We are living through some kind of gold-plated age for stunt television. Last month we saw Nik Wallenda tightrope walk between two buildings. Soon we’ll witness a man being swallowed by a snake (we’re team snake). This morning New Zealand, that plucky nation at the bottom of the world, had a crack at its own dramatic stunt TV special when William Trubridge attempted to break his own world record for unassisted deep diving.
Some context: There are a bunch of different deep diving records. Most seem to be held by New Zealanders, and most are a little silly. They often involved swimming underwater in a pool wearing flippers for as long as you can – which sounds like a fun kid’s game and not a lot like deep diving.
Trubridge’s one is the most straightforward, and coolest by far – swimming down as deep as you can in the ocean with no flippers. I recently worked with Richie Robinson, a photographer who knows Trubridge and has worked extensively underwater. He told me that at 80m – the deepest he has ever dived – it takes forever to acclimatise enough to come to the surface. So long, in fact, that most people take an iPad and watch movies.
Trubridge was going to go deeper, on one breath, and return to the surface in around four minutes. That’s amazing! It has a vaguely superhuman quality – one man trying to defy natural law. And he was doing it in the Bahamas, an untouched tropical paradise.
Steinlager Pure were all in on this thing, decorating Auckland with massive billboards featuring one of Robinson’s eerie deepwater shots of Trubridge suspended in mid-ocean.
So we had a great feat, an incredible location and a strong campaign driving us to watch the attempt. All that remained was for Breakfast to bring it home.
It never happened. Instead it was, I feel confident in saying, a disaster. One which could only have gone worse had Trubridge been eaten by a shark halfway back. The failure was absolute, a multi-pronged shambles of a presentation.
Breakfast was the wrong vehicle. Rawdon “Rawdy” Christie seems to exist on a spectrum between boredom and disdain most of the time, and while he was more interested in this segment, it didn’t extend to being particularly well-versed in the activity. So he asked questions about whether Trubridge would be tempted to start breathing underwater, fishlike, which would have been better deployed off screen.
Worse was the level of effort which had gone into production. Discovery’s Wallenda vehicles are weirdly boring at their climax – a man going for a skinny walk, essentially – but they wrap it up in that insane family’s history on tightropes, with hosts locked in on the event and make you really feel the danger.
There was none of the that on Breakfast this morning. Apart from a few cutaways a while ahead of the dive, and a brief interview with another freediver in studio, it was business as usual on Breakfast.
We got weatherman Sam Wallace heckling Christie about not getting ripped at the gym. The pair of them agreeing that cars should definitely drive up Mt Eden. Then a report about Kim Dotcom’s plan to bring his successful Internet Party franchise to the USA (“Hilary’s worst nightmare,” he reckons, implausibly). Then, with no major preamble, we’re diving!
For four minutes we hear a Scottish chap on location yelling out numbers. Depth and time. No commentary though, so no context. No sense of the drama, of whether he was looking great or failing abysmally.
Just the Scottish chap and his numbers. The screen mostly showed a murky man appearing from above then swimming further down, and eventually tapping a black disk. This was a big moment – he’d hit 102 metres! But without commentary it was really tough to feel anything.
Finally he got near the surface. Some chaps with big flippers on swam down to meet him. Just when he seemed almost there, with the light filtering down, he tapped the rope. This meant he’d quit the attempt and wanted rescuing. But we at home didn’t know it.
Only once he arrived at the surface, gasping and pale, did the studio crew join in with analysis.
“He wasn’t too bad,” said freediver Dave Mullins. “But he wasn’t quite conscious on the surface.”
This was huge! The guy had essentially suffocated himself trying to set the record. What a hero! “He just got a bit unconscious,” said Mullins. Again – maybe getting “a bit unconscious” is just another day at the tropical office for freedivers. For the rest of us it’s pretty bloody hardout. Why not tell us Rawdy! Get excited for once!
After what passed for post-match analysis we cut to a now-recovered Trubridge, who’d huffed on oxygen, pulled on a Steinlager tee and grabbed a microphone. He looked surprisingly chipper, given his failure and near death. He thanked the three main types of New Zealander: “Friends, family, All Blacks.” Then had a cute little chat with Mullins in the studio that was characterised by Mullins joshing him about not breaking his records and generally being vaguely passive aggressive about all the attention Trubridge had just gotten – only to fall short.
Much like Breakfast had. Used to giving us three hours of light entertainment sprinkled with a little news, they rolled out the same model for an event which deserved so much more. You got the strong sense that Steinlager had piped a bunch of money into Breakfast, and Breakfast had spent as little as possible on covering the actual event. It was bad, bad TV.
We saw a little more of Trubridge, looking slender and intense. Then it was 8.30, and time for the news.