“No other test asks as much or means as much to the few who make it through.”
Selection for the SAS is a test like no other and in SAS Australia, 17 celebrity recruits volunteered to leave their glamorous lives behind.
Put through the most gruelling stages of selection by an elite team of special forces soldiers — led by chief instructor Ant Middleton and his team of “Directing Staff” (DS), the celebrities were stripped bare, left battered and bruised as they jumped out of planes and waded through tough terrain with four DS who made no exceptions.
Going into the heart-stopping finale were Australian Olympian James Magnussen, former radio star Merrick Watts, rally car driver Molly Taylor, former Bachelor and Wallaby, Nick Cummins and AFL player, Sabrina Frederick.
“I honestly can’t believe what we’ve been through,” Frederick told Magnussen during the finale and for fans watching on at home, neither could they.
After a fortnight, only four made it to the very end with Taylor withdrawing at the eleventh hour. Then, in a final kick to the teeth, Magnussen was told he did not pass the course, leaving Cummins, Frederick and Watts victors in SAS Australia.
What Happened During the Finale?
The final 24 hours was set to be the most difficult yet, with the DS launching a simulated attack using military operatives known as the Hunter Force, to capture and detain the recruits.
According to “Billy” Billingham, “90% of the special forces life and the work we do is in dangerous situations behind the enemy lines, where it’s possible that things will go wrong and you’ve got to survive, to escape and evade capture”.
The aim of this particular operation, “escape and evasion” was to see if the recruits “want it more than anything else”, replicating a hostage environment to do so.
Placed into two teams, Alpha (Cummins, Watts and Taylor) and Bravo (Magnussen and Frederick), the recruits had to complete a four-hour trek across punishing terrain and along a river without being captured. If captured, they would fail the task.
Team Bravo made a critical error in their navigation, getting lost and ultimately being captured, resulting in them failing the task. Meanwhile, Team Alpha, who thought they had gotten to their rendezvous point, jumped in a car without questioning why it was there before realising they had been captured. All five had now failed.
Back at Base Camp, they faced their next task, “Resistance to Interrogation” — a task which prepares recruits for enemy capture by subjecting them to techniques not permitted by the British or Australian Military.
Two specialist defence personnel, led by their superior, The Umpire, (who couldn’t be identified for security reasons) interrogated the recruits in a brutal cross-examination.
The recruits were taken to a holding room, where they were held captive as they awaited interrogation. Subjected to hours of painful stress positions and disturbing repetitive noises.
At the eleventh hour and after being interrogated, Taylor voluntarily withdrew herself leaving the final four to compete in the final phase — “The Sickener”.
The Sickener is a three-phase operation. Phase one, a punishing three-kilometre artillery resupply carrying ammunition and sandbags. Phase two, an arduous casualty evacuation through unforgiving terrain to an awaiting helicopter and phase three, a final sprint up a steep incline, four kilometres up the hillside.
“Some of you can’t afford to fu-k up today. It’s as simple as that,” Middleton told the recruits.
After a gruelling final operation, Watts, Cummins, Frederick and Magnussen were left standing.
“The course is now complete,” Middleton said before saying that they had been assessing and nitpicking their performance.
“The ultimate question we asked ourselves, would we have you in our team?”
Unfortunately, Magnussen did not pass the course. “This is how cutthroat it is,” Middleton said.
On the other hand, after a fortnight of brutal physical and psychological training, Cummins, Watts and Frederick were hailed as victors.