TNT’s new entry in the humans vs. nature reality competition genre is like the Cliff’s Notes version of “Eco Challenge” — as its title underscores, each episode takes place over 72 hours. The ticking clock element amps up the excitement in a race that pits three teams of three complete strangers — apparently grouped to maximize conflict — against the elements in a quest for a $100,000 prize.
Armed with one bottle of water each, a GPS transponder and a radio transmitter, teams pick up gear as they make it to each of three supply drop checkpoints along the way. (Calling for a “relief drop” containing such items as blankets or toilet paper comes with a one-hour penalty.)
The locations are, in a word, spectacular. From Fiji’s Yasawa Islands in the June 6 opening episode to New Zealand in the second and Lana’i, Hawaii in the third, “72 Hours” takes viewers to rarely, if ever, trodden terrain in some of the most beautiful spots on Earth.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here. But we do want to do something a little different,” says host Brandon Johnson. “We take the best elements of ‘Survivor’ and ‘Amazing Race’ with a little bit of ‘Man vs. Wild’ and ‘Survivorman’ and create an immediacy. Every episode is a new location, a new cast. And once this show begins, you’d better buckle up, even if you’re at home on your couch, because the ride doesn’t stop.”
Johnson, an actor with TV and film credits like “Shake it Up, “The Notorious Bettie Page,” and “One Life to Live” and hosting experience for “Fox Soccer USA,” “Rally America,” and several HGTV shows, jumped at the chance to take on the host role in “72 Hours,” citing his outdoorsy upbringing and people skills as qualifications.
“I grew up in Minnesota, and we do everything outside regardless of temperature, snow, rain, heat, whatever. I did a lot of camping, hunting, outdoor activity my entire life,” he says, also noting that as a drummer in a band, he navigated the urban jungle, living in vans and sleeping on cement floors, so he’s accustomed to bare-bones survival. He feels that his down-to-earth personality suits his role as a confidante for the contestants. “They feel comfortable opening up and talking to me, and I let them vent,” he says.
“72 Hours" also filmed in the southern Rockies and on Flinders Island, which is part of Tasmania. “They got electricity about 15 years ago; population about 800 people. This place is so far off the grid but so incredibly charming, enchanting and full of life,” remembers Johnson. “Traveling to get to our flight deck every morning, about a mile and a half, I would see wombats, wallabies, peacocks, wild horses, snakes, different types of birds, boar, wild deer. I’d never seen anything like that. I’d never seen sunsets like that either.”
While production required long, difficult days, and he praises the crew for their toughness and resilience, Johnson notes that there was recharging time, including three welcome days off in Fiji. “We’d go snorkeling, surfing. We always tried to take advantage of the unique locations that we were in and tried to do something indigenous to the area,” Johnson says.
There was also a concerted effort to be protective of those unspoiled environments. “We’re very respectful of the locations that we’re in,” points out Johnson. “In Lana’i for example, we had people working with the conservators of that land to find out where we could go and adjusted the course accordingly. There is no littering. We’re very sensitive to the incredible surroundings that we’re in.”
In anticipation of a second season of “72 Hours,” those interested in competing can apply at www.lightheartedentertainment.com. Johnson put other aspects of his career on hold while he awaits confirmation of a pickup after the premiere, but he’s fine with that. “I have a good feeling about it,” he says of the show. “We’ll see how it all plays out.”