BEVERLY HILL, Calif. - Starting next week, you can watch actors and actresses leap from buildings and battle armies of invaders, emerging victorious and unscathed. Viewers may chalk it all up to stunt men and women and digital special effects. Today's pampered celebrities wouldn't survive five minutes in a real combat zone, right?
Take that back, soldier. Eight celebrities set out to prove that they really do have what it takes to be real-life responders in the boot camp reality series "Stars Earn Stripes" (premiering Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, 9 p.m. on Global).
The celebrity recruits were on hand to meet the press at the recent TV critics tour in Los Angeles, including boxer Laila Ali; former TV Superman Dean Cain; actor and former NFLer Terry Crews (now on "The Newsroom"); "The Sing Off" host Nick Lachey; Alaskan outdoorsman and political spouse Todd Palin; "Biggest Loser" trainer Dolvett Quince; former Winter Olympian Picabo Street; and WWE diva Eve Torres.
Posters for the series, showing the gun-toting celebs running next to the slogan, "They're Not in Hollywood Anymore," give it a "Tropic Thunder" vibe.
Jack Osbourne was apparently hoping to earn his "Stripes" until news emerged that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Executive producer David Hurwitz admits Osbourne was in talks to join the series but "prior to us making our decision, it was found out that the rigours of the show were too intense for him." Mom Sharon disagrees and has announced that she is leaving NBC' "America's Got Talent" as a result.
A few of the celebrities who made the cut almost wished they hadn't. The series was shot over a few weeks at the beginning of this summer. The eight celebs had to compete in actual army-style events against eight real life Special Operatives, including former Navy SEALs, army special forces Green Berets, SWAT commanders and a current member of the Orange County sheriff's department.
"I thought this was going to be the same old corny military show where they've got the obstacle courses and BB guns," says former Navy SEAL Grady Powell. "That was the farthest thing from 'Stars Earn Stripes.' We're jumping out of helicopters. There are people crying. Might see me cry."
"There was a moment," adds Lachey, "when going through my mind is, 'What in the world have I gotten myself into here?'"
"I can say I almost drowned, and that is for real," says Crews. The fit and rugged actor quickly found out that having just five per cent body fat "don't work for swimming." He felt one of the Ops grab him from the back of his pack and haul him out of a river as he was going down for the third time.
"If this had been a real, live operation, I would have died. That is the truth."
Crews points out that this competition, in a way, goes against the whole notion of army training.
"The military is not a competition. In fact, your best soldier might die first."
Still, like the others, he wanted to be involved to pay homage to the real men and women in uniform. Money is raised for charities such as the Wounded Warrior Project and the Military Child Education Coalition. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark helps host the series, and acknowledges that if younger viewers who tend to watch reality television are inspired to enlist through "Stars Earn Stripes," that's OK with him.
Crews says the one to watch on the series is probably the least well-known celebrity: Todd Palin.
"It was life changing," says the Alaskan outdoorsman, who was accompanied to NBC's press tour party with his more-famous wife.
"I did things I'd never thought I'd be doing," he added, including leaping from helicopters, shooting grenade launchers and a 50-calibre, First World War-era machine gun.
There's no question, said Palin, that Mark Burnett's involvement as an executive producer of this series helped get him into uniform. Burnett got to know the couple while producing "Sarah Palin's Alaska."
It was also just something he wanted to do. Palin has a genuine love of the outdoors and has childhood memories of playing hockey outside during team trips across the border to Yukon.
His wife seemed happy to see her husband in the spotlight for a change.
"He's a world champion snow machine racer, he's got all the physicality that's required, a lot of mental toughness too," said the former Alaska governor.
Asked if she could compete on "Stars Earn Stripes," Palin didn't think she was combat ready.
"I'd have to do a whole lot of push ups," she says, although she later added, "politics are pretty brutal, too."
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.
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2. NCIS (Global)
3. NHL Playoffs Rd 1 (CBC)
4. Two and a Half Men (CTV)
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6. Bones (Global)
7. Survivor: Caramoan (Global)
8. Castle (CTV)
9. NCIS: Los Angeles (Global)
10. CSI (CTV)