In the latest twist in the survival television subgenre, “Lone Target” takes its hero, drops him into treacherous terrain with only basic tools and a canteen of water, and sends an elite team of military or law enforcement trackers in after him. His mission: make it to an extraction point without being captured. The manhunt’s prey, Joel Lambert, is outnumbered, but not necessarily outmatched or outwitted, as he’s a former Navy SEAL with ten years of experience dealing with extreme situations in Kosovo and Afghanistan before he moved to Hollywood and became an actor.
Lambert heard through a friend that producers were seeking a Special Ops type with a survival and tracking background, and submitted his resume. “I didn’t think much of it at the time, and only realized the seriousness of it when they sent me out into the desert to shoot some stuff with me and a few other candidates and some of the Discovery executives had flown in to watch,” he recalls. “Several weeks after that, I received a call telling me that I got the gig. It’s been an amazing, brutal, draining and fulfilling experience, and I can’t wait to do more,” he says of the six-part series, which premieres January 1, followed by an extra "making-of" episode.
Lambert says his goal going in was “to survive, to evade, to use all my skill and tools to do myself and the Brotherhood of the SEAL teams proud, and to make some compelling, action-packed, painfully human television. I think we accomplished that in spades.” It wasn’t easy, as he tells MNN in this interview.
MNN: How does it feel being chased?
Joel Lambert: It’s so intense. It’s completely in the moment. It’s like dancing on a razor’s edge, and when I get back from a hunt, I’m spent. My body has been dumping adrenaline into my system for days on end and my adrenal glands are shot. Hormonally, I’m completely depleted and as weak as a kitten. I sleep and eat for about five days until I feel like myself again. I’m 41 also, so that contributes as well.
What dangers and challenges did you face in these environments? Any animal encounters or injuries?
There were lots of insect and bacteria encounters that put a few crewmembers and myself down with disease and infection. In South Africa, besides the tremendously accomplished trackers and their former SAS leader, I had to contend with lions, leopards, crocs, hippos, buffalo -- all the big nasties of the African bush. In Panama, we had more crew injuries there than anywhere else: Africanized killer bee attacks which resulted in crew and hunters being lost in the jungle, cases of anaphylactic shock, a torn rotator cuff, and (I kid you not) a flying fish attack which speared the victim five inches through the neck almost killed him -- one-and-a-half centimeters from his spinal cord and two centimeters from his carotid artery. Poland had massive assets at their disposal; the Philippines had exquisitely skilled personnel and the worst jungle I have ever experienced. We had heat injuries, a class-2 typhoon, and leeches everywhere while filming that one. In Arizona they had three different drones with thermal imaging capability and some of the worst mountainous terrain I have been in since Afghanistan, and South Korea…well, South Korea didn’t go the way I expected it to from the get-go. You’ll have to watch and see what happened there.
Were you ever caught?
I’m at a massive disadvantage in this scenario: The techniques that I would actually use aren’t applicable when I’m forced to move and evade towards an extract in a limited time frame, and the hunter forces I go against are really good. They’re highly trained, motivated, have significant assets, and their national pride at stake. So yeah, I’ve been caught.
Do you have a crew or one cameraman with you? Did they need special training to keep up?
I have a camera guy and a producer with me, and they’re both beasts. The producer has a military background, but none of the camera guys (I’ve been through three so far) have had any military training and are in a really difficult position, as they have to try to do their job as I’m trying to keep them tactical. It’s a tough balance. Watch the behind-the-scenes episode; you’ll see me lose my cool on the camera guy more than once!
Why did you want to be a SEAL? How did that experience shape you?
I wanted to become a SEAL because it was the thing that scared me the most, and I wasn’t sure I could achieve it, so something inside me told me that was what I had to do. ‘Find out what you’re afraid of and go live there.' Chuck Palahniuk said that, another Pacific Northwest guy who happened to write ‘Fight Club.’ How did it change me? It re-wrote my DNA. It inducted me into a scared brotherhood that stretches back to time immemorial and goes forward to who knows where. There are a few true warrior societies left on Earth, and the SEAL teams are one of them.
Are you an adrenaline junkie?
No. I don’t relate to that term. I’m constantly craving a challenge. I think that the moments that you’re not sure you’ll survive can be the greatest moments of your life, but I’m not about stupid risks for their own sake. If I were to die on this show, I would be OK with that, because in that moment, I was giving all I had against a worthy foe, and as a warrior, you want to not only live a life that’s worthy, but hopefully die -- if not in battle, then while fully living, If that makes sense.
Where did you grow up? Did you have an outdoorsy childhood?
I grew up in Kelso, Washington, a small town in the southwest part of the state. It’s truly a gorgeous part of the country, lush and green, and every time I go back I fall in love a little bit more with the Earth and the trees there. It’s hard not to have an outdoorsy childhood there, there’s so much to do within just a few hour’s drive at most. My dad took us camping more than I can remember -- around Spirit Lake at Mount St. Helens especially, before it erupted. I can still hear the hiss of that old Coleman propane lantern next to the crackle of the campfire. He also started me on skis when I was two years old, and my childhood was filled with fishing, windsurfing, the rugged Pacific Northwest coast.
Where do you live now? Do you have a family?
I live in Los Angeles right now, but not for much longer. I need space. Now that I don’t have to be here 24/7 I’ll be splitting my time between California and probably Montana or Wyoming in the near future. I have no family of my own, besides my parents and sister that still live up in Washington State. It’s just me and my dog, Rosie, a 90-lb Rhodesian Ridgeback, who I take everywhere. As far as raising survivalists, Rosie certainly qualifies. You’d be amazed at the things she can eat!
Are you still acting? Want to? It seems far less exciting (and a lot slower) than being a SEAL or doing “Lone Target.” Do you find this more satisfying and suited to your personality?
This show has taken all of my time and energy, and I love that. I got into acting as a means to kind of reconnect the wiring harnesses in me that weren’t quite locked together tight after 10 years in the SEAL teams. Allowing your emotions and feelings to be close to the surface just goes away in the military. It’s not bad, it just is. I wanted to access those again, so I started training in acting. It really helped. It was enlightening. Is acting less exciting? Definitely. But it’s different. I still enjoy it, but I’d rather do this show any day, since in "Lone Target" I get to be completely, fully myself, at my best and at my worst and use all that I am, all that I have and become to try to overcome these odds stacking up against me. It’s an amazing experience.
In the first episode you make note of the poacher problem and animal conservation, since it's a game reserve. Was that aspect important to include?
Yeah, I was pretty impressed with Damien Mander, whose team I was going up against in South Africa. They’re doing an amazing thing combating the poaching problem in Africa. Like he says, it’s not an Africa problem, it’s a global problem’ He told me that poaching is the third biggest criminal enterprise in the world, behind drugs and human trafficking. If you look at the numbers, the decline of these amazing species is completely out of hand, and the poaching is being done by large, well-equipped criminal enterprises. Check out the International Anti-Poaching Foundation and help Damien and his rangers out in their fight.
What did you learn from this experience? Was it more challenging than even a prepared, experienced guy like you expected? What did you find most difficult about it?
I don’t think there’s one specific thing that I learned or took away from this, but it definitely stretched me and grew me in many ways, which I expected. I expected the unexpected. That’s something that you learn to do in a special operations world: prepare, prepare some more, plan for every contingency, and be ready to drop all that work on a moment’s notice and flow with the situation as it comes to you. I think the most difficult aspect of it was not operating with a group of SEALs, like I was used to in the teams. The dynamic of myself, the producer, and the camera guy is much different than that of a fully loaded-out SEAL squad.
What do you want audiences to take away?
I hope they’re entertained. But along with that I hope they see how much passion all of us, crew included, have put into these moments -- not for the sake of the TV show in the case of myself and the Hunter Forces I’m going up against, but rather for the sake of our brotherhoods, our professions, our identities. I hope they learn a few things. I have more than a few tricks up my sleeve that I draw on, and so do my opponents, but I hope they see inside our minds and hearts a little bit and see who we really are, because that’s why we do the things that we do. It’s in our DNA.