking out legitimate athletes when it would probably have been easier to find six professional reality TV “stars” to roll around in the mud.

From a UK OCR point of view this series could be crucial in determining whether OCR receives further TV coverage in the future.  Whilst it’s on Sky, it is on the free Sky Sports channel which opens up the audience somewhat.  Slightly disappointing that the first original TV series is a reality show as opposed to being more similar to the CBS specials but ultimately Sky had to choose what they thought would bring in ratings.

From a Solo Mudder point of view, we had a large contingent of runners and pit crew at ETM including yours truly.  I’m fairly sure we all had some interactions with the Olympians during the night so it will be interesting to see how that event comes across on TV.

So without further delay let’s grab that popcorn and watch episode 1 of Mission Mudder.

 

Episode Review (SPOILER ALERT)

The episode starts with a quick introduction by the narrator which quickly goes through each Olympian individually and break downs the challenge they face.  The tone set by the narrator is “serious voice” which bodes well for the show treating OCR as a Sport and not as slapstick.  They also announce that they are competing at ETM for charity which I can’t recall being published previously. The only slight grumble is they used a shot of one of the American Toughest Mudders (LA I think) for describing their “ultimate mission”.  However I doubt most viewers would notice.

The show then starts proper with five of the Olympians (Snowboarder Aimee Fuller is absent) meeting at a Northern seaside resort which looks like Lytham St-Annes, just up the road from Blackpool.  After a fairly standard talking head spot going through each athlete, they are joined by their Coach Sam Tucknott.  

Sam Tucknott  is unfamiliar to me but is described as “a man who knows what it’s like to reach the pinnacle of Obstacle Course racing having taken part himself in the 24 hour World’s Toughest Mudder”.  I did a quick search for him against the most recent results but couldn’t find details of how he’s done.  I can’t help thinking that the producers may be slightly overstating Mr Tucknott’s credentials when most followers of OCR would consider the “pinnacle” to be podiuming as opposed to paying your money and competing.  Nevertheless Mr Tucknott seems like a nice guy and looks like a personal trainer so should be able to help out the five athletes.

The training starts with a bleep test which the ladies gradually dropping out before the two guys agree to finish after 8 bleeps.

We then catch up with Aimee who is in a snowboard training camp oversees and concentrating on the Olympics.  It will be interesting to see if “Aimee isn’t really that bothered” develops as a storyline in future episodes.

The narrator then gives an overview of Tough Mudder intersped with a quick interview with Tough Mudder co-founder Will Dean.  Will explains how his experience at a Triathlon, in which no one helped him, inspired him to create Tough Mudder.  For you continuity geeks out there it is quite obvious that this interview was carried out at ETM.

More highlights follow with another quick soundbite from Will and the various Olympians talking about the mud and their fears.  Credit to the Olympians who come across well in these segments, being both humble and excited for what’s to come.

Sadly this does bring another annoyance, less than 10 minutes into the show and the producers are already recycling highlight footage that was shown earlier on.

We are back to the beach were Sam is again putting the Olympians through their paces.  Whilst we get a montage of the training Sam and the narrator stress how Tough Mudder will be different to what they are used to.

We then get a series of clips on the five Olympians who we have been introduced to so far.  These show each Olympian competing in their regular sport mixed in with interviews from them and their coaches.  They also talk and joke about what Tough Mudder will be like.  These sections are standard reality TV back stories but help flesh out the participants a bit more.  Perri Shakes-Drayton comes across well as a tough London girl who is a little bit worried about the whole thing.

We then head back to the beach for the Olympians to finish off training and confirming that they are worried about the running aspects of the event given most of them have not ran for some time.  Some stock footage here seems to suggest that they are in Blackpool as opposed to being just up the road.  

It is then time for Aimee’s back story, which signals that she will soon be joining everyone else for the group challenge.  This follows the same formula as the others.

Quick driving montage reveals that the Olympians have arrived in a rainy Lake district where they are joined at the hotel by Aimee.

The next day our now set of six Olympians have no idea what their team challenge will be.  They speculate that they will be hiking whilst the narrator reveals to the audience that they will be taking on the Infinity Bridge which is a single strand wire bridge strung up 2000 feet above the valley floor.

The stars enjoy a quick tour of the mines before they first get to view the bridge and Sam informs them of their task at hand.  At first the Olympians have a mixture of fear and confusion concerning the task.  Sam clarifies that this task is mainly about conquering mental fears and working as a team.  After a few talking head sections of each Olympian explaining how terrified they are (except Aimee who looks quite happy about the whole thing) it’s time for them to suit up.

They agree on an order with Ashley McKenzie going first and Aimee, being someone used to heights, being told she will be last.  I’m not sure that placing the likely fastest person last is the best strategy to be honest.

They each individually get going with each athlete given the chance to give a quick post-event talking spot.  Perry does come across terrified at this point.  Prior to taking to the bridge Aimee advises that she may start jumping on the wire.  Off-screen voices (presumably the Infinity Bridge safety guys) confirm this is fine whilst Coach Sam gives an “uh-oh” look.

So with the other Olympians moving about as fast as me uphill, Aimee heads on the bridge and has some fun bouncing from point to point.  At once stage Aimee pulls the side so much that the whole bridge almost goes horizontal.  Meanwhile the other stars argue with each other about what is causing it to sway.

As the Olympians each get across there are multiple shots of Aimee messing with the bridge.  Some of these shots appear to be the same event from multiple angles.

On solid ground the Olympians sum up their experience.  All seem to have enjoyed it and mostly seemed happy that Aimee’s antics had caused them to face their fears.  The only star who seemed to have a grudge of sorts was Perry.   By far the most scarred, Perry vows a semi-serious threat of revenge on Aimee once they work out what her fears are.  

We then get a “next time” segment showing that next week we will be heading to LA for the Olympians to be coached by Hunter McIntyre and Coach (of Tough Mudder Coachified fame) before taking on a Tough Mudder half.  It doesn’t look like all of the Olympians will be there, no spoilers yet but you can probably guess who is missing.

 

Positives

  • The Olympians come across well and are given time to show some personality.  This is important as most viewers will have little idea who they are.
  • Tough Mudder and OCR’s come across well.  The show strikes a nice balance between describing them as tough without descending into parody.  An OCR can be tough but it’s not an impossible journey either.
  • In absence of an event the Infinity Bridge was a good way to close the show.  
  • This felt like a genuine TV show as opposed to being a 48 minute Tough Mudder advert.  In fact a small negative may be that there was not enough in the way of encouraging people to try a Tough Mudder.

 

Negatives

  • Describing Sam Tucknott as having reached the pinnacle of obstacle course racing likely caused some raised eyebrows amongst those of us more familiar with the elites.
  • Whilst I understand what they were trying to achieve, it did seem like they spent an awful lot of time on the exercises at the start.
  • The rehashing of footage may get annoying.

 

Overall Score

6 out of 10.

It was a fairly solid if unspectacular episode.  It has set the scene well and the athletes came across as real people who are anxious about their first event.  I’m sure a lot of people can relate to them.

An interesting point I did notice is that with the exception of Aimee’s show stealing final antics, the show hasn’t really focused on any athlete in particular.  Despite Jade being by far the most famous, the show’s producers are definitely going for an everyone is equal approach.  That should bode well for the series because it mirrors how an OCR should be, with everyone being equal in the mud.

Anyway time for us all to get off the couch and get back to training.   Join me next time for some more popcorn and burpees.

 

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