Television

"What is unique is that we target the average Joe" : Mike Whitney

'Who Dares Wins' has long been a staple of the reality genre on the telly. For the past four years Indian viewers have seen Australian ex-cricketer Mike Whitney host the show on AXN. As readers are probably aware Whitney is down in India to host a series of dares for the AXN India Special.
 
Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto held a tete-a-tete with the charismatic man with an enviable sense of humour on Friday who spoke about his career, his philosophy on life.
 

When and how did you get involved with the job of hosting shows on television?

In 1994 I retired from cricket at the tender age of 35. I started working for a promotional company called Promotional Marketing. One day I got a call from a television producer at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which is the country's national broadcaster. He said that he had heard me speak at a sports event and found my style witty and humorous. ABC had apparently put a show together but the host had taken ill. He wanted me to fill the slot.

I immediately said 'no'. At that time we were busy doing various sports promotions for the likes of (batsman) Michael Slater as well as a motorsports event. When the man personally visited me in my office the folks I worked with encouraged me to take a shot. The result was 13 episodes of Great Ideas. This was a show that dealt with different kinds of inventions, gadgets that Australians had come up with. The offers slowly started coming from the likes of Channel 7, the Nine Network and Galaxy, a cable operator that has since closed down.

 
 
"Safety is our paramount concern. Insurance costs are enormous and so it would be foolish to attempt difficult feats, which involve skill without first conducting trials."

 
 

What would you say is the reason for the enduring success of Who Dares Wins?

What is unique is that we target the average Joe. The anonymous person who normally goes unnoticed in a crowd. We give him/her the chance to do something he would not even think of. Some of our main dares have taken days to rig and there has been a lot of expense incurred which for an individual is impossible. We do not want celebrity sports people or famous movie stars to appear. We are not interested in a man boasting of finishing in the top three in an Ironman contest or someone who holds swimming records. Our profile is the man who is an excellent husband and a devoted father. However his wife may feel that he is missing that extra zip which makes living so worthwhile.

We get around 5,000 letters each week. Through the years the production team has been able to get a feel of the kind of personality involved by going through them. My assistant Nathalie visits the wife or husband supposed to do the dare and pretends to be a close friend of the spouse. This process is vital for us in choosing participants for the main dares.

 

Tell me about the amount and kind of preparation involved for the difficult and dangerous stunts?

Safety is our paramount concern. Insurance costs are enormous and so it would be foolish to attempt difficult feats, which involve skill without first conducting trials. We have a team of stuntmen who perform the tasks at hand in advance so that we know that they are doable.

For instance if the stunt involves a car being driven over a ramp or through obstacles then the speed, distance are tested. We also make sure that the car has a roll cage. We have thus been able to avoid disasters from occurring. At the most a participant has landed with a bruise or a cut.



The beauty of the show is that we do not force anyone to do anything. The choice of whether or not to perform is entirely up to the participants' discretion. We are also fortunate in that most participants are aware of the limit to their physical endurance.

 
 
 
"Survivor, The Amazing Race and the myriad shows that have popped up are all spawns of Who Dares Wins in one form or another."

 
 
Is the level of spontaneity involved an added attraction?

In India the format will be entirely spontaneous as we are doing street dares. We are aiming to create exciting and involving television. Through the endeavour we are hoping to give people better contact with the show when they see friends or relatives appear. Indians will warm to the fact that we have taken time out of our schedule to shoot especially for them. Each time I have visited the country I have become increasingly fascinated with the culture and to experience it first hand is fantastic. I have also been impressed with the level of awareness about the show among the population.
 
Have you got any future projects lined up as television host besides 'Who Dares Wins'.

I have been hosting Sydney Weekender on Channel 7 for several years now. 350 episodes have been shot. It is a lifestyle leisure show, which tells you about the various activities and places one can do visit over the weekend in Sydney. I have also been a referee for Gladiators. This is a sports based programme where men and women challenge stronger and bigger beings.
 
What is the scene like for reality television in Australia? Is it picking up?

Yes. Over the past four - five years there have been a spate of shows. I would like to point out that Who Dares Wins was the first reality show aired on television. I was informed by David Mason of Mason Media that the idea came about when he and his partner Adrian Brant who directed me in Great Ideas played a round of golf. They were discussing programming ideas and different types of strategies they could come up with.



We are not about shocking or embarrassing people. We simply want to put people in an unfamiliar environment. The important thing for us is that participants involved have a laugh. I would say that Survivor, The Amazing Race and the myriad shows that have popped up are all spawns of Who Dares Wins in one form or another.
 
Have you ever done a show, where feats performed are too repulsive or dangerous?

The idea of a feat being repulsive is relative to ones situation. For instance you may think that eating sheep's eye is nauseating. However go to the Middle East and your host will serve it to you as a delicacy. If a participant fails at the first attempt on a main dare I do it myself. I would say that I have done this around 20-25 times. If I feel that the risk is too great then the dare gets canned.
 
Tell me a bit about your career as a sports commentator.

I have commentated on just two events, which are The Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, and the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Manchester. For a retired sportsmen to take the plunge into entertainment and showbiz is unique and refreshing. After being a sportsman for 15 years I was looking to get away and do something different.



So far I have not commentated on cricket. I still maintain contact with the game however. I was privileged enough to be voted life member of the New South Wales Cricket Association. I am also the President of the Randwick-Petershan Cricket Club in Sydney. We participate in local competitions
 
 
"In India the format will be entirely spontaneous as we are doing street dares. We are aiming to create exciting and involving television."

 
 
 
Did you make the transition easily from cricketer to television host and sports commentator?

Yes. I am a talker and so the journey was a natural progression. I like expressing myself. I like jokes and cooling off over a glass of beer. My view on life is that it is to be enjoyed and lived out with zest. There is not much point in sitting around looking glum. I also believe that in life nothing is completely impossible. For me there only exist degrees of impossibility
 
I have noticed that during the important events there is a certain amount of bias on the part of the commentators. Is that acceptable in the profession?

Absolutely not! A commentator has to call the play on the field as he sees it. In fact I do not like bias in any field of life. It is disappointing to hear of cases where the commentator is siding with one team to the extent that he loses his enthusiasm when the other side triumphs. The rarer the occurrences of such incidents the better.
 
What was the experience like playing Test cricket for Australia under Allan Border?

For Border captaincy was initially a struggle. He took over after Kim Hughes left and I don't think that Allan was keen on the job at that time. It was sort of thrust upon him. His captaincy really came to the fore when we won the Ashes series in 1989. After that we never looked back.



One of his best and most important years as captain came in 1987. We won the World Cup in India which was a phenomenal revelation. For the first time Border won a test series. Playing New Zealand I blocked out the bowling of Richard Hadlee in Melbourne. We were thus able to draw the match. The team went from strength to strength.



In fact because some of our top players went to South Africa on a rebel tour in 1984-85 it opened the door for stars like Dean Jones who scored a double hundred on the 1987 tour to India, Steve Waugh as well as my pace bowling compatriots Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes. There was a void in our test cricket ranking which in hindsight proved to be a blessing in disguise if you look at the level to which these cricketers have taken Australian cricket.
 
Highest and lowest point of your cricket career.

Taking 7-27 in 12.1 overs at Perth when India toured in 1991-1992. Ripping through a line up containing the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Kapil Dev, Mohammed Azharuddin takes some doing. In fact I took 17 wickets in that series. I also have pleasant memories playing the Sheffield Shield. My most disappointing moment was not being able to go on the 1989 Ashes tour. This is especially because in the previous test I had taken 7-89 against the West Indies
 

Would you agree that a decade later the Indians are still a bunch of bunny rabbits on pitches with pace and bounce??

To be fair Australia is a tough venue for any touring side. Each pitch is different from the other and if you notice the most consistent players are those whose game and technique are complete. Players like Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Darren Lehmann have scored lots of runs all over. We play hard and fast because defeat stings like nothing else. Steve Waugh as a captain takes things a step further. Not only does he want to win but he wants to completely vanquish the psyche of the opposition. Crush the mindset of the opposition players so that the next time they play the lesson is not forgotten. The defeat should still rankle in the memory.



In India the problem is that not only do wickets offer turn they also do not offer much for the fast bowlers. This encourages batsmen to come on the front foot. In Australia the bowlers are at your chest and head all the time. So you need excellent back foot technique.

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