Samp­son ex­plores the im­pos­si­ble

Gruen star pushes the lim­its as he dis­cov­ers the se­crets of world’s most ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple

Life & Style Weekend - - READ - Seanna Cronin

GO­ING for a swim is some­thing many Aus­tralians take for granted.

Whether in the pool or the ocean, a dip on a hot day is a com­mon rit­ual on this is­land con­ti­nent of ours.

Not for Todd Samp­son, though.

Open wa­ter is some­thing that makes the man, who has climbed Mount Ever­est unas­sisted, quake in his boots.

“I don’t have a pho­bia of wa­ter but I don’t like it. I live in Bondi and I don’t go to the beach,” he tells Week­end.

“I learned to scuba dive be­cause I’m scared of wa­ter. I thought that would ha­bit­u­ate me, but it didn’t. I breathe re­ally fast and chew through my air.”

So it’s not sur­pris­ing when Samp­son says he was not at his most com­fort­able in scuba gear 20 me­tres be­low the sur­face in the warm clear wa­ters of the coral tri­an­gle off Bor­neo.

“I was strug­gling to keep my buoy­ancy and cam­eras were all there film­ing me. I look like a frog un­der­wa­ter. But then sud­denly this body shoots down with Face­book un­der­wear on and noth­ing else. He dives straight to the bot­tom, looks at me with his hand­made gog­gles, gives me a thumbs up and pro­ceeds to walk on the bot­tom of the ocean floor for four min­utes. That blew my mind.”

The scene he de­scribes was filmed as part of his new TV se­ries Body Hack.

In the six-part doc­u­men­tary the father-of-two tries to un­lock the se­crets of some of the world’s most ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple, in this case free­d­iv­ing Ba­jau fish­er­man Sul­bin.

He also spent two weeks train­ing for his first MMA cage fight, lived with hunter gath­er­ers in Tan­za­nia, worked as a Bol­ly­wood stunt­man and a Hi­malayan sherpa and pushed him­self to the ab­so­lute limit both phys­i­cally and men­tally while train­ing with

This show is about ex­plor­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple to see what we can learn from their lives for ours.

the no­to­ri­ous French For­eign Le­gion deep in the Ama­zon jun­gle – all in the name of in­for­ma­tive tele­vi­sion.

“It’s one thing to ob­serve things when they hap­pen but it’s an­other when it hap­pens to you,” he says.

“Ev­ery­thing looks okay on pa­per but once you get there it’s like ‘wow this is not easy’.”

Two years in the mak­ing, the se­ries was not writ­ten for nat­u­ral thriller-seek­ers and ad­ven­tur­ers like Samp­son.

“If they watch that’s cool but I wrote it for mum sit­ting at home with the kids,” he says. “It’s a sci­ence show about hu­man po­ten­tial.

“I made it be­cause I think there are in­ter­est­ing things to learn from it, not be­cause I want to get punched in the face by an MMA fighter.”

Samp­son spent two days drink­ing out of a straw af­ter his MMA fight in the US state of New Mex­ico and doesn’t even re­mem­ber most of the bout be­cause he was con­cussed.

It was dur­ing film­ing for this first episode of Body Hack when he de­cided he needed a “safe word”, Bal­ti­more, which he would use if any of the chal­lenges ever be­came too much.

“Through­out this se­ries I thought ‘Bal­ti­more’ but I never said it,” he says.

“My di­rec­tor would pop up dur­ing re­ally bad sit­u­a­tions and say ‘is this Bal­ti­more?’ I would bear down on my teeth and give him that face like I wanted to kill him.”

That grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion helped Samp­son to suc­ceed in the busi­ness world. An ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive by trade, who was twice named Aus­tralia’s CEO of the Year, Samp­son cre­ated the suc­cess­ful Earth Hour ini­tia­tive.

But the Cana­dian-born Samp­son is best known by most Aus­tralians as one third of the ABC’s sharp-wit­ted Gruen team, who are on our screens ev­ery Wed­nes­day night analysing the best, and worst, of ad­ver­tis­ing, mar­ket­ing and spin.

“When a mil­lion peo­ple watched us in the first episode (of this sea­son) with very lit­tle ad­ver­tis­ing it’s like, ‘okay peo­ple love this show’,” he says. “When you know that it re­ally does in­spire you to want to make it bet­ter.

“I’d like to think peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate shows that are in­tel­lec­tual as well as en­ter­tain­ing. Sure I watch The Bach­e­lor some­times; I watch re­al­ity TV with my kids but I also force them to watch Brian Cox.”

Three years ago he em­barked on his first solo TV se­ries Re­design My Brain, which won an AACTA Award and went on to be­come one of the most-watched Aus­tralian sci­ence doc­u­men­taries of all time.

“I got an email two days ago from a young woman in Nige­ria who said she uses it (Re­design My Brain) as part of her psy­chol­ogy class to teach kids,” he says.

“I was ab­so­lutely thrilled to read that.

“A cru­sade would be go­ing a bit far, but I’m def­i­nitely on a mis­sion to get young peo­ple more in­ter­ested in sci­ence.”

Samp­son is on his way to do­ing just that. Body Hack will be dis­trib­uted in­ter­na­tion­ally by Dis­cov­ery Sci­ence and is ex­pected to reach tens of mil­lions of over­seas view­ers.

“I’m very for­tu­nate to have a big plat­form to do what I love on such a big scale,” he says.

“This show is about ex­plor­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple to see what we can learn from their lives for ours.”

He hopes the se­ries, which has been de­scribed as Brian Cox meets Bear Grylls, will in­spire view­ers to make pos­i­tive changes in their lives, no mat­ter how small.

“I have this strong be­lief that we can all do much more than we think and sci­ence can help us get there. I don’t care if you’re com­pletely out of shape. You can de­code any chal­lenge, any ac­tiv­ity and you can be bet­ter at it.

“It’s those small wins, those small achieve­ments that build who you are.”

Todd Samp­son’s Body Hack premieres on Chan­nel 10 on Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 4, at 9pm.


MIND OVER MAT­TER: Todd Samp­son ex­plores ex­tra­or­di­nary fron­tiers in his new TV se­ries.

CALM BE­FORE STORM: Todd Samp­son in Bor­neo.

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