SAS Who Dares Wins returned to our screens last night with Chief Instructor Ant Middleton and his team of Directing Staff: Foxy, Billy and Ollie but in this series, the recruits are being put to the test, both physically and mentally, harder than ever before.
This year, SAS Who Dares Wins is based in the birthplace of the Special Forces, Scotland. Some of the Special Forces' most challenging training takes place here and is where the founder of the Special Air Service, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling, was born.
The location is ideal for the SAS selection process. As a new member of the Directing Staff (DS) explains:
"... its cold, dark and miserable, which makes it a very hard place to operate."
In the first episode, 25 men and women face a gruelling SAS selection process – a condensed version of the real course SAS recruits endure in real life.
Last year's SAS Who Dares Wins saw recruits battle their demons in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. This year the course brings the recruits home to Scotland and, with reduced rations and no comforts, is raw and stripped back from the start.
VW, TQ, DS, GTTEOI: What do the terms mean in SAS Who Dares Wins?
- DS is Directing Staff
- VW is Voluntary Withdrawal
- TQ is Tactical Questioning
- GTTEOI is Get To The End Of It
The series begins with a ‘cold-water’ shock as the recruits must jump from a moving speed boat into the freezing Atlantic Ocean and then swim to the shore of Isle Of Raasay, a remote Scottish Island, where the recruits will be based for the duration of the course. Ant Middleton said:
“Wars aren’t just fought on land, they’re fought on water.
“We train in Scotland because the seas are brutal.”
The island is just 14 miles long and 5 miles wide so there is nowhere for the recruits to hide. Immediately after swimming to the shore in freezing cold water, the recruits are asked to strip down to their underwear and run 5 km to their new base.
After this extreme run, builder Korey and pathology technician Amos aren’t considered worthy of continuing the selection process and are kicked out by Ant Middleton as soon as they arrive at base.
The recruits must go beyond the physical to come face to face with their true self. Like the previous series of SAS Who Dares Wins, the programme heavily focuses on mental health and openly discussing what burdens your mind.
Before arriving, each recruit was asked to write an essay about their background and character. The DS staff focus on recruit 11’s essay first. That belongs to Kirsty, 32, a business consultant from London who thrives “on becoming more able than some men”.
Kirsty believes that she is underestimated because of her appearance. She actively fights against what she considers to be the stereotype of a slim, blonde woman. Kirsty said:
“... that’s why I’m so eager to prove people wrong.”
During a punishing task where the recruits have to make their way up to the deck of a ship using special forces insertion technique the 'underway ship assault', Kirsty reveals why she feels driven by the desire to exceed all expectations placed upon her because of her gender. She said:
"I want to have this strong presence that's almost untouchable. I don't like coming across as vulnerable.
"A few years ago I was attacked by a guy in a night club and I said to myself that is never going to happen again.
"And I think it's the reason why I've got so into my training now, no one can call me weak."
Next Ant and the DS turn their attention to recruit 18, Jerrome. His essay catches their attention because they’re convinced, he’s not shared the full picture with them. Speaking to the cameras while away from the DS Jerrome expands on what he’s not yet admitting. He said:
“Growing up, I was never a bad person, I just made silly mistakes.
“My whole mission in life now is not to let myself down.”
Later, while speaking to Ant and Ollie, Jerrome is asked what he's hiding. At first, he is not keen to reveal his past.
He finally concedes that he spent time in prison for a fire arms offence. When asked about the moment he decided to turn his life around he said it was "as soon as the handcuffs went on." He realised it wasn't the life he wanted to live.
Chief Instructor Ant ends the conversation abruptly after saying he isn't convinced recruit 18 has put a stop to that former life. He points out that the SAS selection process will certainly reveal whether the instinct to defend himself with violence still comes naturally to Jerrome.
Finally, Ant introduces us to recruit 7, Mark, nicknaming him 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' because of his long hair and piercings. Marketing Manager Mark, 31, explains that while he’s tall and can initially be intimidating, he’s really just a big friendly giant with a flamboyant ‘hobby’ that quickly grabs Foxy’s attention. From Mark's essay Ant reads:
“People define me by various characteristics and hobbies. The tall guy, the drag queen but myself, I’m just me.”
Later, Mark talks to the cameras as 'Cybil War', his drag queen alter ego and reveals that his Dad was once in the SAS and how that drives his motivation on the show. He said:
“My Dad is Army through and through. My Dad was in the SAS, I’m a drag queen, I’m his son, how do I compare to that?
“That’s definitely part of the reason why I want to take part in the course and go through a fraction of what my Dad went through and be able to succeed.”
Video: Channel 4
In this episode, we are introduced to recruit 4 who turns out to be undercover SAS operator, Jay Morton. The 36-year-old left the special forces in 2018 after ten years of service. As ‘Jamie’ the factory worker from Preston, he becomes the eyes and ears on the inside for the Directing Staff and eventually flips to join the DS.
Rather cruelly, from the viewpoint of a viewer at least, Jay recommends ways to ensure that recruits drop out. He knows that if they’re put in more cold-water situations it will easily reveal who is and isn’t capable. He said:
“People can’t f***ing hack it mate. That cold. You when you take them to the point of shivering?
“Mate, that’s how we’re going to get rid of people.”
Video: Channel 4
The recruits are subjected to more extreme cold water challenges the next day. They are instructed to fall backwards in synch in teams of three from a 10-foot platform into freezing seawater.
This is one of the most intimidating and brutal tasks of the course and they are instructed to do it on the first full day. The DS don’t shy away and take the plunge first as you can see below.
The challenge is designed to reinforce the idea that there is never a person who is more important than another in an SAS team. You are all equal. In the SAS, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Therefore, there can be no weak links.
Kirsty fails to impress by jumping into the water and not falling backwards like her teammates. Chief Instructor Ant reminds Kirsty there are “no second chances on the battlefield” and that by not falling in synch with recruits 24 and 17, she has let her teammates down. Doing that in a real-life combat situation could mean death.
Video: Channel 4 / CONTAINS SWEARING
Watch SAS: Who Dares Wins Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4 in the UK and via BFBS TV