People and places

Anjali Jhangiani
Friday, 22 March 2019

Australian adventurer Todd Sampson talks about introducing his audiences to extraordinary people around the world, and how they adapt to extreme conditions, on his show Body Hack 2.0

Television personality Todd Sampson goes around the world exploring various cultures and places to find some of the most extraordinary people on the planet. Simply put, he learns from the lives they live and uses science to explain how they do it. That’s the crux of his show Body Hack 2.0. Currently in the second season, the show will have Todd introducing his audiences to the Matsés of the Amazon, Iraqi frontline soldiers, sadhu/holy men of India, the Kung fu masters of China, the firefighters of Washington DC and the Kazakh Eagle Hunters of Mongolia.

“I have a list that I have been carrying around for the last 10 years. It has cultures, people, sub cultures that I want to explore, learn from and show my audience,” he says. But what is the criterion for selecting  what to film for the show? After some thought, Todd answers, “ The criterion varies. I try to make the show as culturally diverse as possible. I think that each episode should be different from each other. The episodes should be visually interesting for the audiences as well.”

The host uses science to hack into the lives of the people he features to explain how they adapt to the physical, environmental, and cultural circumstances they live in. “It’s essentially about how I understand their world. I use science as a filter. The cultures, let’s take the episode on eagle hunting in Mongolia for example, I explore and then explain how they physically and psychologically adapt their bodies and minds to the extreme cold through science. Or when we talk about the soldiers in Iraq who require to have a steady hand on the trigger while firing snippers, I find out how they manage to stay focused in such extremely stressful and dangerous situations. We look at their power of focus and visualisation and explain the techniques they use to stay calm,” says he. 

After travelling the world and meeting all kinds of people, exploring varied cultures and living in different terrains, Todd has a wholesome perspective of the human race. “We, as humans, are the most adaptable and brilliant entities on the planet. With the right training, conditioning and mindset, we can do anything, literally. We can adapt to any part of the world. Through extreme cold, darkness, fear, anxiety, we have the ability to adapt. Generally, we live a comfortable life, but we could all do so much more,” he says. 

But what’s his personal takeaway from the show? “Sometimes at night I hug my children tighter,” says the host who has survived near-death experiences on the show. “I see potential in my girls (Coco and Jet), I see the ability to learn various cultures, to expand their perspectives and goals,” says the filmmaker.  

Todd has been shooting for this show for half a decade now, and India is the only place that he’s been to twice. “I travel a lot! In a year, I find myself travelling to 12 different countries. But India is the only country that I’ve come back to,” he says. His first trip to the country, over a year ago, was to shoot an episode with Bollywood stunt men exploring their lives in Mumbai. “It was such fun,” he recalls, adding, “At the end of the episode, I made a short Bollywood film where I was doing all the stunts, flying from here and there, jumping.”

On his second trip, he met with the Aghori sadhus in Varanasi. “The first thing I learnt is that they are some of the most open, genuine, and caring people that I’ve filmed around the world. And it was a real privilege to have access to them. They showed me many things — the power of shape to overcome pain, the power of camaraderie and unity, and the power of meditation and breath. They showed me how far it’s possible to push the human body using the mind. They are the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met and Varanasi is my favourite city,” he says. 
While the life of a travel host might seem like the perfect job for someone who likes to go to nice places, eat nice food and have a nice time, in reality it’s a pretty tough lifestyle. Todd agrees that though everything looks so easy to do on television, it is not so in real life. “Because of my style of making my show more immersive, I tend to get hurt or damage myself in some way and then I hardly have any time to recover. That is why I train (exercise) every day to keep my body strong. The only days I don’t train are the days I am filming,” he says. But his adventures don’t only strain his body, they also strain his mind. This is why he makes it a point to see a psychiatrist between shooting for the episodes to learn how to deal with his adrenalin, to keep himself from draining himself emotionally and to process his experiences. “It is very important for me to process my experience before I move on to the next one. It has been working well for me till now,” he says. 

Thinking of his most trying experience, he says it was his recent trip to war-torn Gaza, or his experience in Peru. After pondering for a while, to pick the most dangerous and unpleasant of all experiences, he says it was his time in the Amazon. “There was a tribe in the Amazon called the Matsés who have enhanced senses to hunt better. In the black of the night with no electricity or water, just by using sounds, they found a big green frog and spread it on four sticks. They rubbed it till it started sweating a white substance which they put in a container. They burnt three holes in my arm and poured this white liquid in it. And I thought that’s it. I thought I was going to die, so did people there. It was the worst experience of my life but I was committed. My heart rate dropped to 30 and then rocketed up to 150. It was one hell of a ride. Now my arm is fine. The burning was not an issue, it was the feeling of the drug that made me feel like I was going to die,” he recalls. 

Watch Body Hack 2.0 premiering on March 25 at 9 pm on Discovery Channel and Discovery Channel HD

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