Welcome again 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 3 of Sky Sports Mix’s original series Mission Mudder.
If you are not familiar with Mission Mudder then check out my earlier blog which provides a brief background.
Anyway with that out of the way let’s grab that popcorn and watch episode 3 of Mission Mudder.
Episode Review (SPOILER ALERT)
We start with a quick introduction to the show and a recap of last week’s events. It’s announced that this week Jade Jones will not be in attendance as she is competing overseas. It is revealed that Coach Sam has brought the Olympians to Ashley McKenzie’s judo gym.
We have a breath catch up in which the Olympians briefly discuss the Tough Mudder half from last week. Of not the Olympians found Berlin (Hero) Walls quite taxing. Coach Sam then confirms that they will be starting with some Judo training today because it helps with grip strength. Ashley advises them that they will be working on the throws.
We then get a quick cut away in which the narrator again stresses Coach Sam’s Tough Mudder credentials. I may be being too harsh but one criticism I keep having of Mission Mudder is how hard they are pushing Coach Sam as being some kind of Tough Mudder legend. He is obviously a very athletic guy and a good trainer but compared to Hunter McIntyre and Coach his Mudder knowledge is somewhat lacking. It would perhaps help if they could show some footage of him at a Tough Mudder or maybe confirm how many miles he obtained (as an aside I have checked on Sweatworks and I am struggling to locate Sam for any of the past WTM’s so suspect he may have run as a team).
The cut away is quite interesting as it shows some obstacles which haven’t been seen for a while including electric eel and a version of walk the plank in which you jump into a cargo net. Coach Sam confirms that when he ran WTM he was surprised how quickly his arm strength went thus the need for Judo. I’m sure lots of us can appreciate that happening on course.
Ashley takes the lesson and shows the athletes a series of throws before letting them practise on each other. Ashley also emphasises the respect part of Judo which is a nice point to emphasise.
We then cut to some more back story of Ashley. It is shown that Ashley was quite a troubled child who wasn’t a natural athlete. There is an interesting story in which Ashley discovered Judo due to being beat up as a kid by someone who was proficient at Judo in a fight over a Pokémon card. Ashley then takes us on his journey to getting the call up for the 2012 Olympic squad before striking gold in the 2014 Commonwealth games.
We then see Ashley heading to a club to deliver a session to some young future stars of the Judo world. The narrator reveals that Ashley has to do this to supplement his income. This is quite striking. It is easy to imagine that if you get a Gold medal in your sport that you will be made for life. The reality is sadly that for most sports stars they have to lead a life of relative poverty in order to do what they love.
We then head back to the gym in which it is shown that Aimee Fuller is manhandling her partner. To prove how good she is, she throws Ashley down for good measure. This sets up a background section for Aimee. Aimee has always been into extreme sports and did very well at motocross. It appears that Aimee went through a few sports before ending up in snowboarding.
It is clear that Aimee’s family are quite supportive of her, even if they don’t necessarily understand her need for extreme sports. We then get our second “life of an Olympian” surprise in which it is revealed that Aimee lives a pretty nomadic life moving from training ground to training ground across the world. Aimee makes it clear that she is happy on the road although it is clear she makes a lot of sacrifices to give her all to the sport she loves.
Back to the gym and Ashley then takes them through another judo move in which you carry your opponent in a fireman’s carry before slamming them on the floor. I am not sure about any other sections of the course but our athletes are having plenty of training for Hero Carry. We move on to Ashley demonstrating his grip strength by climbing along the girders. He makes it seem effortless when in reality it is incredibly hard. Thankfully Aimee and Anthony Fowler demonstrate how hard it is by trying and failing to copy. Definitely don’t try this at home without the right equipment.
We then move to Liverpool and Anthony’s boxing gym where it is revealed that the Olympians will now be getting a boxing lesson. Anthony takes them through the stance. There is a funny moment in which Aimee asks whether they will be punching with their right arm which is furthest away, Anthony deadpans and reveals that they will be punching with both arms.
The Olympians do some punching practise and we are then taken to a back story for Anthony. Something I hadn’t realised is that Anthony is a cousin of Robbie Fowler (US readers Google him). Despite this Anthony was another kid who came from a non-privileged background who got into a combat sport as a way to better himself.
In common with the earlier back stories we are given a whistle stop tour of Anthony’s life from being a child to being an Olympian. Anthony comes across very engaging here and extremely relaxed compared to the more formal interviews, he even mentions wearing “traineys” which is a very Scouse way of saying trainers (or gym shoes if you are posh). It is shown just how dedicated Anthony is, he may not always be the most naturally talented but he will outwork his opponents. I’m sure we can all sympathise with having to skip out of night outs early to allow for training the next day.
We then head back to the gym for more training montage. All of the female athletes are quite good at boxing and Anthony is a great teacher. Some shots of Perri Shakes-Drayton getting stuck in to the boxing sets up her back story section.
This again shows the transition from the athlete as a kid to them becoming an Olympian. Of note Perri started as a cross country star before transitioning to 400m. There is a nice story of how she beat the US world champion in her section of the 4 x 400m relay in the Instanbul 2012 indoor athletics championship. This is punctuated with a photo which captures the moment perfectly.
It is confirmed that Perri competed at the 2012 London Olympics and that it was hoped it would be a springboard for the 2013 world champs. Sadly she hurt her cartilage and ACL which put an end to her medal hopes. Perri then injured her other leg in 2016 having fought back. The good news is that she will hopefully get another chance at the Olympic stadium for the 2017 world champs in which she cheekily reveals is just down the road from where her step dad purchased their copied CD’s when she was younger.
The boxing session then comes to an end and it is clear that the athletes were surprised with how physically demanding it was. Coach Sam try’s to complement Anthony but instead succeeds in annoying Aimee with the implication that Anthony is a better athlete. Nevertheless Coach Sam moves them on to a training session which is a simple HIIT circuit.
Whilst they complete their circuit we then get Jade Jones backstory. Jade’s granddad introduced her to martial arts and Jade picked Taekwondo. Jade moved at the age of 16 from Wales to Manchester to study at the national academy. Jade qualified for the 2012 Olympics at the young age of 19 before winning gold. Jade then became a double champion at Rio 2016.
We follow Jade to her small home town in Wales in which it is clear that she is a local celebrity. In common with many other Gold medal winners she has her own gold postbox and a leisure centre named after her. It is noted that Jade’s brother is now competing in Taekwondo which gives the narrator a nice “keeping up with the Jones’” line.
The Olympians then head to Surrey for some teamwork exercises with Lance Gerrard-Wright who is an ex-army officer. Lance takes them through some “simple” exercises of the kind you find at corporate teamwork building days. Predictably they struggle initially with the first exercise of lowering a bamboo cane to the floor as one.
The next task was moving a cup of water a short distance of around 25 feet without having their feet touch the ground. Ashley has an idea of how to do carry out the task which involved a kind of human centipede set up in which the Olympians put their feet on each other’s shoulders and walked out on their hands. Initially the others were not keen but eventually agreed to try it and succeeded.
At this stage Lance reviews what happened and questioned whether the team needed a leader. Jess Varnish made the point that sometimes it’s the person who shouts the loudest who becomes the leader when in reality it may be someone who steps back and assesses the situation. The editing here is not kind to Jess. In the water cup task it is clear that Ashley had stepped back and was thinking about the situation before telling them how to do it. Jess comes across a little sour, almost like she is suggesting that she would have solved the task but Ashley stole her thunder.
This sets up Jess’ backstory in which we are taken through her partnership with Victoria Pendleton in the team sprint. Jess explains that her dad was a champion track cyclist and she followed in her Father’s footsteps. What is particularly interesting is that Jess recognises that unlike the other athletes her cycling training is probably not appropriate for Tough Mudders. She confirms that she we be changing her training slightly. This is a good moment, whilst some of the athletes have come across as more interested in the exposure of being on TV, it is clear that Jess actually wants to do well. We then meet Jess’ boyfriend who confirms that he believes Jess may struggle but will get through the challenges.
We move back to Surrey for the final training exercise. This one involves grabbing each other’s hands and manoeuvring to form a circle. In this session Jess takes charge and the Olympian’s figure it out well. In the debrief of the exercise Lance confirms the lesson which is that it is ok to analyse the situation before moving forward. Jess, Aimee and Ashley then sum up that all of them are natural leaders so they need to step back sometimes.
Coach Sam then confirms that the next test is a Full Tough Mudder course which will be next week.
- The back stories all came across well. It would be easy to criticise the various tropes (and one is criticised below) but all of the Olympians came across well.
- The sections in which Ashley and Anthony were leading training were interesting. The point about how despite winning gold, Ashley still has to earn a living is quite poignant.
- The team building stuff, although silly was fun and inoffensive. It may be nice to see Lance again although I suspect it is a one-time deal.
- The constant reminders that Coach Sam has run a Worlds Toughest Mudder, that’s great but there are more than 5,000 people who have also ran one over the years.
- In the back stories you did have a kind of split in coverage on the Olympians childhoods. The hard upbringings of Ashley, Anthony and Perri were celebrated. However to the contrary there was little about the other three. I suspect this may have been because they had relatively comfortable childhoods but I don’t know for sure. I can understand why the producers edited it this way because everyone loves a rags to riches story, but it comes across as a cheap trope that wasn’t really necessary. All of the athletes work hard so there was no need to suggest that it was “extra tough” for some over others.
I will give this episode 6 out of 10.
It is clear that this was a filler episode; however as a filler episode it wasn’t that bad. I don’t suspect it will ultimately provide many memorable moments when we look back on the series as a whole. It is simply an episode that was just “there”. If nothing else we are finding out more and more about the athletes.
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.