The Sylvester Stallone-produced series is back for Season 2 after debuting in 2016. This season, the show brought in more than 100 contestants from six countries, all of them hoping to dominate “The Beast”—or, as Stallone describes it, the “most intense, physically demanding obstacle course ever devised”.
For the second season, the show brought in a new set of commentators. Former New York Giants star and frequent marathon runner Tiki Barber, and comedian Chris Distefano were paired as hosts of the American edition (the show has six country-specific versions), taking over for super-shredded Terry Crews and sportscaster Charissa Thompson. Barber handles the play-by-play as contestants navigate the course, while Distefano offers color commentary, especially when contestants take a plunge into the water (or, as it’s called on the show, the “dragon’s oil”).
Watch it long enough, and it’s worth wondering: Could the hosts handle the intense, elaborate course themselves? Barber, formerly one of the best conditioned offensive players in football, and someone who keeps himself in prime shape now, gave it a try.
“I was looking at one of the moving platforms, and I thought ‘Yeah, I can do that, I’m an athlete,’” Barber tells Men’s Fitness. “Then, of course, I completely missed the treadmill. I jumped too soon and missed the transition and fell into the water. A lot of these obstacles are hanging-centric, and they require such great upper-body strength. I have so much respect for these competitors because a lot of them made it look really easy.”
As for Distefano? “When I saw it, I figured, ‘Sure, I could do this,’” the comedian says. “Then I stepped into the mouth of ‘The Beast’ and I literally couldn’t even make it halfway out of the first obstacle. Some of the contestants on the show make it really far and all you can say is, ‘Wow, damn.’ I was so impressed by how athletic they were. I tried to even put on the uniform, the spandex. It didn’t fit, but that’s OK.”
Barber and Distefano spoke with Men’s Fitness about the funniest fails on the obstacle course, seeing amazing feats of strength by the contestants, how Barber’s training has changed since his NFL days, and the hardest obstacles of “The Beast”.
Men’s Fitness: How did you get involved in the show? What was it like meeting your co-host for the first time?
Barber: It was exciting to be asked to be part of this, because the concept was so unique. I loved the idea of countries facing off and battling on this ‘Beast’ that was out in the desert. It looked like a lot of fun in Season 1, and it was exciting to be there for this season and see the camaraderie of the cast. My co-host, Chris Distefano, is a hilarious comedian, and we hit it off right away. When I got out there, I had just run the New York City Marathon, so he tells me, “I was standing there right at the end of the bridge. I was yelling at you, but you didn’t see me.” So right away we had this bond, and he’s a huge Giants fan, so that helps right away. It made our on-camera chemistry work right away, and that doesn’t always happen. All the hosts had a great time together. We even started this WhatsApp group that we still stay in touch with.
Distefano: I’m like the biggest New York Giants fan. I have his jersey. So obviously I was excited. Over the course of the show, Tiki and I really became dear friends, which is one of the coolest things ever. He’s amazing because we filmed that show from 9 p.m. to, like, 6 a.m. every day. Then Tiki would go to his radio show. He was doing it out of LA from, like, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. This guy’s a monster. Then he runs six miles and texts me: “Hey do you want to get lunch?” I’m like, “Dude, I’m still asleep. I have Oreo crumbles in my belly button.”
What was the hardest part of the obstacle course for the contestants?
Barber: I think the Mag Wall on the first level was hard, because you didn’t know when the mags were going to fall. So you’re standing on this wall and you’re trying to be safe and navigate your way around, but they’re falling off. So as soon as your hands lose grip, you’re done. You’re dead in the water—and then you actually do fall into the water [laughs]. [Editor’s Note: The Mag Wall was the second-hardest Season 1 obstacle, according to an insightful analysis posted on FreeCodeCamp.] Another tough one is getting the timing right on the midsection part of the ‘Beast,’ which basically is a treadmill that’s in a tube that you have to crawl up to the top of. Those were the two that stood out as the toughest.
Distefano: That damn treadmill. That thing I think is going six or seven miles an hour. Jumping on a treadmill is hard enough, and then you regain your balance and you have to make a running jump onto the next one. The moving rings were insane, but a lot of these contestants were able to do it, it was impressive.
Some of the contestants told Men’s Fitness how they got in shape for the show. How do you stay in shape yourself?
Barber: My training now is definitely different from years ago, when I was actually on the cover of Men’s Fitness [laughs]. I was powerlifting then and doing a lot of deadlifts and all those functional movements that powerlifters do. I was up to about 500-lb deadlifts, but when I retired I had all this excess weight and muscle that I just didn’t need anymore. I’m not getting hit by 250-lb linebackers anymore, and I retired at about 210 myself.
I started running marathons on a whim. A friend asked me to do it for charity, and I ended up losing 30lbs. Most of my workouts now are distance runs, and when I lift, it’s usually all cross-training. Now, instead of doing five or six max-effort reps, I’ll do reps at a more manageable weight. It’s funny, because now I really look a lot like my twin brother. That’s odd to say, because he’s my twin, but he played his whole career at 180lbs because he was a cornerback, and I was always around 210lbs, so it was easy to tell us apart.
Distefano: I have a size 38 waist right now. They call me “Chrissy Big Hips” in the streets.
I’ve been working a lot with the TRX. I’ve been trying to do a lot of burpees, but you know, what are you going to do? Now, I got man boobs and I want to eat calzones. So I mean, it is what it is. I’m trying to get better though. I really am [laughs]. It would take me a lifetime of runs through ‘The Beast’ to get as ripped as Tiki or some of these competitors. Some of these guys were so ripped it was crazy.
What were the funniest or most ridiculous falls and fails on the show?
Barber: There’s one guy in an episode, and he just wouldn’t jump. It was one of the funniest things, he just wouldn’t jump off the platform. I’m not sure if it was because he was scared of the fall or maybe he wasn’t confident in his ability to swim, but either way, he was thinking negatively. He’s thinking, “Man, that’s a long fall, that’s a lot of water down there.” We also call the water the “blood of the beast”. He legit wouldn’t go, and it got to the point where it started off like, “man he’s just nervous, he’s gonna do it eventually”. But then it’s like, dude, will you come on and jump already?
Distefano: There was one contestant from India, and he just couldn’t get past the first obstacle, this poor kid. You have to climb up this rope to even start the first obstacle, and like everybody else could do it, but this kid, for whatever reason, slipped off the rope. So he literally flew halfway around the world to be in the competition for eight seconds.
When someone tells you they don’t like obstacle-course shows, what’s your pitch to get them to watch?
Barber: The contestants’ stories are just so great and so inspiring. Like Kyle Fullerman, one of the Americans. He lost his mom, and he’s out there for her. All their stories were so deep and real, you just started rooting for them. You wanted them to be successful and it makes you root for them even when you’re just a host. It’s exciting, the athleticism is awesome to watch, and it’s very entertaining.
Distefano: The suspense of each obstacle is great. I think people are really going to like that because it’s so suspenseful, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re always on the edge of your seat wondering if this contestant is going to make it through this next part.
Ultimate Beastmaster Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.