Get ready for a new kind of reality competition show. American Grit will take 16 of the toughest men and women in America and have them compete in military-style challenges and obstacles. Over the course of the season, they will truly be put to the test, physically, emotionally and mentally. The contestants are split up into four teams, each one being mentored by a member of the military. These mentors — Noah Galloway, Rorke Denver, Tawanda “Tee” Hanible and Nick “The Reaper” Irving — are known as the Cadre. And the series is hosted by none other than WWE’s John Cena.
I visited the set in Washington State and got to check everything out and even interview the cast. They talked about comparisons to Survivor, what John Cena is like as a host, how the military heroes mentor the contestants and much more.
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Is American Grit Anything Like Survivor?
You might be thinking, this show sounds a lot like Survivor. Yes, the contestants will take part in various challenges and, yes, someone heads home at the end of every episode. But there are striking differences. “When [the show] was described [to me], I thought it was going to be very similar to other [shows like] Survivor,” Navy Seal Commander Rorke Denver said.
But what everyone involved with the show loves about the concept for American Grit is that it isn’t focused on backstabbing others or forming alliances to oust teammates. It’s all about teamwork, just like in the military. Contestant Mark Bouquin said, “What really drew me in, it wasn’t like other reality shows. To be honest with you, I don’t like all that drama stuff, like most reality shows are. But what drew me in was, it’s like Survivor but you don’t get voted off, you don’t pick teams, you don’t go behind people’s backs. I’m not saying that’s how Survivor is all the time.”
Contestant Lisa Traugott agreed: “We didn’t sign up for Survivor, and I’m glad because I don’t want to be in a cutthroat thing where you’re afraid of everybody’s against you or plotting or strategizing.” However, I will note that if you are a fan of Survivor or other similar shows, then definitely watch American Grit.
Mark went on to say, “We’re put into teams, but the whole point of the show is to work together as a team, and you can win as a team or in the worst case scenario you can still win individually in the end.” As he explains it, the way you lose the game is by “giving up, tapping out or not physically being able to do it. … It’s about how well you perform and how well you work together as a team.” They can win up to a million dollars for their team if they make it to the very end.
Rorke can speak from experience on this. “Everything in the military is based off teamwork. You’re not an individual,” he said. “I think even in the Marine Corps, they’re not allowed to say ‘I.’ You can’t refer to yourself as that, so it’s all about teamwork.” Marine Gunnery Sergeant Tee Hanible added, “I could have a million things to do, but it’s not done until the whole team puts it together. It’s just never about an individual.”
John Cena is Not a ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Reality Show Host
Most people know John Cena from the WWE. In recent years, he’s branched out into other avenues, including appearing in movies like Trainwreck with Amy Schumer. And now he’s trying his hand at hosting. He feels a real closeness to the military and helping others, so a show like this was right up his alley. “He lives his life by the same code, honor and morals that many of these military people do,” executive producer Brent Montgomery said. This dedication isn’t just for show, as Army Ranger Nick Irving notes that a lot of people say they have a respect for the military, “but sometimes it’s only bumper sticker deep. [Cena] really does have a genuine respect for the armed forces.”
Everybody, from the Cadre to the contestants, had nothing but great things to say about Cena. Army Sergeant Noah Galloway believes that he’s a great addition to the show. “I think that him as the host of this show is what is going to make this show — his passion, his dedication, who he is as a person. … I think that that is going to draw people in.” Rorke admitted that he doesn’t give out compliments easily, especially when they’re not deserved. So for him to praise Cena, that’s a big deal. “He has an intensity and a focus,” he said, and pays “attention to how to run this show honestly better than any TV show I’ve seen.”
All these reality competition shows have a host, from Survivor‘s Jeff Probst to The Amazing Race‘s Phil Keoghan and everyone else in between. The way Tee sees it, this isn’t “your everyday cookie-cutter reality show,” so you don’t want just anybody hosting. Cena “brings a level of realness to the show. … I think that’s what a lot of these reality shows need. … He’s not your cookie-cutter announcer. He tells it like it is.”
When talking about John Cena, contestant Clare Painter lightheartedly said, “I want an action figure like him on the hood of my car. … He says, I’ll get on that. I’m like, okay, that’ll be cool.”
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Will the Military Mentors Be Like Typical Drill Instructors?
“It was an extensive search to really find a diverse group with different military backgrounds and really looking for people who had a story to tell. And each of these guys in our minds were just really unique in what they had done and what we thought they would bring to the table.” That’s how executive producer Brent Montgomery described the process of casting the Cadre.
John Cena admitted that despite all his success in the wrestling world, “I have never felt so inferior in my entire life” opposite those four. “It’s special because I get to sit back and watch while they do what they do. They’re all leaders in their own right and they’re all extremely accomplished in their own right.”
There are stereotypes out there regarding the approaches that military leaders take. For Noah Galloway, who finished in third place on Dancing with the Stars season 20, his style of mentoring the contestants is to “motivate and inspire, just keep them moving. … I just want to be another piece of the puzzle that assists, that helps, and keep the unity together because you’re stronger as a team.” Another mention of working together as a team — as I said, that’s a huge component of American Grit.
That doesn’t mean the Cadre will go soft on the contestants. Noah admits that if he has to be harder on certain members, he will be. “We all adapt to what we’re dealing with,” he said. “We also know how to come down on people when necessary.”
Mentor Nick Irving mentioned that he’s a pretty quiet person, “a nature of the job,” he notes. “But there’s times … where something comes out, different emotions, so it’s not like I’m a quiet, stick-to-myself type guy. There is emotion there, and it shows when it needs to.”
There are two styles that mentor Tee Hanible brought up. First, she sees this as a mentorship role. “I can tell them, okay, these are things that I went through; these are the paths that I’ve taken. Maybe you need to kind of be engaged in a different way if this is not working for you.” But she warns that just because she wants to guide the contestants during this journey, it doesn’t mean she’ll be soft, echoing what Noah said earlier. “The Marine Corps does come out, where that screaming comes into play for me, at least.” So it’s not really the “in-your-face, tossing stuff that’s added with the drill instructor. So you take that away, but it still comes out.”
Mentor Rorke Denver reiterated that point and added that there’s a “classic drill instructor, screaming, boot camp type thing” that’s seen as a stereotype. For American Grit, though, “That’s not what I think you’re going to see on this show. I think our styles are a little bit more thoughtful, a little bit more focused and driven and more — let me see how I can get this person to achieve success without beating him down.” So it definitely sounds like they’re all about finding that balance in order to make sure the contestants succeed.
Why American Grit Will Give You a Greater Appreciation for the Military
Since American Grit is centered on the contestants competing in military-grade challenges, everyone is hoping that viewers come away feeling a greater appreciation for the military.
Rorke mentioned that even though this isn’t war, he believes that some of the lessons he’s taken from the military can “distill down and really impact candidates who would not have that interface any other way. They would not have access to someone with my background” to be able to translate “what we’ve learned both from the battlefield and beyond to give that to folks who have really no connection to the military.” He later said, “No one is going to watch this show and be like, well, that’s easy. They’re not going to feel that way. It’s the real deal.”
Along with that, Rorke hopes that viewers “see that American spirit, that American toughness, that we all hope to bring to the table.” Tee agrees, saying, “I think also watching this show, Americans will maybe get a greater appreciation of our service members and veterans.” When non-military people see the kinds of things that they’ve had to go through, “the kind of training they have to put their bodies through,” it’ll hopefully give everyone a better look at what they really do.
Check out a preview of American Grit right here:
American Grit premieres Thursday, April 14 at 9pm on FOX.
(Image and video courtesy of FOX)