TO THE LIMITS OF ENDURANCE
Todd Sampson is ad man, TV host, avid adventurer and 46 years old. If that wasn’t enough, he’s now taken on the task of pushing his body to the most extreme levels of physicality known to man. The question now is: why?
In your new TV series BodyHack, you try on the life of a cage fighter, an elite soldier and a stuntman, among others. You’re rendered unconscious, doused in petrol, set alight ... Why would you sign up for that?
The show is based on the premise that the best way to understand people – and what they’re capable of – is to get in their shoes, walk a mile ... But I don’t start out by thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to be bitten by a bat that would kill me in 30 minutes.”
These are not ordinary lives though, are they?
I wanted to do a show that was adventurous and had a science angle – to mash those things together. It’s its own genre in a way. I wanted to cover resilience, so I thought: “Who are the best, most interesting people in the world who deal with resilience daily?”
At the point you realised it was going to be incredibly tough, even dangerous, what did you say to your wife and children?
It all looked good on paper when we were starting out ... by the time I realised, it was too late. And I don’t tell my family because I don’t want them to worry. The only episode I told them about was the MMA fighting because my wife Neomie and my two girls [Coco, 9 and Jet, 7] do jujitsu. Coco wrote me a note to say “it’s OK” – I read it the night before the fight and I broke down. I’ve cried more in the last year making this series than I have in the past 10.
What was the most punishing experience?
The French Foreign Legion – they pushed me right to the brink of what I thought was possible. Also, the notion of hunting and eating a baboon (with the Hadza nomads of Tanzania), having not eaten meat for 27 years, was mentally challenging. I made a deal with myself that whatever was killed, I would eat.
You started life as a wild Canadian boy in Nova Scotia. Is that where your adventurous streak developed?
I remember as a kid walking to school thinking: “I want to explore other worlds.” It might have something to do with the small island I lived on, or the harsh environment. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised there are other worlds all around us – you don’t have to go far.
After winning a scholarship, you chose to study for an MBA. Why?
When I was younger my real interest was science. But I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money; my father worked on the factory floor of Coca-Cola, my mother worked at KFC and I thought the only way to make money was to do something in business. But I am still that adventurous kid.
As CEO of ad agency Leo Burnett Australia, you must have spent a fair amount of time behind a desk.
Yes, but I made time to get out there. We’re better people if we don’t give up one aspect of our lives to focus solely on the other.
You’ve climbed Everest. Aside from your BodyHack adventures, what’s left?
I’m filming a series for the ABC now on science and the laws of physics and how extraordinary they are. I do a series of experiments that bring physics to life.
The slogan T-shirts you wear on the ABC’s Gruen are a “thing” – did you know someone online has collated screen grabs of every one since 2011?
I know, I appreciate the support but it scares me! The one I wore a couple of weeks ago (“Tuck Frump”) ended up on CNN. I was completely shocked.
BodyHack, TEN, Tuesday, 9pm
Todd Sampson strapped on the gloves of an MMA fighter and hunted with Tanzanian tribespeople, but it was the French Foreign Legion that he says was the toughest challenge of all his BodyHacks.