Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge puts the grit and cooperation of its competitors to the test in an obstacle course designed to challenge the limits of human strength and to require, above all, the ability to work together as a team.
The second season of Spartan presents even more formidable obstacles, which the teams of two men, two women, and a team captain will have to overcome to win $250,000. Reporter and sports anchor MJ Acosta, who is now a course reporter on Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, speaks about what makes the show interesting, how the bar has been raised for this season’s competing teams, and what she enjoys most about being a reporter on the show.
Q: How you got involved with Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, and what is the show about?
A: I actually participated in several Spartan races before the opportunity to do the show even came along, so I’m very aware of what it takes and the community around obstacle course racing. Once the opportunity came to actually co-host the show, I was all over it. The show is pretty nuts, in a word. In the typical Spartan race, when you go out there, even if you go with a group, you’re still racing as an individual, but for Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, there’s actually no physical way that you could complete this on your own. I mean, you would actually have to be the Incredible Hulk to do it, or a bionic man or woman, so that’s what makes it so interesting. You could be an elite OCR athlete and not be able to finish it if you don’t really help your team, or if your team isn’t a cohesive unit. The most interest part is to see so many different team dynamics and people who you maybe wouldn’t peg as obstacle course racers just go out there and absolutely crush these obstacles.
Q: What have you noticed makes a team dynamic work well?
A: Definitely communication, because you can get into almost a panic mode if there is something that will throw you off, and there always is. There’s always a twist, there’s always something you think you can handle, and then you realize, ‘Oh, hold on, my body’s not supposed to do these things.’ The teams that excel are the teams that can kind of talk each other through it, you know, someone that has more of a strategic mindset as opposed to someone who’s just all strength. You need to be able to delegate things for your team in order to push each other to get past it.
Q: How has the bar been raised on this season of Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, and what sets it apart from other obstacle course racing shows like American Ninja Warrior?
A: It’s interesting because if last season of Spartan and American Ninja Warrior had a baby, this season would be it. It’s really, really cool. It’s set up nights, so that element alone I think changes the atmosphere of racing. It changes the tone and mindset for the racers as well. I think just being in a nightside atmosphere is something that you immediately have to double up for. Like, ‘Oh man, it’s gonna be dark, is that going to help me or hurt me?’ There’s that added element of mystery to be under the cover of darkness, so that was really interesting to me. It’s a different time of day. Many people are used to waking up at 7 A.M., knocking out a race, and they’re good to go. Now, it’s the total opposite, so their circadian clock is off. That alone is really cool. The actual course itself is a bit more condensed, but it’s almost ten times harder I think. It’s a little shorter, but it’s definitely more difficult. I mean some of these obstacles—I looked at it thinking about the obstacle course designer, like ‘Who hurt you, dude, and why are you projecting it onto these people who have to race?’ It was so nuts. That’s definitely part of it. The obstacles are really, really jacked up. They’re just out of control. I don’t even know how I would attack some of these things. And there’s the fact that we’ve already had one season, so this year, people are coming for blood, maybe for redemption. For others that thought and said, ‘I can totally do it,’ and were talking the big game, now is the opportunity and walk the walk now that they’re out there. We’re also on right after Ninja Warrior, which is like our big brother show, so we have to step it up as well.
Q: Are there many contestants who are back from last year’s season?
A: Yeah. The reigning champs, The Comeback Kids, they’re back, so they kind of put the target on their backs because everybody wants to take down the champion team. Of course, the ninjas are back, so that’s always an interesting dynamic when you see people who try to go up against a ninja team because they know them so well from the other show. And then we just have a full new cast of other characters, and every team truly does have their own identity, and they’re all so different across the board.
Q: What’s your favorite part of being a course reporter rather than a racer on the show?
A: Well not getting dirty, that’s fun. Actually, that’s a lie because we still get pretty dirty out there. The course is very intense, very industrial, so there’s not hiding from the mud. I think even the audience members must get a little bit of mud by the end of the show. But what I love about it is being able to meet every single team. The contestants do interact with each other, and even though they’re competing against each other, it’s still very much a tight-knit community. They still help each other out, and they still root for one another, even when they’re competing against one another. For me, I guess I interact a lot with the families and friends of the racers, and that’s really cool because you get all these little tidbits from moms and girlfriends and even children, a side of the athletes nobody else gets to see in the short time that they’re racing, so that’s my favorite part.
The new season of the seven-episode series premieres June 12th on NBC.
Photo by NBC