This post is long, I promise it is the last long one, but it deserves to be long as it is a significant part of my last 12 months. Theres nothing too revealing, unless you count me getting weighed, in my shorts on national TV.
Operation Transformation is an excellent programme, but I would say that. as a public service broadcaster, RTE have an obligation to the public; OT ticks a lot of the boxes with these obligations, it also satisfies the insatiable desire for the public to absorb ‘reality tv’.
Let me explain the format to those unfamiliar..
The programme is based around 5 leaders, each selected due to their particular issues / concerns / problems. The 5 leaders my time around were a young student, a mother with just a small amount of weight to lose, a girl with more weight & big personality , a former athlete who had let things slip over time and me, a father about to turn 40 with 2 kids and a pretty dreadful family health history. The viewers then decide which one of the leaders suit their own concerns and they can then ‘follow’ them by copying their exercise plans & weekly diets. There are 3 ‘experts’ provided to hand out sage advice, a Medical Doctor (Dr. Eva Orsmond) for diet & nutritional advice, a Fitness Expert (Karl Henry) and a Psychologist (Dr. Eddie Murphy) to figure out the deeper rooted issues. This was one of the first 360′ RTE programmes where the series was covered on TV, Radio, and the internet with a dedicated website and mobile app. The programme is incredibly successful, regularly pulling in close to 600,000 viewers, making it a top rated programme for the winter schedule.
I sent in the application form in October 2011, a researcher called to my home a couple of times and interviewed me, once on camera. From there I was selected to a final group of 24. We met up one day, all 24 together, and this was our first TV experience. There was a swim test, interviews with the experts, a radio show and an interview with the lovely Kathryn mentioned earlier. We also took part in what was called the ‘Circle of Truth’, I’ll not give too much away about this as it would spoil the viewing experience (OT is back for Season 6 in January 2013) but to say we were tired and emotional is about right.
All 24 potential leaders standing in a circle, 3 cameras focused on you and Dr. Eddie in the middle speaking to each one of us in turn asking “So, tell me about your journey…”.
Remember in school, when the Teacher went around the whole class asking the same question and you desperately sat in your seat thinking of something original to say, then one of your classmates said the same thing and you had to start thinking again? Well that’s it, the Circle of Truth in a nutshell; except the stories are tough, each person had their own story, but while we were 24 individuals, there was one singular theme running parallel with each one of us. Desperately sad & emotional people poured their issues out to complete strangers, consistently people spoke of heartbreak over tried and failed diets, desperate attempts to find and repair love and relationships, fear of early death and missing out on children and growing old with loved ones. People with Diabetes, poor self-esteem, very real health concerns, lost opportunities and real fear of death all gathered together talking to each other. It was very strange at times as we met in a complex not far from Dublin Airport and occasionally we had to stop & reset (as you do a lot in TV land) as a plane went overhead and the sound recording was disrupted. Looking back, it was my first experience that no matter what was going on, we were making a tv programme and that was why we were there. Every single one of us, selected or not, proved our strength that day. It was as tough as they said it would be and I have nothing but respect for all involved.
I was probably about a third of the way around the circle, rapidly searching my mind for a tale to tell teacher when a couple of people before me started talking about their children and their fears for the future, like a lightening bolt, I suddenly understood why I was there, no making up stories, just real fear that I was heading in the same direction my Father went.
My Father was overweight, he developed diabetes & he injected himself daily. I always remember the instructions about his little pill-box, “if I look like this” he said, “give me the blue one. Like this, then its the orange one” at 41 he had his first heart attach, by age 51 he had 2 more and died tragically early after a stroke. I was just 15.
I was 39 standing in the Circle of Truth, and the realisation that I was halfway down the same path my Father took hit me hard. That’s the tv shot everyone asks me about, sobbing so heavily that it was difficult to understand what I was saying. Dr Eddie handed me a tissue so small It disintegrated with one sniffle, It really is hard to explain the feeling but that moment was like a cloud opened up and the sun began to shine on my problems; perhaps right then was when I understood what was affecting me and it was the first step to putting things right. There were still 24 of us in the group, but I had decided there and then, regardless of whether I was selected or not, I was going to be around to buy my son his first pint (or at least be there when he bought it!), I was going to teach my kids to drive and I was going to grow old with M.
As it turned out, I was selected, one of the 5 leaders chosen to front the programme for 2012…
January 2nd came and I was assigned a ‘Predator’ – short for Producer / Editor or otherwise known as my cameraman. Jim was my shadow for 7 weeks only leaving my side when I was down with the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp for our weekly challenge. He arrived each morning and left each night, became part of the family and did a great job, by the end I would be lying to say we were best of friends but I respected what he had to do and he was very good at it. When I signed up to OT, I knew it would be tough emotionally, but you don’t understand the effect it has on your family; they didn’t fill in the form but they are thrown into the whirlwind that the programme creates. They are recognised when out, we became public property, playground taunts come out and if you are 7, you don’t really understand why people stop you in the supermarket and stare into your trolley with a slightly disapproving look. But all in all, Jim had a job to do and I thank him for doing it respectfully always keeping my family in mind.
The programme was broadcast on a Wednesday but the format for the week mainly stayed the same…
- Monday 7am – off to location for filmed weigh in. this took about half a day. We would do a radio interview then as well
- Tuesday – normal day-to-day stuff. Filming all day
- Wednesday – Normal day-to-day stuff. Filming all day and late filming for broadcast of that weeks show.
- Thursday – Normal day-to-day stuff. Filming all day
- Friday – My predator Jim worked on another show on Fridays so I got a free day!
- Saturday – Normally a half day filming depending on what footage was required for the week.
- Sunday – This was Army day!
The Curragh. I thoroughly enjoyed the Army challenges, it gave me an opportunity to test my fitness on a week by week basis, they look tough on tv and they were tough, but if I headed into them with a positive attitude I normally came out of it the same way. Sometimes I felt this kind of pissed off the production company; the army challenges were the big focus week to week, our PT trainers were typical army ‘tough’, it wasn’t expected that you came out the other side smiling but I tried to do so week after week. I lost weight pretty rapidly and the tests had to be designed with a group of 5 involved – it became clear to me pretty quickly that as the fittest, I should find the exercises relatively easy, but the tests changed week on week, some were individual and if you slacked off, you were spotted . The team tests were easier, but I tried to position myself in such a way as to take some slack off my teammates wherever possible. Sgt Mulcahy & Lt Fagan spotted that, I’m not sure of my teammates did.
The army boys got a rough time amongst the viewers for being overly tough at times; I have nothing but praise for them, their aim at all times was to see us through to the end, we were their team and they worked hard to help us reach our goals; our success was their success. It may not have come out like that on-screen, but I would relish the opportunity to go back, I know they would be proud to see how I have done.
We were assigned a specific eating plan, and exercise regime, if you followed the plan, you saw success, if you didn’t, you didn’t; it really was that simple. I followed things to the letter of the law, week in week out, and the numbers on the scales continued to drop; as the weeks progressed I continued to lose weight, between Adrian & myself there developed an unspoken level of competition, I really to think both of us were watching the other and it spurred us on to push for more personal success. In the end, I shaded it by a lb or two, but not before I had made a good friend in the process.
I had lost a total of 3st 5lbs. This turned out to be the most that any leader had lost in all 5 series of the programme to date.
It wasn’t a competition though, my prize was my health, my family and a new-found love for life; and running, I discovered I loved running, I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say about that…