The Amazing Race meets Survivor

CASH IN HAND: Brandon Johnson prepares to send another group of 72 Hours adventurers on their way.
CASH IN HAND: Brandon Johnson prepares to send another group of 72 Hours adventurers on their way.

Trios of strangers dropped into the wilderness with just a few survival essentials are in a race for a briefcase full of cash in a US reality series debuting on TV2 this weekend.  James Croot talks to host Brandon Johnson about 72 Hours. 

72 Hours seems like The Amazing Race meets Survivor by way of Fear Factor, but how would you describe it to the average person?

It's the best of fast-food, reality competition shoved down your throat. It's most extreme competition that we can cram into 42 minutes of television. Every episode is a brand new location, cast and course, so that means a whole new set of challenges and personalities each time. Plus, everything you see is real reality, we don't have a script for it - it just happens and we record it.

Did that seat-of-the-pants approach worry you at all?

The element of not knowing can be a grind, but when I saw the original sizzle-reels for the show and the concept, I was like, "Are you kidding me? My office is a helicopter? I'm going to be flying around the world? Hell, sign me up!'.

You spend a lot of the show in that helicopter, had you had much experience flying in them before?

Only once, so I kind of had to "fake it to make it". My motto is, "if I'm not on the edge, I'm not close enough". I've always been an adrenaline junkie - a thrill seeker. I believe you've got to squeeze the lemon of life and experience things. I know helicopters scare some people, but it's such a thrill for me.

During the series, the location of the courses varies from Fiji to Tasmania and New Mexico to Hawaii. Did you have much say in where they would be sited or the layout?

None. I'm right there experiencing it with the contestants. I might not be having the same intense experiences, but I'm out there behind a rock, on a cliff or behind a hedge. Sometimes there's a lot of waiting and then all hell breaks loose.

And two of the episodes are set in New Zealand. What was that experience like for you?

We were in Wanaka and Golden Bay for almost three weeks in November 2012 and it was a fantastic experience. A lot of other shoots had dealt with tropical or desert-type terrain so doing something alpine was new and beautiful and fun. I'm from Minnesota so I love the snow and I'm all about being the outdoors. New Zealand's topography, geography is just so gorgeous. To be in those locations, you just pinch yourself - it's just incredible. I've still got my Air New Zealand frequent flyer card - I'm ready to come back anytime.

How do you think you would do on one of these 72 Hours challenges?

I think I could complete it. But of course the trick here is having two other team-mates, whose strengths and weaknesses are key. That creates a whole other dynamic of challenges within the intense obstacle course that they are going through. If somebody is breaking down physically or emotionally, then you've got to figure out a way to motivate them. You have to ask yourself why you are there. If one person is just there for the adventure, but another one needs the money to save their daughter from cancer, that is going to create quite an interesting dynamic.

Having watched various contestant combinations on the show, what sort of team-mates would you be looking for?

We've had people on the show whose forte was working in the wilderness and they were the first to crumble, which is curious. However, some of the strongest contestants were the mums - they know pain and they know how to calm people down. So I think I would have to have an in-shape mom to cuddle, hold and let you know everything's OK and then it would probably be good to have somebody with a good sense of humour to keep the morale high. My forte is I've always been something of a leader and I know how to push through pain.

And what would be in your ultimate supply drop?

The keys to a helicopter - then I could just blast through the course. It's also crucial to get hydrated. You can go days without food, but without hydration you'll crumble - mentally you'll start to get foggy, your body will shut down and your joints will start to go. So something to help me gather and purify water would be on the list. And you definitely need something to create fire at night, because if you're not sleeping your body isn't recuperating. Also, maybe a few vitamins and antibiotics.

Finally, what's up next for you and the show?

Right now I'm embarking on the greatest adventure - that of being a father. We're [Johnson married interior designer Ariel Fox in May 2013] going to have a baby boy soon so that's where my head is at right now. As soon as we get our little fella settled in I'll be looking forward to the next adventure. Where that leads, we'll leave that up to the universe, but if there's any more 72 Hours I'll be the first one on the plane.

72 Hours, 6.05pm, Saturday, TV2.