SAS Australia: Secrets from behind the show!

Shock fights, injuries and weight loss: Dr Sam shares the brutal truth
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They were pushed beyond their limits, but what toll did SAS Australia really take on the celebrities?

WATCH: SAS Australia star Shannan Ponton’s shock weight loss

The show’s chief medical advisor, Dr Sam Hay tells New Idea the punishment they put their bodies through resulted in the recruits losing huge amounts of weight. Shannan Ponton dropped 5kg, Merrick Watts lost around 6.5kg, while Nick Cummins and James Magnussen shed even more.

Dr Sam, a former senior medical officer in the army, explains why…

Nick Cummins
Dr Sam admits that former Bachelor and footy player, Nick Cummins, was “millimetres away from a catastrophic injury” when he hurt his leg to the point of needing stitches. (Credit: Channel Seven)

How close is this course to the real thing?

The way they are treated by the DS (Directing Staff) is absolutely on par with the “real thing”.

It might seem harsh, but you can’t be in a war-zone with someone who disagrees with the officer calling the shots or someone who crumbles in a heartbeat and puts the lives of everyone who is around them at risk.

In some ways it is more intense, because in this course, the DS only have a couple of weeks to determine who has what it takes.

In the Aussie army, soldiers would have been in the system training for the “real thing” for three to four years before they got to a course such as this.

There are parts of the course, like the ‘drownproofing’, where former SAS members were texting me saying it’s horrible at the best of times, but put freezing cold water into the mix and it’s next level!

SAS James
Olympic swimmer James Magnussen has been put through his paces on SAS Australia. (Credit: Channel Seven)

What sort of medical assessment did you do with recruits before they started the course?

All celebrity recruits undertook a complete medical that assessed their physical health and resilience.

All the ‘oldies’ (the over 40s) had a rigorous heart check as well. But the most important aspect was a ‘Barrier Test’ – if the recruits didn’t pass this basic test, they weren’t allowed on selection.

Modelled on current Australian Special Forces testing regimes, I designed the Barrier Test to ensure each recruit had the requisite strength, endurance and skill to attempt selection safely.

Who lost the most weight during the show?

Constant physical exertion, little sleep, bitterly cold conditions and limited rations ensured all recruits did it tough.

There were no trips to the burger shop when the cameras stopped rolling, let me tell you! The two biggest blokes, Nick and James, each lost 7kg.  Considering how lean they were to start with, that’s 7kg of muscle wasting away!

Shannan Ponton
During his time on SAS Australia, ex Biggest Loser trainer, Shannon Ponton, lost 5kg. This is 2kg less than Nick Cummins and James Magnussen who both lost 7kg each. (Credit: Channel Seven)

The boxing challenge at the start of the series looked brutal, and that was just the beginning of how tough this course was on recruits. How did you know when to step in?

Let’s just clear something up. Sabrina Frederick chose to fight Badger. She is probably one of the gutsiest women I have ever encountered in my life.

We’re now living in times when the military and the SAS don’t discriminate. Women are seen as equals. It’s not sexism. It’s survival.

How dangerous was it out there for the recruits?

Danger wasn’t the issue for recruits, fear was. Vigorous risk assessments and safety protocols ensured every activity could be conducted safely, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t terrifying.

What was the worst injury you had to treat?

The gash to Nick Cummins’ leg was pretty damn impressive. It was down to the bone, and he was millimetres away from a catastrophic injury. But a dozen stitches and daily dressings ensured he kept soldiering on.

SAS cast
Dr Sam admits that it was Erin McNaught (pictured second from the right) and Molly Taylor (pictured to the left of Erin) who inspired him the most. (Credit: Channel Seven)

When Shannan got hypothermia, could he have died?

He could have. But he was never going to. Even though you couldn’t see us, we were monitoring him constantly. I can assure you, on a few occasions, a few recruits needed a dose of cement and some guidance to harden up.

Did the weather increase the danger from a medical perspective?

The weather across the course was brutal. The elements pushed the conditions below freezing most days, and when you throw water in the mix, it was bloody hard work.

Which celebrity or celebrities surprised you on the show?

While the final handful impressed me, it was the two pocket rocket ladies – Erin [McNaught] and Molly [Taylor] – who inspired me the most. Pure grit, determination and toughness.  But all with a smile and heart, and the ultimate team players.

For more, pick up a copy of New Idea. On sale now!

New idea
(Credit: New Idea)

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