SAS Australia 2023: James Weir recaps episode 1

A rag-tag troupe of Australia’s finest tabloid identities literally dig deep on Monday night to find redemption and another glimmer of fame by getting buried alive.

It’s the kind of nonsense that can only be witnessed on one show: ABC’s Q&A.

Lies. Of course, this is SAS Australia – the extreme Channel 7 reality show that leaves all its celebrity contestants wishing they’d just dressed up as sexy space animals while singing I Touch Myself on The Masked Singer.

Tonight’s premiere sees 14 of Australia’s most out-of-demand personalities plonked into the Jordanian desert where they’ll spend the next few weeks getting drowned, thrown out of planes and generally humiliated until they’re psychology broken and forced to reveal all the details of their darkest scandals. It’s Australia’s version of prestige television.

Who has made the cut this year? No one from our dream list – like Michael “Karlos Ya C**t” Clarke, fresh from his Noosa Park fracas. Or dart-punching former Victorian premier Dan Andrews. We had high hopes we’d be seeing Guy Sebastian’s cranky neighbour getting interrogated about what it’s really like living in the shadow of the singer’s fortress, but angels did not bring him here.

Maybe producers just blew too much of the budget on their star attraction: Cocaine Cassie. The convicted drug smuggler leads the cast that includes actor Craig McLachlan, Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice and footballer-turned-boxer Anthony Mundine. None of these people have the star power of Guy Sebastian’s cranky neighbour, but they do have adequate secrets and scandals for the soldiers to waterboard out of them.

In the opening minutes of tonight’s premiere, the troupe of tabloid misfits are dumped in the desert. It’s an easy-breezy start to the competition.

“You are about to be buried alive!” head soldier Ant Middleton screams.

All the celebrities share slight smirks. Surely they’re not actually going to be buried aliv-

“Being buried alive is the closest thing to being dead,” Ant says.

Or is it the closest thing to being an earth worm? You’ve gotta reframe your thinking, Ant.

After 45 minutes, the celebrities are exhumed from their graves. Moments later, when they arrive at base camp and see the living facilities, they promptly beg the soldiers to bury them back in the ground.

The mere sight of these living conditions triggers Cassie, who starts having an anxiety attack as she remembers the three years she spent in a Colombian jail after being caught with a suitcase containing 5.8kg of cocaine in Colombia in April 2017.

“When I was told that I was being sent to prison, it was like … my whole world had just ended. My first night in prison, I was attacked. I was robbed,” she says.

“I’ve been labelled as an international drug mule. And it is true: I’m the person who committed the crime. But I was set up by someone who I considered to be my friend. I was offered by a friend to go with her overseas. But I didn’t realise it was trafficking drugs until obviously everything that happened in Colombia. The day I was supposed to leave Colombia, they made a point of being there in the hotel, packing my suitcase. I knew then that something was going into my luggage.”

The whole point of SAS Australia is simple: Producers lure controversial identities onto the show with the promise of a redemption arc and then trick them into revealing all the dark details of their scandals during interrogations with the soldiers. It’s such a trap. The soldiers should work for Woman’s Day in between filming. Anyway, it comes as no surprise that Cassie is the first to be hooded and dragged into the concrete interrogation cell.

“It was just a nasty, nasty environment,” she tells the soldiers of her time in jail.

“I was the rich white girl and being targeted, I didn’t know how I was going to survive. I was almost sure someone would kill me there.

“I feel like I’ve re-entered one of the yards there. Even the way we eat food, sleep … the guards there are very much the same. They yell at us. They would treat us like dog sh*t. They’d hit us, gas us. With guns that sent gas tins thrown with pepper gas.”

Ant fires off a question.

“Did you know what you were doing?” he asks about the drug smuggling.

“Yes,” Cassie says. “I was extremely naive. I was still very young and I didn’t know how to get out of it. If I didn’t go through with this, I was a dead lady.”

The soldiers ask what was going through her head when she was sentenced.

“I literally thought I was going to kill myself. I … wanted to,” she says.

“Having been manipulated and tricked by someone I thought was my friend. Having been raped. It was hard getting through those days. I saw people hung from staircases, stabbings.

“I think about how close I had been to taking my own life. But I think, it wouldn’t have shown the person I am at all.”

It’s heavy stuff. The soldiers don’t even bother maintaining the menacing tough guy act. They sympathise and let her go back to camp, where Michael Klim’s ex-wife Lindy is experiencing her own low point.

“There’s no toilet paper,” she sighs, looking around the stall of the long-drop toilet. “I don’t know where to put my used pads. Oh my god. I’ve got my period, I’ve got allergies.”

In the neighbouring stall, some chick from the TV soap Neighbours pipes up.

“There’s no toilet paper,” she cringes. “I’m just gonna stand here and try to air-dry for a minute. I’ve got so much sand in my underwear and they’re a little wet.”

Things couldn’t get worse. Or could they? Of course they can! Just a few minutes later, the Neighbours actress with damp, sandy underwear gets thrown off a moving train.

“I did my own stunts on Neighbours,” she informs us with a completely straight face.

Indeed, fake-laughing at Toadie’s jokes absolutely qualifies as a demanding stunt. And not everyone has that kind of physical skill.

AFL Hall of Famer Jason Akermanis claims he has hurt his foot and demands to see a doctor, but the soldiers believe he’s simply faking an injury in order to leave the competition without looking like a big girl.

“It’s very sore, it’s not good,” he tells the doctor, begging to be issued a medical certificate that would allow him to bow out gracefully.

The doctor raises an eyebrow and tries not to laugh at the hypochondriac’s terrible acting.

“Doesn’t look swollen, does it?” the doctor says. “I’m not seeing anything here that would lead me to think I need to medically take you off the course.”

Aka stutters.

“ … Well … there’s … there’s swelling there,” he points to a toe.

The doctor squints and leans closer. “Where?”

The soldiers aren’t letting Aka off the hook that easily. The big burly footballer has no choice but to double-down on the fake injury. He quits the competition on his own accord and fake-hobbles out of the camp.

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