It’s the most extreme game of hide-and-seek we’ve seen.
In Discovery Channel’s new series “Manhunt” with Joel Lambert, the highly skilled ex-Navy Seal faces dangerous terrain and wildlife as he tries to evade some of the world’s best elite tracking teams, including our own Philippine Army Scout Rangers.
That episode was filmed last July in Zambales, where Joel had 48 hours to make his way through the jungle to reach his extraction point. For Joel, who had been deployed on combat missions to Afghanistan, the dense wilderness was problematic.
“The jungle around Subic was the worst jungle I had ever been in. It was pure misery. It was really, really miserable. It was the heat and humidity, it took a lot out of me. The jungle was so thick it was difficult to move,” he recalled.
For the show’s crew, the environment was hard to deal with, too. A producer had to be evacuated because of heat exhaustion, and their cameras started breaking down. “I’ve been in jungles around the world and this is by far the hottest. And the hardest to shoot,” said one crew member in a behind-the-scenes clip.
The Scout Rangers, led by Lt. Jerson Jurilla, proved worthy adversaries, with Joel calling them “the best.” “The Scout Rangers were one of the most competent and difficult opponents I faced. They are so good there was never any chance for me to get the pressure off of me,” said Joel, who also faced South Africa’s International Anti-Poaching Foundation, Poland’s elite border guard the Straz Graniczna, Panama’s antidrug trafficking unit Senafront, the US Army’s Phantom Recon unit and South Korea’s National Police Swat unit in other episodes of “Manhunt.”
And unlike the other trackers who utilized hi-tech gear, dogs, helicopters and even drones in hunting down their target, the Filipinos relied on their own tracking skills in their attempt to capture Joel, following his trail while facing booby traps he left behind.
Lt. Jurilla said: “We just used the standard operating procedures of tracking. Combat tracking is our way of life in the jungle. We’re trained for that. The jungle is our backyard. We just used the bare tracking skills for this show.”
Super got a sneak peek at the episode during a screening at Greenbelt earlier this week that was attended by Joel and the Philippine Army Scout Rangers. Joel described the episode, which is the sixth in the series, as the hardest for him.
“Every place had its challenges, but the episode in the Philippines was without a doubt the most difficult one. And it’s ironic because I’m a big fan of the Philippines. I love Filipino food, martial arts; I sponsor a kid here. It really is one of my favorite cultures on the planet and I’ve always felt a kinship here, but your jungle sucks,” he said.
At the screening, Joel had the chance to speak to the Scout Rangers who pursued him. He said: “It was truly an honor going up against you. It’s always reassuring and reaffirming for me to meet other members of the warrior breed, members of the brotherhood that crosses boundaries across the globe and across generations. Much respect to you guys.”
As expected, the show was nerve-wracking but it also had its light moments.
One of the best parts was when Lt. Jurilla tried to get information from people at Pastulan Village.
“May nakita ba kayong Amerikano, matangkad sa akin, guwapo, kasing guwapo ko,” he asked them. The audience roared with laughter. It was great to see Pinoy humor (and, in another scene, hospitality) shine even in tense situations.
There is more to Joel than just physical strength and military skills. This tough guy has a big heart, too, made obvious by his devotion to his beloved dog Rosie. And, despite his short trip to Manila, he made sure he had time to see John, the Filipino kid he had been sponsoring through Children International for over three years now.
Super sat down with Joel for this one-on-one interview after the screening.
Which came first—you or the idea for the show?
The idea for the show and then they found me. They were looking for a special operations guy with a tracking and survival background. I wasn’t interested at first, but the guy who created it called me. He was a former Army Green Beret. That gave it legitimacy. It wasn’t going to be something stupid. It wasn’t a Hollywood idea. I wanted to do it because it was going to be intimidating, it was going to kick my ass. But more than that, Discovery was not taking a military thing and shoving it into a TV show like every other military thing. Discovery was going to let the thing run like it was gonna run and then desperately try to keep up. Watch the behind-the-scenes and you’ll see that some of the sh*t happened because of them trying to keep its authenticity. People going to the hospital, people breaking things, cameras are smashed.
You were a Navy Seal for 10 years—how did that change you?
It changed my DNA to the very core of my being. I can’t imagine life without having been a Seal. I am so different because of that. I don’t even know how to begin to answer that. It’s like, what would it be like if you weren’t you? It’s everything to me. Not just the Seals, not just my friends. That extends past the brothers you know to King Leonidas back in history and the Norsemen and the Vikings. It’s a brotherhood. My loyalty, which is to my brotherhood more than anything else, more than my life, is not just to the guys I know, it’s to something larger, a philosophy. That’s why I had to do this show. There’s a saying in the Seal teams—you have to earn your trident every day. You never stop. That’s just the defining current underneath us.
We saw you setting up booby traps. Were there rules set before you went into this? Were you told you can’t hurt the trackers, they can’t hurt you? And if that was the case, why did someone shoot at you?
That was somebody who got really mad. The guys who are hunting me don’t have any round in their rifles for obvious reasons, but because we’re out in the wilderness, they have rounds with them. The rules that we set down had been evolving over the course of the show. They agree to disclose all the assets that they’re gonna use because we’re gonna film them. If they get within 20 meters of me and they see me where I am and there’s no barrier between us, then I surrender and they got me. But there have been countries that have cheated.
I read about that on Twitter.
I’m not happy about that. Because I could cheat very, very easily but this is my show. There’s an honor to what we’re doing, and we want to keep it as pure as we can. This is a TV show. Just like military training where you have to have unrealities for training—we’re gonna start here, we’re gonna end here, this is gonna happen, you’re gonna do this, I’m gonna do this—you have to do that for training value and then within that, what happens happens. It’s the same way with the show. There has to be this and this and this to make a TV show, you have to go back and re-enact this, or we have to get a different camera angle on how you run down this hill again but, within that, when the hunt happens, what happens happens. We go really, really hard. When someone shot at me…
Where was this?
In South Africa. We had to have real weapons because there were wild animals everywhere. One of the guys, a South African special operations guy, he was just the angriest dude on the planet. He was pissed off at the camera guy who had to be with him, he was pissed off at me, and he was pissed off at the world. There was a point where they had spotted me and I had taken off and I had lost my producer and the people who were with me and I was running through a lion-infested area. They’re hundreds of meters away and the guy was like, “Stop! Stop!” I’m not gonna stop. I’m gone, I’m gonna outrun you. He was like “Stop! Stop!” Then pop-pop! He shot into the ground, this angle. It made for great TV, but it was just stupid.
These guys tracking you— sometimes they catch you and sometimes they don’t. What are things like after, do you get to have a beer with them?
Funny you asked that. In every case, yes, except for in one where they cheated. And except with the Filipinos because they had to go right back in and right back to combat. They were the ones I admired the most, and I never got the chance to even hang out or chat with them or have a beer or drink or have dinner with them. These guys came out of combat and, right after the hunt, they went back to combat.
You sometimes eat crazy things on the show. What do termites taste like?
Termites are tasty. If I have to eat something nasty, I will eat termites all day long. They taste kinda nutty and warm. You take a termite, you pinch the head and bite the fat white grub. It’s actually really tasty if you can get past the fact that you’re eating termites. It’s like grub sushi, it’s really tasty.
You’ve been away a lot— where is home and what do you miss about it?
Home is where I grew up, in the Pacific Northwest in Washington State.
Is that where your dog Rosie is?
No, Rosie is in Los Angeles where I currently live. Rosie, my girl. Isn’t she awesome? She’s with the breeder in Santa Barbara, an hour and a half from my house. Her sister and mother are there, and the lady who bred her, who is just a fantastic animal person, is there and their facility is like doggy Disneyland. There are pools and waterfalls and trees and tunnels. But she’s very happy to come home. She wouldn’t let me out of her sight for several days.
Tell us about John. How did you start sponsoring him?
It was about three and a half years ago, and I was in a mall in Los Angeles. I was approached by a cute little college girl with a clipboard who asked me if I wanted to sponsor a kid. I talked to her because she was cute, but I’ve always wanted to sponsor a kid. I had never heard of Children International so I looked it up on my smartphone really quick, and I saw that it was legitimate. They asked me where I wanted to sponsor a kid, they gave me several options, and I chose the Philippines. I’ve always had a connection with the Philippines. I had been sponsoring him for years, I never thought I’d meet him. And then when the Philippine episode came out, perfect, I called Children International and said, I want to visit my kid. They said, fantastic. I told them I’d be with Discovery Channel, so they put me in touch with their PR department and now I’m the celebrity ambassador for Children International.
They are amazing. The reason I had not heard of them is they spend 85 percent of what they take in on the kids and on the program. So they don’t have a lot of money to advertise. They do an amazing job. I went to his house, I saw the stuff that I had bought him. They send me letters. “For his birthday, John got this.” “For Christmas, we got this for the family.” To actually see the things in their house that I bought was humbling. Immediately, we did some more things for the family. I’m pretty passionate about it because it’s not just feeding needy kids, it’s creating leaders. They are taking care of their basic needs but, more than that, they’re creating peer groups and sports teams. The older kids I met in the program were so grounded and centered and powerful and comfortable with themselves. I thought, this is the next generation of leaders. These are kids who will make a difference in the world because they know who they are, and they’re not dependent on anything else. They’ve become empowered, and that I’m passionate about. I love that. I try to tweet stuff and encourage sponsorship and, hopefully, I can do some more as time goes on. Feed a kid or teach him to fish. This is the kind of thing that creates powerful people. That’s what we need—powerful people. Not people with positional power but people who have power within themselves.
You’re a tough guy—is there anything you’re afraid of?
As you are trained, the fear reaction, the hormonal, physiological reaction focuses you and moves you into what it is you need to do. Fear becomes conditioned into something else. You’re always doing incredibly frightening things in the Seal teams, but that physiological reaction focuses you so you can do your job better. That being said, there are things that I’m not looking forward to, and that’s getting old where my body cannot carry me the way I want it to do things like this. I don’t want that to happen, although it will probably be absolutely fine when it does. I just enjoy smashing myself too much to want that to go away.
Do you still get surprised when you watch the episodes?
I do! I get nervous. I see them several times before the edit is final. There’s (usually) 40 hours of footage to cut into 46 minutes. There’s so much stuff that happens that never makes it in. When I do watch the episodes, I get nervous. I know what happens but, for me, watching it is kind of nerve-wracking.
How does it feel to have so many people clamoring for another season?
I love the fact that people are appreciating what we’ve done. I wanna turn people on to their potential; I want them to see the passion of these amazing trackers that I go against and what I do, (how I) brutalize myself to get away and how good they are at what they’re doing for their countries every day. I love that aspect of that. And if I can keep bashing myself to do more of that for people to see f**king human potential, man I love that. That’s exciting to me. As far as the whole star thing, my validation is to my brotherhood. This is great, but to be able to be who I am and earn my trident every day, that’s what turns me on, that’s what excites me.
“Manhunt” with Joel Lambert premieres on Monday, April 7, 8 p.m., on Discovery Channel. Follow Joel on Instagram and Twitter (@joel5326), and Facebook (www.facebook.com/JoelLambert5326).