Credit: Channel 4
WARNING: This article contains spoilers
Fear is not a hurdle to overcome in the Special Forces, it is a vitally useful emotion to be harnessed. If you cannot prepare yourself for fear, then you risk putting yourself and the rest of your team in danger.
This theory is ferociously tested in episode two of the latest series of Channel 4’s SAS Who Dares Wins, a TV programme based around the Special Forces selection course. Chief Instructor Ant Middleton introduces the idea of fear being a useful emotion to use to your advantage, saying:
“Fear can be a very handy tool if you know how to use it.
“Some people crumble very quickly but people that make it to the end embrace it.”
Facing Your Fear
With the recruits sat at the top of a 3,000 metre high mountain, DS Jason ‘Foxy’ Fox introduces them to the idea that the Special Forces cover all sorts of terrain and ground and employ a multitude of techniques to get up, over, across and down obstacles. The forward abseil is described by Jason as an insertion method, saying:
“Coming from above is a surprise, it’s not expected.
“It’s an alien thing to do, to walk over the edge of a cliff, facing forwards.
“It’s scary and it tests bottle.”
Facing the ground at all times, DS Melvyn runs down the side of the mountain at a pace.
First up to take on the frightening challenge is tattoo artist, John, who reveals he is always trying to prove something to people, saying:
“If someone says something, I say alright, I’ll tell you what, I’m going to go out and I’m going to smash it.
“But, I’m not very good with heights at all.”
Despite his initial concerns, John successfully manages to push aside his fear and runs down the mountain, impressing Ant, who says:
“You s*** yourself, didn’t you?
"But when you harnessed that fear, you use it to your advantage, it’s a good feeling, right? Remember that.”
One of the front runners of the course is recruit 16, Connor. The DS expect to be impressed by him and the professional Irish dancer is up for the challenge as he is no stranger to discipline. He said:
“The way the discipline is drilled into us is quite militaristic in style.
“I’ve been accustomed to always impressing, no matter what.”
WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS SWEARING
Credit: Channel 4
Next up is recruit six, Jake who openly admits he is “sh****** it” about the prospect of running down the side of a mountain. He struggles to make it down the cliff edge as his fellow recruits watch on, visibly moved by his struggle to overcome his fears. Back on the ground, Jake breaks down into tears as Ant reprimands him for failing the challenge, saying:
“Fear is the number one emotion we used to get us through.
“If you can’t harness it there’s no place for you here.”
Before the show started filming, Jake spoke about easily he expresses his emotions but that, two or three years ago his life was very different.
Ant and Chief Medical Officer Dr Sundeep Chohan bring Jake in to delve further into why he finds it difficult to manage his emotions. Amid moments of poignant silence, Jake bravely opens up about the moment his life took a very dark turn. He said:
“Last July I lost my girlfriend in a road traffic accident so, you know, normally I’m alright to talk about it, for some reason today it’s really tough.”
There is a moment of silence as the tearful recruit prepares himself to talk more about the death of his girlfriend, Emily Hartridge - a mental health advocate, influencer, YouTuber and presenter. He continues by describing himself as an “ex-gearhead, big boozer, city broker, you know, an idiot”. Then, when he met Emily, his life was starting to take a turn. He was sober, off the drugs and felt positive. In a heartbreaking moment, Jake speaks about how she died, saying:
“This was my soulmate then she passed away on an electric scooter I bought her.
“Losing Emily has affected my life in every single way imaginable. I lost my heart it felt like.
“And I have no idea what I’m going to do now. All I know what to do is take it day by day.”
To encourage Jake and keep him motivated, Ant explains why the DS are tough on the recruits and how this behaviour could help him in the long run. Ant says:
“We’re here to push you forward because we see something in you. I don’t want to see you go.
“Go back into the accommodation, a few deep breaths, away you go. Good effort. Keep it there number six.”
Fear The Freeze
In the next brutal challenge, the DS test the recruits’ ability to control their emotions in a military cold-water drill. Special Forces soldiers are trained to condition themselves to all the elements and environments they might encounter. Ant joined the Special Boat Service, the Royal Navy’s Special Forces unit, in 2008 and spent four years as a point man and lead scout and as a primary fires operator and sniper. He would spend six months of the year training in freezing cold water. Therefore, the recruits next challenge is all psychological, to help condition the mind.
With only their heads above the surface, the recruits must tread water and fight the body's natural defence mechanism to keep warm by staying still in the near-freezing conditions.
Ant then demands they fully submerge themselves and come back up with only their heads above the water. After this, the recruits find it increasingly more and more difficult to stay in the water without staying still. Jason explains just how difficult it to master this part of the course, saying:
“Once you enter the cold water you can feel it, it stings your skin. Literally seeping into your bones.
“If you don’t get your mind to prepare your body for cold water immersion, then that’s when fear can creep in.
“When that happens, fear can become contagious. The key thing when you’re in cold water is don’t panic.”
To prevent the recruits from getting hypothermia the DS beast them once they back on the shoreline. The term - also known as being 'yakked' or 'thrashed' - is an extreme form of exercise to unofficially discipline a soldier for bad behaviour.
While stood shivering in wet freezing clothes, the recruits watch as Ant and Jason demonstrate how to perform a fireman's carry. The recruits then must walk up and down a hill with each other on their backs. Ant explains just vital this method of carrying someone is in the armed forces. He said:
“The fireman’s carry is probably the most important carry in the military.
“If the s*** hits the fan and someone gets injured or dies, it’s the quickest and most efficient way of getting them off the battlefield.”
Each recruit takes turns to carry their opponent up and down the hill using the fireman’s carry. The task is gruelling and pushes each recruit close to breaking point. It is at this point that Jake is medically withdrawn from the show after suffering a shoulder injury.
Self-confessed cocky attention-seeker John reveals that he wants to be pushed by the DS to the point where he breaks in order to discover just how much it takes to break him.
The fireman’s carry challenge sees him wanting to VW but, when Ant questions him about that decision, he changes his mind and puts his armband back on.
Concerned about his commitment to the course, the DS bring in John for questioning and ask him why he thought he could come on the course if he is "so physically weak” and in a “s*** state”.
Ant explains to the tattoo artist that he was called in for questioning because of concerns about his fitness levels and attitude. Ant suggests that John uses his mouth and tattoos as a defence mechanism, something John cannot deny, saying:
“I do yeah, it’s a bit of a guard.
"I’m not a bad person, I just need to listen more and not gobs****.”
To find out why John is so guarded, Ant asks him what he is running from and discovers the recruit was bullied while at school and spent his 20s taking drugs.
The recruit enjoyed school but at the same time did not care if he was there or not. To this day he still finds it difficult to be told what to do due to the bullying he endured, saying:
“Even now I don’t like people telling me what to do because it feels like those bullies are telling me what to do.”
When asked whether he is still using drugs, John reveals that both his mum and dad are deaf and that the moment they used sign language to say “you look like s***” made him feel incredibly guilty for putting them through such turmoil.
Billy explains that everything the DS do and say is for a reason. It might be alarming to have orders shouted at him, especially when it reminds him of being bullied but if he starts to take his barriers down and start listening, he will do better in life.
The DS sense there is more to Irish Dancer Connor than he is letting on. So far, he has excelled on the course, but they suspect this is due to some form of military training. Ant said:
“I find it hard to believe that you have no military background whatsoever.
“Where did you get your military-esque discipline from?”
After explaining that he learned discipline from years of Irish dancing, Ant asks him to show off his skills which, even though he says it was not his best work, impresses the DS.
The DS praise Connor for how well he is doing but warn that he must not become complacent. They then ask him to be their informant, saying:
“When we do this course, it’s like, who would we have in our team when we go on the battlefield and that’s what I want you to do.
“Find out who you would have on your team.”
Fear The Dark
For their next task, the recruits are split into two teams – Alpha and Bravo. The DS test how the recruits handle fear by simulating a nighttime operation behind enemy lines. Most Special Forces operations are undertaken in darkness. It creates the crucial element of surprise. Billy said:
“There’s gunfire, there’s grenades, there’s screaming, there’s shouting, there’s dust. It’s almost like you’ve gone blind.
“It’s pretty frightening to be honest.”
Throughout the task, the recruits will operate in pitch black. The DS monitor them using military-grade night vision goggles.
To complete the task, the recruits must navigate as a team in the pitch black through a network of tunnels to locate an ammunition box and tall lamp back to the start as fast as they can. However, Billy reminds them of one vital piece of information not to be forgotten, saying:
“The target area is the heart of the enemy homeland. You cannot afford to hang around in there.
“Get in, do the mission and get out. You need to get to safety as a team.”
The DS make sure that at one point in the challenge a recruit is separated from the others to see how each team reacts. Will the recruits ensure the team always stays together or will they decided to split? Billy says:
“The rule of thumb whenever you’re operating as a team is you stay as a team.
“You never become separated. It’s safety in numbers.”
Team Bravo find themselves separated but realise quickly and head back together to reunite with the missing recruit.
Team Alpha, however, are not as successful. After children's hair salon owner DJ, 35, replaces John in lead position, any success they have achieved up until that point soon begins to crumble.
At this point, the DS separate online fitness coach Tyler, 28, from the rest of the team to see how Team Alpha will respond. Upon DJ's direction, Connor goes back to retrieve Tyler.
DJ then encourages the group to make their way back to the start point, ultimately separating Team Alpha and putting them at risk if they had been a real-life situation. After Connor spends several minutes searching for Tyler, the DS call time on the task and reunite Team Alpha. They do not hide their disappointment, with Melvyn saying:
“[Connor] was lost. That’s what it was. He was coming back through the tunnel.”
Jason continues by saying:
“By the time I caught with him then he's gone through this mine tube, back through and he’s been wandering around in circles.
“And then nine was like f*** it, let's go.”
Ant highlights just how crucial it is to be a team player. All DJ managed to do is create a bigger problem for his team.
Fear The Tunnel
As punishment for DJ and Team Alpha’s poor performance, the DS beast all the recruits. After 15 minutes, the DS introduce one last challenge, the tunnel. It is designed to test their ability to cope with extreme claustrophobia. They move 6’4" with broad shoulders DJ to the front.
In the tunnel, DJ feels scared and like he cannot continue. When he comes out, Billy tells DJ that he has an attitude which prompts number nine to punch the camera equipment in frustration.
Back on the parade square Ant demands DJ stand to attention and listen, saying:
“What have I told you? Exposure, exposure, repetition.
“That’s how we evolve, that’s how we get stronger.
“That’s when you start to understand who you f****** truly are, do you understand me?”