“Global Gladiators” New Reality TV Show, African Adventures and a Space Net-Rope Swing Challenge
The e-mails volleyed back and forth for a couple of weeks. Digital communication across separate continents discussing the details of a new German television series in the making. Think American Ninja Warrior meets Survivor. The premise being that two teams of German celebrities will explore the vast wilderness of Southern Africa, competing in a series of outdoor obstacle courses over water, land and air. The competitors will travel over 2,500 miles distance through rugged environments in a windowless freight container, stopping only to compete against one another in a succession of impressive outdoor challenges across some of Namibia’s most breathtaking sceneries. They’ll jump from helicopters into water, rope swing out of one of our patented space nets and free fall hundreds of feet above the ground, among many other exciting physical and mental tests.
The new rigging assignment was to build a space net that would be suspended somewhere in the desert of Namibia, as part of a new adventure reality television show called Global Gladiators. Our objective was to prepare a new net that would have a rope swing component out of it, something we’ve only prepared in the home comforts of Moab. The game plot was designed so that the contestants would cross a long horizontal rope (tyrollean-traverse) hung in the middle of a canyon to access our suspended net, scramble around on the large hammock surface to find a hidden hand-held bocci ball, free fall out of the net into a large pendulum rope swing and attempt to throw their ball at a fixed target below. Basically a very extreme game show version of bocci ball. Easy enough, right? Well, from a rigging stand point Scott Rogers, Tiffany Junge and I knew this was going be an extremely technical rigging task in a very harsh desert environment. We naturally smiled at the new challenge and began devising a plan. With no time to waste we started brainstorming innovative ideas together, drawing up design diagrams and making important calculations.
Before knowing all the details of the job ahead we needed to first do a reconnaissance trip to Southern Africa. Global Gladiators sent Scott Rogers out to Fish River Canyon, which happens to be the largest canyon system on the continent of Africa, located in southern Namibia, to find the perfect space for our proposed rigging challenge. Upon returning to Moab, he reported that the most promising gap he could find was 400 feet across, at its smallest span, and the rock quality ranged from very bad to pretty solid. A geological mixture of optimism with a hint of spiciness. We knew this big budget project was going to be full of new obstacles and the scouting trip confirmed this to be true. Amenities, available gear and human support, we were told ahead of time, were going to be scarce so our pre-expedition logistical planning would have to be extremely precise for everything to be executed flawlessly. In addition to our homework, we were given a second assignment to create another challenge for the show that would take place at a totally different location in Swakopmund, immediately following our de-rig schedule. The expedition was shaping up to be jam packed with lots of excitement and hundreds of miles to be traveled across vast parts of the African desert, in the midst of their hot summer season. This was a job that would require military precision, effective team communication and impressive rigging expertise. With next to no shade available in the canyons, temperatures were forecasted to be hovering around 115 degrees fahrenheit and we would only have access to a very small rigging team at our side. Considering all the facts on the table, we smiled once again, realizing that our decades of accumulative rigging experience, desert acclimatization in Moab and unique climbing/rigging skills made us the most qualified and only professional team in the world capable of completing such a task, with crew safety always at the forefront of our minds.
Fast forwarding a month, after a mirage of logistical planning and flying half way around the world to a new desert environment, we all found ourselves gathered in a small studio apartment in Windhoek, Namibia with extreme jet lag. We unloaded our massive coils of ropes, metal bolts, steel carabiners and remaining gear on the floor to begin prepping. The following days would consist of meeting parts of the Global Gladiator’s production team, sourcing more ropes and materials in town and then eventually heading out across the desert expanse to confront a multitude of rigging tests ahead.
The design of the space net to rope swing challenge (titled “Spidernet-Boule”) was that each contestant would manually pull themselves across 400 foot long horizontal ropes (tyrollean-traverse) to the center of the canyon, while hanging 120 feet above the rocky ground from a climbing harness. Once positioned above the suspended space net we would lower them into our colorful net, attach them to a new leash system and they would begin scrambling about the perimeter of the webbing, searching through a series of dangling black bags to find a specific colored hand-held bocci ball. Once found, I would attach them to a separate 100 foot long rope swing, already secured to the edge of the net, so that they would plummet toward the ground at high speeds and attempt to toss their bocci ball at a tree target below at the apex of their swing. To conclude the game, we would lower them carefully to the ground from the swing ropes and they would be judged based on their ball accuracy to the target and time taken during the challenge. Depending on how close the ball landed to this target determined how many points they would accumulate as a team and as individual competitors. At the end of the game, the losing team would be forced to pick a team member to leave the television program and thus no longer be in the running for winning money or being crowned the Global Gladiators champion.
Working 16-20 hour days to prepare this stunt, 5 consecutive days in a row with no more than 4 hours of rest per night, we accomplished our rigging goal and provided an extremely adventurous experience for the German contestants. Despite the long hours of work in very harsh desert conditions, temperatures hovering around 114 degrees most of the day, we kept each other safe and focused as a team. Our effective ability to take care of one another in the high stress environment, while maintaining safety as our primary objective throughout the experience, was noted by the production crew and they left with a tremendous amount of respect for our professional rigging abilities. What we created and coordinated as a cohesive team unit was nothing short of world-class rigging with an awe inspiring outcome for the Global Gladiators television program.
After wrapping up production with the 8 German celebrities and spending the following morning de-rigging the net, we barely had enough time to breath or celebrate before setting off on a 14 hour drive to our next set location of Swakopmund. This beautiful coastal town certainly had a unique German tourist charm, but our next rigging feat would take place no where near the comforts of modern civilization. We hopped in our 4-wheel-drive trucks the next morning, filled to the brim with gear and loaded down suspension, arriving in one of the most barren desert environments I’ve ever seen. Driving at fast speeds over rugged rocks and deep sand washes, along what was named “Fury Road” (since the most recent Mad Max: Fury Road movie was filmed there) we eventually arrived at our new rigging location.
The first step of our next game challenge was to install a 600 foot long horizontal rope (tyrollean-traverse) 120 feet off the desert floor between rock walls. To sum up a complicated rigging design, we created a game where contestants would be pulled along a suspended horizontal set of ropes, while dangling in a full body harness, passing over a series of floating balloon clusters below. Each contestant wore special shoes equipped with spikes on their soles, used to pop the balloon when they made contact with them. Whenever the hanging contestant visually felt like they were above the various balloon targets they would signal to their team to stop pulling them horizontally on the tyrollean and we would release them from the dangling position into an 80 foot free-fall toward the ground. They would attempt to kick the balloons and pop them to accumulate points. With a total of five attempts to pop the balloons, we would repeatedly yo-yo them up and down to the suspended position along the tyrollean-traverse. This proved to be an extremely complicated rigging feat, mostly because the balloons below had to be positioned at a fixed height. The added element of constant wind made this concept exponentially more difficult to keep the balloons stable in space but we created a solution. These facts, in addition to the contestants having to repeat this repetitive up and down process, dropping and raising again and again, made for an exhausting experience for the gladiators mentally and physically.
In summary, the game functioned perfectly and we had proven our team worth by continuously adapting to new unexpected issues and persevering through stressful work conditions. After 14 days of continuous and full on travel/rigging we were rewarded with an extra week in Namibia to relax and enjoy. This expedition proved to me that our team dynamic and creative rigging skills could be pushed to new limits and met with new solutions constantly. I learned a lot about my own personal endurance, focus and tenacity in EXTREME heat and under high production stress. All of us grew closer as a team, alongside our new Namibian friends, and we bonded through the trials and tribulations of a hectic work schedule. Thanks to the enthusiastic help of many Namibian climbers, drivers, and staff at our side, an incredible German stunt team and an excellent Global Gladiators staff, we all walked away from the job exhausted and with a new creative resume piece to travel home with.