Fight Science: Behind the Scenes

Fight Science: Ultimate Soldiers
Premieres Monday February 1 10P et/pt
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Supervising Producer Tucia Lyman talks about coming up with ideas for pushing their test subjects to the limit.
One of the best parts of producing these Fight Science shows was designing the parameters of the different tests and then watching your brainchild materialize into something that makes even the experts say, “I don’t think this has ever been done before.”  Picture a pack of producers on Turkish coffee spit-balling ideas with biomechanical engineers, physiologists and tactical experts to see which tests can push the envelope and challenge both the audience, and science.  I mean, how do you push an army ranger to his threshold in an environment that is both quantifiable and cinematic?  Sure, there’s always an oxygen-controlled mask and a treadmill but we wanted to think big — and the idea of having a 1,200 cubic-foot altitude chamber with a 10-foot Skywall inside trumped everything else.  We just started inventing experiments that would really make these Special Ops guys work hard so we could explore their techniques and shed light on why they could last much longer in these extreme environments than we could.  Six weeks later, an inspired whiteboard sketch had manifested into a gigantic altitude chamber and when I stepped inside at a simulated elevation of 20,000 feet I could barely catch my breath.  It was unbelievable.  Our army ranger was about to climb this wall at high altitude and then shoot a semi-automatic rifle (with marking cartridges of course) at a live enemy — and I could barely handle it standing still.

Then there was the sniper coffin.  Yes, sniper coffin – a box of man’s worst nightmares that could push a sniper to his breaking point to reveal the tricks-of-the-trade he’d use to pull off the perfect shot, regardless of what we threw at him.  Casting for this position was hell.  Turns out most snipers are, well incognito, and not really that interested in plastering their faces on national television.  So we had a series of conference calls with a few different candidates who refused to reveal their identity, in fact they called us with calling cards from undisclosed locations and went by several different assumed names.  The ideas for what exactly went in the sniper coffin organically evolved from these conversations.  A marine scout sniper told us that on one assignment he was attacked by so many fire ants he temporarily lost his vision.  It’s called a “green-out”.  Green out eh?  Well, how do you feel about taking a shot from inside a controlled glass coffin accompanied by five thousand insects and a few tarantulas?  Believe it or not, in the name of science, this guy was up for the challenge.  During filming (he wore a balaclava helmet to conceal his identity) we were squirming in video village watching mealworms wiggle their way into his protective glasses and scorpions march by with their pinchers on high alert.   These guys are truly warriors.  I took a picture with all of them on set afterwards and admitted that being surrounded by special ops soldiers was the safest I had ever felt.  No kidding!

Fighter Pilot Russ Smith talks about his experiences filming Fight Science: Ultimate Soldiers.
Shooting the Fight Science show was a great experience!  When we entered the studio, I was first amazed at how they could do so much in a limited space but that must be nature of the industry.  It was neat to see all the studio and set equipment used for shooting, but what most impressed me was how the workers were able to change or assemble the required items in such a short amount of time.  For the segment that highlighted my “Fighter Pilot” strengths, they brought in a gyroscope used at fairs, easy.  The following day for the segment that highlighted the Army Ranger’s strengths, the set workers built a complete altitude chamber overnight complete with a climbing wall inside it and a special door to shoot an M-16 out of, it was impressive and intimidating when they told me how the events of the day would unfold. I couldn’t believe anyone could have made anything like this in such a short amount of time, kudos to the set workers.

My experiences with the two “experiments” were very unique and couldn’t have been farther apart from one another.  The Gyroscope tailored to highlight my strengths did just that and was fun and enjoyable to me.  I suppose that is why each of us is a professional at the top of our game in the area of our expertise.  When they spun the gyroscope up to its maximum speed on me, it was a lot like going on an aerobatic flight in a high performance aircraft with someone else flying and me in the passenger seat, I had no control of the sequence of events but still enjoyed it quite a lot.  It wasn’t difficult, rather just a lot of fun!  In stark contrast was my experience on the climbing wall in the altitude chamber.  This was totally out of my comfort zone both in high altitude operations and on a climbing wall.  As a pilot, we are always on oxygen when operating at high altitudes, so oxygen starvation is not something we are used to at all.   Add to that a climbing wall, which I have never done, and that makes for a very demoralizing experience…it kicked my butt.  It gave me an immense amount of respect for our troops on the ground, that operate day in and day out in such harsh environments.

Sports Physiologist David Sandler talks about working with Special Ops soldiers on the show.
Without a doubt, some of the most amazing physiological feats are performed by members of Special Operations Forces. As I continue to work with and test the limits of Special Operatives, the more I am impressed with how much the human body can handle. Whether it is extreme environments, awkward situations, or fighting to save lives, Special Ops Soldiers abilities are off the charts. I have worked with hundreds of elite athletes and these soldiers can stand toe to toe with best.

The drown proofing water test showed amazing self preservation and drive as we kept piling on weight and Stew kept pushing himself harder. The altitude simulation test was showed that both physical preparation of our Army Ranger Jeff, through hard training and determination held the keys to survival. Most impressive is that the air at 20,000 feet was “thin” and it made breathing without exercise difficult let alone a very tough climbing task. The gyro simulator was a true task of focus. Just watching the gyro go around made me sick, so for Russ to handle that many flips and spins for that long, proves that humans can push their toleration threshold way beyond the usual limits. The sniper showed just how devastating precision training can be. The ability to focus and screen out everything except the target took shooting to whole new level. To pick one best or most impressive would be hard as each challenged human limits but required specific skills with years of training and tremendous physiological adaptation. Everything was both a learning experience and fun to watch. I am glad I had a front row seat!