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In SEAL training you have to do worst-case scenario escape-and-evade simulations where everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. That’s what Manhunt is all about so I knew how hard it would be, and that’s what appealed to me. For me, the show consists of days of running on pure adrenaline while being hunted by anything up to 75 badass dudes whose country, pride and god is on the line, all of whom are pulling out all the stops to catch me.
That’s scary and very risky to my pride and physical wellbeing – and because of that I thought, ‘I’ve got to do it’. It’s like if you’re a prize fighter and you got the opportunity to fight Mike Tyson back in the day. You would be like, ‘Fuck, who wants to fight Mike Tyson?’ – but you’d have to accept the challenge.
There was sliding down a cliff in Poland, snakes in Panama and all kinds of stuff but one of the hardest for me was the in Philippines where the jungle was tangled, overgrown and humid. The heat was off the charts, a category 2 typhoon happened, the producers were getting pulled out for heat exhaustion and my camera guy kind of lost his mind. In the behind-the-scenes episode there’s an argument between us and if you look at his face he’s desperate, he’s almost crying and his face is grey. He let the jungle get to him like Apocalypse Now and it ended up making us both get at each other’s throats.
Towards the end of the hunt in South Africa someone in the hunter force spotted us from 200m away so I took off with the camera guy into the South African veldt where there are lions and hippos roaming around. The hunter force pulled out and I heard them yelling at me, ‘Joel, stop, there are lions in the area!’ but I thought they were trying to trick me to walk out. Then I heard my producer yelling that I had to get out of there. I was about 1km away from a checkpoint and I thought, ‘It’s better to finish and die than quit and lose,’ so I went ahead and finished it.
On the second morning in South Africa, the hunters were extremely close to me so the only way I was going to get out of the situation was to start moving before the sun came up. Before daybreak and during the night are the worst times to move in that environment because that’s when all the big cats are out hunting. It was a calculated risk that most people wouldn’t have taken but I weighed up the honour of the exercise, the pride in what I was doing and the chance to make it out against possible obliteration.
There are always clues that somebody has passed a certain way, but they do differ according to the environment. In South Africa you need to be careful not to leave a trail of footprints, while in the jungle it’s disturbed vines and vegetation you need to watch out for. In urban environments it’s about ‘going grey’ [blending into crowds], not attracting any undue attention and becoming something that other people’s eyes slide right over.
I was forced to do this sort of thing in South Korea. I got to the island and was expecting to go grey but I was the only white guy there, plus I’m just over six foot with facial hair. In Los Angeles I would hide in plain sight, but in South Korea that wasn’t an option so I had to do other things like going in the storm drains.
When I decided that was what I was going to do, I put my entire existence into it. Really that’s the only way you can get through. I sold everything I had, moved to a shithole studio apartment and did nothing but train. The BUD/S [Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training] warning order tells you what you can expect and it gives you a fitness training programme, which consists of running, swimming, press-ups, sit-ups, dips and pull-ups. By the end of the programme you’re running 8km three to four days a week, swimming five days a week and then doing 400 push-ups, 200 pull-ups and some crazy amount of sit-ups. It’s designed for long-term muscle endurance – it’s not how strong you are, it’s how strong can you be over the course of a week or more.
Pull-ups are a particularly hard yet essential exercise that all men should spend time improving. Being able to pull your bodyweight up is an essential skill and you never know when it might be required. As dramatic as it sounds, even if you’re not putting yourself in the same sort of situations as I do, being able to do pull-ups could potentially save your life at some point.
Absolute dedication and determination saw me through to the end of my SEAL training. I remember one night this hot girl came to my door. I’d been ignoring her phone calls and was sleeping but then I realised the door was unlocked, so I crept up and locked it before she could come in. I had to get up at 5am to run and didn’t want anything stopping me from doing that. Even a beautiful girl! It took all of my dedication and it paid off. Becoming a SEAL changed my life.
Manhunt starts on Thursday 13th February on Discovery Channel at 9pm
MF web editor Max Anderton recently spent a day trying to evade being tracked in London. A video of the day is coming soon - keep your eyes peeled and you might just spot him.