TELEVISION Rock’s show a test of brute force
Johnson looked for Titan Games athletes who have ‘overcome odds and challenges’
Dwayne Johnson doesn’t exactly have a “ninja” body. But it’s fair to say the former WWE star is “titan”-size.
So it’s fitting that one of the biggest stars in the world is the host of NBC’s newest obstaclecourse competition, The Titan Games (Thursdays), which asks super-strong competitors on super-size head-to-head courses to knock over 1,000-pound walls, position and light 600-pound torches and play a blind tug of war.
Johnson says he’s been “looking for a series we could create to give a platform to really good athletes. And what was out there inspiring us was American Ninja Warrior, ” NBC’s popular contest based on a Japanese format.
So Johnson teamed up with NBC for the new 10-episode series, featuring contests inspired by Johnson’s gym workouts (such as one involving a 300-pound cinder block) and drunk ideas (including a “lunar eclipse” challenge that has athletes running around a half-moon shape).
“I was probably on my third tequila and looking outside and seeing the moon and thought: ‘What if there was something like this?’ ”
Each episode features four female and four male athletes in two rounds of paired battles, with a finale pitting the best of both groups against each other. There are commentators, a sideline reporter and, of course, Johnson, who introduces the battles and gives prerace pep talks. In all, 64 contestants are whittled down to one male Titan and one female Titan, who win $100,000 US each.
Unlike Ninja Warrior, the races are woman to woman and man to man (not just athlete versus course), and instead of testing grip strength and agility, the battles rely more on brute strength and power, or their “inner mana,” a Polynesian term for spiritual energy, as Johnson calls it.
But what makes the contest “Rock”-like isn’t just its oversized “Mount Olympus” finale course or the thickness of competitors’ biceps: It’s the athletes’ backstories.
Johnson’s fans know that he wasn’t born into fame and fortune. At a young age, after he was evicted from his apartment in Hawaii, “I would go to the gym and think: ‘I can control my future. I can build my body to become something,’ ” he says. After several arrests and a failed attempt to become an NFL player, we all know what happened: Johnson became one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.
As with many a reality show, in casting Titans, Johnson sought “men and women who have overcome odds and challenges in their life.” Athletes include a man who spent 17 years hiding an arm shortened by a birth defect and a woman who dealt with a heart condition and teenage homelessness.
“When I was 17, I was going through abusive relationships. I bargained with people who owned the establishment I was working at and I slept on the couch in the kitchen,” says 26-year-old Charity Witt. But Titan fans will see her as a power lifter who appears to effortlessly drag a several-hundred-pound ball and chain across the arena floor.
“My whole mission in fitness is to give some kind of example to other women,” she says.
Though the men tend to be faster on the course, Johnson says the women’s contests are the most rewarding.
“The emotional and physical arc women on the show go through is extraordinary,” he says. “The women are digging deep. One contest lasted 30 minutes, with legs shaking, lactic acid build-up and with one woman right at the edge, saying ‘Not today.’ ”
Johnson’s own daughters are being raised to have that same kind of mental and physical toughness.
His eldest, 17-year-old Simone, “is a very athletic young girl who goes to the gym with me and Dany [Garcia, Simone’s mother and Johnson’s business partner and ex-wife]. “She wants to become a WWE wrestler. The idea of committing to a goal of physicality and training, she has embodied.”
Johnson’s young daughters with girlfriend Lauren Hashian are getting there.
“Every day while I’m working out, Lauren will bring in Jazzy, who’s three and running around the gym. Every time I do a set, she knows to sit down. When [eight-month-old] Tiana gets old enough, she’ll be right in the gym with me.”
Dwayne Johnson is the host of NBC’s newest obstacle-course competition, The Titan Games.