By Molly Treece (WWE star visits Naval Station Norfolk) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
John Cena in Norfolk, Virginia on December 8, 2013. Photo by Molly Treece (WWE star visits Naval Station Norfolk) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
“American Grit,” a 10-episode, team-oriented military-themed competition series hosted by professional wrestling star John Cena, premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday on Fox.

Fox is billing “American Grit,” as “the ultimate test of strength, grit, the human spirit and most importantly teamwork.”

What the show calls “the cadre,” a group of mentors from the nation’s most exclusive military units, divided the 16 contestants into four teams, who face a variety of military-grade and survival-themed challenges in the wilderness of  the Pack Forest in Eatonville, Washington, competing for up to $1 million in prize money.

The members of “the cadre” also impart their knowledge and experience to help their teams.

The contestants include David Neville, a member of the gold medal- winning U.S. 1,600-meter relay team in the 2008 Olympics, and Tony Simmons, a receiver who played for four NFL teams from 1998-2002.

The show’s male and female contestants compete “on an equal footing,” executive producer Jon Kroll told City News Service.

“There’s no ladies’ tees,” Kroll said, referring to the golf practice where women hit their tee shots several yards in front of the spot for the men.

In competitions that include carrying weight, the men and women carry the same percentages of their weights, Kroll said.

There are two contestants from Los Angeles — Chris Krueger, a 32-year- old strength and performance coach, and Ivette Saucedo, a 35-year-old model.

Kroll described Krueger as a “big-talking, bombastic guy who talks big and claims that when he talks, he backs it up.”

“He’s an amazing physical specimen and Hollywood through and through,” Kroll said. “We felt that he would rub some people the wrong way which always is important with these shows.”

In addition to contestants “who defined athleticism in its purest form,” such as Neville and Simmons, producers were also seeking contestants “who redefined athleticism in people’s minds,” such as Saucedo, an equestrian, Mark Bouquin, a timbersports athlete and Kimberly Joy “KJoy” Lipson, a yoga instructor, Kroll said.

The series stems from a deal the reality television production company Leftfield Pictures had with Cena, “who very much wanted to do a TV show, if it was the right show,” Kroll said.

“They developed a number of concepts, a couple of them centering around working with elite military minds,” Kroll said.”They met with Fox and Fox wanted to do a military-themed show.”

A goal was “to do a show really, really different than other shows that had preceded us,” Kroll said.

“We didn’t want to do a show like ‘Boot Camp,’ in which civilians dress like soldiers and play soldier,” Kroll said. “We wanted to do a show that was military-themed, had military philosophy in it, but didn’t have saluting and screaming drill sergeants.”

Several months of “back and forth” talks followed, with Cena “very involved,” Kroll said. Cena is also among the show’s executive producers.

“We wanted something where there was no voting, there were no judges and the only way to leave the show was to quit,” Kroll said.

The end result was a show where no one is voted off and the only way to leave the show is to ring a bell, a Navy SEAL tradition.

“The biggest problem in the reality genre is there’s a lot of sameness to all the shows, so we really wanted to focus on a few key differences,” which for “American Grit” also include its forest setting, Kroll said.

“We didn’t want to shoot on an island with a tropical feel because so many shows did that,” said Kroll, who had also been a producer on two long- running CBS competition series, “The Amazing Race” and “Big Brother.” “We wanted weather to be a factor on the show.”

—City News Service

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