Warning: This article contains content of a sensitive nature which some people might find upsetting.
An SAS Who Dares Wins recruit has spoken about the sexual and physical abuse he survived when he was a child.
Oliver, 31, bravely revealed to Directing Staff (DS) Foxy and Billy that he was sexually and physically abused from the age of seven for about a year.
“I don’t like to show my weaknesses and vulnerability because that’s what f***** me over when I was a child.”
Oliver explains that his childhood was normal apart from "a few bad events”. He said:
“That was difficult, but it was more difficult living with it, you know? I kept it a secret for like 20 years.”
Billy, visibly moved by Oliver’s honesty in openly talking about the abuse, says:
“That must have been f****** killing you?”
Oliver explains that the abuse he suffered has “controlled his whole life”.
At the beginning of the programme, Oliver explains to the camera that he is quite guarded and that he finds it difficult to make close friends. He said:
“Being put in a position where I have to trust people is going to be hard.”
Foxy takes the opportunity to remind Oliver that he is now part of a team. He said:
“A lot of it is about being open and honest with yourself and the people you’ve got around you.
“You have to allow them to understand what your weaknesses are.”
After speaking to the DS, Oliver explains more about what he went through as a child. He said:
“The person that abused me was there basically because he was meant to look after me and I was meant to have trusted him and he let me down.
“But I feel like going forward now and where I am in my life, I feel like I do need to start trusting people.”
Oliver takes the first steps towards trusting people by asking fellow recruit Nicola to walk with him to a quiet place and support him while he cries.
These moments of raw honesty from Oliver were encouraged by the first SAS selection challenge he took part in. One of the main premises of the series overall is to challenge the recruits in order to reveal their true self, the part of their life they haven’t faced up to yet or spoken to anyone about.
Further gruelling challenges force recruits like Jerrome and Kirsty to be open about their own mental health and limits.
SAS Who Dares Wins is well-known for not shying away from tackling difficult subjects, especially male mental health. The Channel 4 series makes it clear that to be part of the Special Forces you can’t rely solely on being physically strong, remembering your mental health is just as important.
It’s clear the DS want to break down the, at times, damaging stereotype of the average man. Each series of SAS Who Dares Wins so far has shown that when people open up about deeply personal moments in their past and express previously untapped emotions they benefit immeasurably.
Chief Instructor Ant Middleton and the DS were looking to find the recruits weaknesses so used a ruthless technique already familiar to fans of SAS Who Dares Wins. Foxy said:
“Being sat with a bunch of lads who you know have got your back, that’s probably one of the best feelings in the world.
“You’ve got people around you that you trust with your life but relationships in a team have the potential to become fractured because of the situations you’re in.
“You’ve got to be able to park that and get on with the job at hand because that’s all that matters.”
In this episode, the recruits work in two teams. Ant stands a recruit in front of the others and asks them to declare which recruit they think is the weakest.
First up to make the challenging decision for her team is Recruit 2, Bethany. In the previous episode, Bethany was pitted against former SAS man and undercover DS ‘Jamie’ in hand to hand combat. She stood her ground and impressed the DS. In this challenge, Bethany doesn’t hesitate to choose Recruit 11 as the weakest.
Next up Recruits 18 and 14 also choose number 11, Kirsty. Ant decides that she will become the team leader. Ant said:
“When there’s a close-knit group, putting the weakest member in charge will test the unity amongst the group.
“But also, have they got what it takes to lead, or will they crumble under the pressure?”
Before Oliver’s private revelation about his sexual abuse to the DS, team two choose Oliver, as their weakest and therefore make him their team leader.
This is Kirsty and Oliver’s chance to confront their weaknesses and inspire their teams in order to impress the DS and save themselves from being sent home.
Ant, Foxy, Ollie and Billy decide to put undercover DS Jay on Oliver’s team because they feel as though up until that point, they didn’t know much about him. Oliver responds positively to his teammates and is matter of fact about him being chosen as the weakest.
Kirsty, however, responds to encouragement from her team with a defensive tone. Her teammates say this is an opportunity to prove everyone who voted for her as the weakest as wrong. In return she says:
“I don’t need to prove anyone wrong, I’m confident in myself, it’s an opinion.”
She explains to the camera that she is incredibly confident and doesn’t feel the need to follow the crowd. However, this is sometimes problematic. She said:
“... I think sometimes people aren’t sure, you know, how to take that.”
At the end of this phase of the condensed version of the SAS selection process, Recruit 4 will be revealed as being an undercover DS and will have to choose which recruits should leave the course. He said:
“I’ll be listening and soaking up as much information as I can. Do people pull together as a team or are they just thinking about themselves?
“Those people that do not meet my standards will be culled.”
CHALLENGE ONE: Surf Immersion
In the first challenge, the teams battle it out in unforgiving, relentless waves. In an SAS Who Dares Wins first, the recruits take on ‘Surf Immersion’, a notorious military water beasting that simulates water torture.
Linked arm in arm, each team must fall back into freezing cold seawater and stay afloat for as long as possible. If one team member fails, the whole team fails.
Video: Channel 4
Shaking due to the extreme cold weather, the teams collapse backwards into the powerful surf.
Kirsty and Oliver have the chance to prove their leadership skills. Foxy said:
“Surf immersion is horrible. It does feel like you could drown.
“You’re struggling for breath, you’re gasping.”
Like many of the recruits, Oliver is struggling to breathe but, as he is the team leader, Ant pays particular attention to his ability to complete the challenge. He shouts:
“Like back or give me your number now.
“Stop f****** around, you’re letting your team down.”
Even though Kirsty is also enduring the same overwhelming water torture simulation challenge she shouts words of encouragement to her teammates.
Eventually, Oliver can take no more of the beasting and stands up. Because of this, his whole team fails the challenge.
Back at base DS Foxy and Billy ask to speak to Oliver to decide whether he deserves his place on the course. Foxy tells Oliver that you can’t shy away while in the SAS. Any weakness will be revealed. This is when Oliver bravely talks about his sexual abuse.
CHALLENGE TWO: Merciless Team Log Carry
As the worst of the Scottish weather hits Dun Caan on the Isle of Raasay in Scotland, Oliver and Kirsty's leadership is tested to its limit in a merciless log carry.
Each team must find a way to carry a 150kg log two kilometres to the peak of Dun Caan.
While carrying the log as part of his team, recruit seven Mark takes the brunt of the weight because he’s at the back and is the tallest team member. Being part of a team is something Mark’s dad is familiar with as he was in the British Army from the age of 18 with a large proportion of that time serving in the SAS.
Mark reveals how his dad responded when he introduced him to ‘Cybil War’, his drag queen persona. He said:
“When he first met Cybil it was just that kind of like, huh, OK, this is happening.
“I’m very lucky. How many people’s Dads will come to their drag show and cheer and whoop along?
“I think he’s not firmly in that camp of being able to enjoy it and be part of the fun.”
Both teams make it to the top within minutes of each other, but Oliver’s team comes first.
In weather that looks more like a hurricane than a rainstorm, the recruits must make their way back down Dun Caan as fast as possible.
Jerrome and Mark find this the most challenging aspect as they both took most of the weight while taking the log up to the peak. Jerrome collapses so his teammates carry him downhill. Mark’s team unite and surround him to encourage him to keep going. However, Mark has reached his ultimate limit and voluntarily withdraws (VW) himself from the selection process. He said:
“I hope that my Dad can see a side of me that he hasn’t seen before.
“I want to make him and my family proud.”
After having to be carried down the hill by his fellow teammates, Jerrome asks to speak to Chief Instructor Ant. He says he’s “ready to go” and Ant responds with:
“It’s been a pleasure, having you on my course.”
When he tells his fellow recruits of his decision to VW they are shocked and demand that he take a minute to rethink his decision. Of his experience on the course Jerrome said:
“I’ve changed dramatically. I tried being positive at the time.
“I’m a new man, full stop.”
CHALLENGE THREE: Murderball
After her failure to lead her team to victory in the log carrying task, the DS want to speak to Recruit 11, Kirsty.
Ant tells her the DS aren’t worried about her level of fitness. What does concern them, however, is how well she would cope with failure.
Ant comments that he can see the ‘shell’ - the wall she has built up around herself to hide her weaknesses from others - start to break. She said:
“Maybe I can be unapproachable. I don’t open up enough, I don’t talk about my weaknesses.
“Maybe I don’t do enough to mix with everyone in a group, so I think, yeah, this is just a learning curve.”
To the cameras, Kirsty opens up about why she feels the need to constantly protect herself from emotional hardship. She said:
“Growing up … I got bullied a little bit.
“It affects you. I definitely think I don’t let people in because I don’t want to be hurt.
“It’s just easier not to talk to someone … and to just do your own thing.”
Video: Channel 4
The final challenge gives Oliver and Kirsty the chance to prove themselves as leaders and worthy of staying on the course.
In 80 mph wind on a freezing cold beach on the Isle Of Raasay, the recruits face the most aggressive team challenge yet – Murderball.
The two teams line up opposite each other and must fight for possession of the tyre. Once they have it, they must take it across the opposition teams' line in the sand.
Within seconds of the task starting, it’s clear the recruits don’t plan to hold back. Channelling their aggression, as seen in the previous episode, some recruits head straight to the tyre, but others tackle individual recruits to the ground.
CHALLENGE FOUR: A Twist
Back at base camp, the recruits don’t realise they are in for a big surprise. Undercover DS ‘Jamie’ tells Ant, Foxy, Billy and Ollie what he thinks about each recruit after being their eyes and ears on the inside for several days.
While standing in the freezing Scottish rain, the recruits are introduced to Jay, the real ‘Jamie’. Ant makes it painstakingly clear that Jay has been informing the DS about everything the recruits have been talking about. Because of him, they know the recruit's weaknesses and therefore, who to cull from the series.
In the end, only two recruits are culled and the ones who remain are bristling with a combination of excitement and confusion over the reveal of Jay being an undercover DS.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article contact Survivors UK, Safeline, Rape Crisis and The Survivors Trust