For years, Shannan Ponton devised gruelling challenges for the contestants on The Biggest Loser.
But this time the father-of-three is on the receiving end as a recruit on SAS Australia.
Between panic attacks, memory loss and a psychological meltdown, the 46-year-old, who shares Max, eight, Milla, six, and Bronx, two, with his wife Kylie, tells Woman's Day he gave the course his everything, despite being completely out of his comfort zone.
You did some harrowing tasks on the show and suffered memory loss. What was that like?
The first time I had memory loss was when we first jumped into Lake Jindabyne from the helicopter and had to push our bags to shore. Walking up the hill it was like things started to go psychedelic – the grass looked really green and everything looked really surreal in my vision!
I had felt like that before, when I am exhausted from training and you run out of blood sugar. Your eyes and vision go weird, then my hearing went and then I just blacked out.
The memory loss lasted about one hour and 15 minutes the first time. It ended up with me having to be stripped naked by my fellow recruits and dressed in warm clothes. That day there was a blizzard and the wind chill factor would have been in excess of -10 degrees – absolutely freezing.
How did you prepare to overcome your fears ahead of the show?
I had a super phobia of having my breath taken away. I was watching the series from the UK and saw episode after episode of people being held underwater and holding their breath. I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing out of my chest – it was the first time in my life that I had ever had a panic attack.
I didn't sleep and paced around the house. Then in the morning I told [wife] Kylie that I was going to ring the production company and tell them I am out. Then just by coincidence my mate Deano from Bondi rang me and said, 'I am doing a breathing workshop, you should try it.' The breathing saved me so many times on the course.
Out of all the recruits, who would you say you became closest to in the show?
I was lucky enough to do some training before the show started with James Magnussen, he has an amazing mental constitution, very positive and a super cool demeanour. Even under immense pressure it never fazes him. Having him there with me helped a lot.
I also had a great friendship with Merrick Watts, he is the oldest bloke by 16 days on the show. So, the old fellas had to stick together, just trying to get to the end of each day, rather than set the world on fire.
I must admit I was blown away by the fortitude and resilience of the girls that lasted more than three to four days. I remember on day four, I was thinking how do I get out of this? There was still six girls saying 'come on Shannan you can do this.' They were actually motivating me. The most empowered, positive females I have ever met. I take my hat off to them.
I have heard a lot of stories about Schapelle Corby and whatever she has done in the past it never weighed on my mind. I never thought about it but I understand what she has been through and for her to maintain such a positive, healthy, happy, open demeanour was quite incredible.
The time and the conversations I had with her were really special, she's an amazing person to maintain a positive soul with everything she has been through. She is a very special person.
Thanks to your time on The Biggest Loser, you're no stranger to dishing out tough instructions. How was it being on the receiving end?
There are massive parallels that can be drawn from SAS to TBL.
I was pushing my contestants way out of their comfort zones with the intention of changing their lives and showing them what the future could be like with when they are healthy and fit. I think the DS [Directing Staff] were the same. Their intent wasn't to break us – it was to strip us back and show us what we are made of.
It's coming up to 15 years since TBL premiered in Australia. Would you be up for a reboot?
Without a doubt, the 10 years I spent on TBL was one of the highlights of my life! I absolutely loved transforming my contestants' lives. This past July was 30 years as a fitness professional and I am just as excited and passionate about training today as on the day I started.
The feeling I had on SAS has brought new energy into my life. There is definitely hype and scope for TBL to return.
You celebrated your 10th wedding anniversary this year with wife Kylie Stray. What's the secret to a successful marriage?
Part of the success of our marriage comes with our three beautiful kids, who we both love and adore. We are both very hands-on parents and complement each other raising our kids.
I think the other part of our successful marriage is to never train your wife – every time I do it, it ends up in some kind of a fight!
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