A brutal interrogation challenge, during which hungry and exhausted SAS Who Dares Wins recruits are put in stress positions and questioned under pressure, sees a specialist interrogation unit pile on the pressure to see who will crack first.
With their senses blinded, the recruits are left with no choice other than to face their demons. This week, the show focuses its attention on three recruits who have stayed under the radar but will their pasts help or hinder their ability to make the grade?
For recruits to be captured and interrogated, Chief Instructor Ant Middleton and the Directing Staff (DS) Foxy, Billy, Ollie and newcomer Jay set them a series of challenges in the unforgiving, freezing Scottish sea and on land.
Open Water Swim
The DS want to see how the recruits cope over a variety of different terrains. In three small groups, they must complete an open water swim in the freezing unforgiving Scottish sea and then run for 5km. At this point, DS Foxy gives viewers an insight into his own SAS selection experience off the coast of Skye.
He said: “Spent about 40 minutes swimming in ice-cold seawater. It zaps your energy within seconds.
“You’ve probably done 100m and you it feels like you’ve got nothing left in the engine. It's horrendous.”
Recruits Shakiba and Kim are the weakest swimmers left on the course. This lack of ability delays their team from completing this task before the third team start. Before the Channel 4 series started, Shakiba said:
“I think if I was ever going to break I think it would be emotionally first rather than physically. I do have battles with myself, on a daily basis.
“I have … anxiety attacks and I’m trying to tackle it head-on so I know that being on this course will flare up these feelings.”
During the open water swim, Shakiba has a panic attack which puts everyone in the water at risk of hypothermia. Ant and the DS make the call to get them out of the water as soon as possible. As soon as the recruits get back to shore and out of the water, they remove their wet clothes immediately.
In pairs, they remove their soaking wet tops and squeeze as much water out of their clothes as possible to reduce the chances of hypothermia.
To warm themselves back up again, the DS make the remaining recruits run uphill for 5km.
Video: Channel 4
However, Shakiba is on the brink of hypothermia so Ant guides her to the top of the mountain so she can be seen by a medic.
Ant said: “It’s a code of honour, to make sure you get everyone back.
"I’ve picked up people that have been blown to pieces. I don’t remember it vividly because I separated myself from that situation.
“That was my defence mechanism to deal with such horrors. There should be no reason whatsoever to leave anyone behind.”
The DS gather to discuss the failure of the task. At first, they focus on Kim.
Foxy said: “I don’t know whether it’s because she’s not a strong swimmer but number nine, I’ve been a big backer of hers and I think she’s been strong but struggled on the swim.”
For the first few days of the course, DS Jay was undercover as a recruit. He was able to be the eyes and ears of the DS and report back to them. About Kim he said:
“I think she’s strong. Don’t be fooled by the size of her. She’s just not been in a position where she can prove it.”
After panicking on the swim, the DS are concerned about Shakiba’s mental strength. Jay said:
“Number 13 was going nowhere fast from the beginning. She f****** struggled and panicked a little bit and wasn’t going to make it.”
They bring Shakiba in for questioning with Ant and Billy.
Video: Channel 4
Ant asks Shakiba what triggered the panic attack during the swimming challenge. She explains that she suffers from anxiety attacks. When asked why she was motivated to take part in the SAS selection series Shakiba breaks down in tears. Her dad used to serve in the Iranian Army. She said:
“He suffers from PTSD from getting tortured and watching his friends get shot.”
Ant asks whether she is putting herself through these extreme challenges to gain a little bit of understanding about what her dad went through. She said:
“It will never be anything like what he went through, nothing, not even remotely close but maybe I can relate to something he experienced out there?”
In a moment of kindness, Ant and Billy reassure her that they have seen what PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) does and they understand what she’s going through. Their advice for Shakiba is to start focusing on herself. They realise they have underestimated her mental strength. Ant said:
“F*** me she’s strong, more than she realises.”
Escape And Evasion
While the recruits are getting some much-needed sleep, the DS throw flares into their room to dramatically wake them up. This is designed to disorientate them right at the start of the next challenge. Ant says:
“Escape and evasion isn’t just an exercise where they want to see how you cope when you’re on the run.
“It’s seeing how you adapt and how you improvise with your mind.”
Split into two teams led by Chris B and Chris O, the recruits are sent on the run across the very same terrain used in SAS training for the 'escape and evasion' phase of the course. Just one mistake will lead to being captured by the military trained force hunting them down.
Over the next 12 hours, both teams must prove themselves capable of succeeding under the pressure of capture and make their way to each rendezvous (RV) point.
To avoid capture, Team Alpha walk under the cover of thick forest. In a moment of hesitation from Chis B, Kim takes charge and decides their team should emerge from the cover of trees to take a more direct route to the RV point on the shore. This pays off and they reach their target first.
Chris O’s team find themselves being targeted by the hunters and drop their map in a moment of panic. Despite this drawback, they forge forward to evade capture and 20 minutes later reach the RV point, without their map.
In a moment of leadership, Carla asks for another map to replace the one she lost.
After being dropped off by trawler at two different points on the Scottish Isle of Raasay coastline, both teams race to the second RV point. Team Bravo are dropped off half a kilometre closer to the next destination but are 100 metres from the shoreline and must swim to land.
In an attempt to give Shakiba another chance to prove herself, the DS place her in Team Bravo and expect her to enter the freezing cold water again. Once again, Carla takes the lead when she sees that Shakiba is struggling and supports her by using encouraging words and never leaving her side.
Team leader Chris O forgets his role and once they reach the shore, runs ahead without any consideration about the rest of his team.
At this point, the team is separated. DS Billy said:
“Separation during ‘escape and evasion’ is absolutely petrifying.
“The reality is that being on your own in an enemy environment, initially you’re looking for the enemy but you’re now looking for your comrades to regroup which amplifies the fear factor and the danger that you’re in.”
The recruits have now been on the run for six hours. Team Alpha is also letting a team member fall behind. Macclesfield recruit Ammar, 25, is finding it difficult to motivate himself after six hours of trekking across the punishing Scottish Highlands. Before the course started, he spoke about the toughest time of his life. He said:
“The most hostile environment I’ve been in is probably during drug addiction.
“I was taking drugs I never thought I would end up taking and that’s when I really felt it get me by the balls really.
“People were coming at me with machetes and knives. They were not good times.”
Video: Channel 4
After ten hours on the run, Team Alpha are captured just when they think they’ve made the second RV point. Team Bravo make the RV point and start to warm themselves in an abandoned building. However, they don’t designate someone to watch for the military personnel hunting for them so are ambushed and captured. While dogs bark in the background each recruit is hooded with their hands bound behind their back.
The recruits will need to prove they are physically and mentally robust enough to survive the most psychologically demanding of all the phases - interrogation.
Video: Channel 4
‘Resistance to interrogation’ is a vital stage of SAS selection. It prepares recruits for enemy capture by subjecting them to techniques not permitted by Britain’s armed forces.
On just four hours sleep over the course of two days and left in soaking wet clothes, the recruits are frog-marched back to base.
The interrogations are run by a specialist, experienced unit but the whole challenge is overseen by a man who cannot be identified on camera for safety reasons. He refers to himself as ‘The Umpire’ and introduces himself to each recruit. He makes it very clear that if at any point a recruit feels as though they would like to voluntarily withdraw (VW) themselves or would like to see a medic, they must put their hand up and ask to speak to him.
Two days before the interrogation challenge, the recruits were given a cover story to keep their true identities hidden. Foxy said:
“The purpose of a cover story is to keep you alive. It has to be bomb proof.
“If someone else hasn’t learnt a certain part of it, that’s it, you’re all f*****.”
The interrogation team will use every tool in their arsenal to pry the truth from each recruit, whatever it takes. The sleep-deprived, cold and hungry recruits are hooded, cuffed, stripped down to their underwear, put in stress positions for hours and forced to listen to loud and distressing sounds, including a baby crying, on a loop via headphones.
Recruit nine Kim impresses the DS by managing to keep her cool under pressure at the start of the interrogation process. She even manages to bargain and question her interrogator. In response to this confident move, Billy said:
“This f****** kid’s good. She’s doing well, really, really well. She’s questioning him.”
Kim grew up in Hackney which at the time was “quite rough”. She said:
“People were dying on my doorstep. It’s made me the person I am today because, in my mind, I can be pushed really far.
“In my mind, I’m unbreakable.”
Video: Channel 4
Two hours into the brutal interrogation process, recruit 12 Ammar quietly asks to speak to The Umpire. Proud of his achievements in the series so far, Ammar explains that he feels mentally strong but that he’s had an unsettled life because of his drug addiction. He said:
“When I was taking drugs, within five or four years I’d lost my house. I was on the street, I’d lost my friends, my family.
“All my relationships were burned down through my addiction.
“I’ve got a lot of making up to do and I’m doing that just by staying clean, doing the right thing, being accountable.”
In a small but important moment, Ant embraces Ammar and reminds him to feel pride at what he achieved during his time on SAS Who Dares Wins.
Recruit 13 Shakiba talks about her experiences of racism when she first moved to England and how that experience made her a stronger person. She was shocked by how she was treated. She said:
“I was faced with a lot of racism, a lot of hatred which I still find hard to believe why people had that hatred towards a seven, eight-year-old child.
“But I definitely grew from that.”
In previous series of SAS Who Dares Wins, there has always been a strong focus on mental health awareness. Every year, interrogation is the final challenge the recruits face. Shakiba was aware she would face this brutal part of SAS selection and was determined to complete it.
However, after much deliberation, the DS and interrogation team decide she should not endure such an extreme technique, fearing it would have a negative impact on her mental health.
Shakiba is understandably devastated at this news and begins to cry. DS Foxy immediately comes in to speak to Shakiba and reassure her that she should be proud of her achievements.
However, she is disheartened to have come so far only for it to be taken away from her at the last hurdle. Foxy shares with her his own experience of not making SAS selection twice. He understands how “horrendous” the decision must make her feel but that she should leave the series with her head held high. She said:
“It’s really hard to go out like this. Yeah, I did really think I could make it to the end.”