As seen on News.com.au
Tania Zaetta reveals secrets of Who Dares Wins: ‘I’d have nightmares the night before’
IT’S hard to imagine a more stressful television hosting role than the one Tania Zaetta found herself in during her time co-hosting Who Dares Wins.
For three seasons from 1996, Zaetta and co-host Mike Whitney would surprise unsuspecting Aussies with death-defying and frequently record-breaking dares. Dares they quite often couldn’t or wouldn’t attempt — which meant it was then Tania’s turn to give them a go.
Looking back on her time with the show in an interview with news.com.au, Zaetta has fond memories about what was undoubtedly one of the strangest, scariest gigs in TV.
Turns out, Tania Zaetta is scared of just about everything.
“I’m not the type of person to go jump off a building. I’m scared of pretty much anything: I’m scared of heights, I’m claustrophobic, I’m scared of the dark. I was often more scared than the contestants,” she reveals.
“But I would give it my best shot. I’m a country girl and I hate walking away from anything with regrets, so I’d just jump on in there. I wanted to be able to say ‘Well at least I gave it my best shot today.’
“It made sense when the producers were first doing the show to have the scared girl do the challenges, rather than the big macho guy who’s not scared of anything. I became the action hero girl, but the downside was poor Mike Whitney did cop a lot of flak!”
When contestants decided they couldn’t go through with the dare, it then fell to Tania to decide whether or not she’d attempt it. If she said no, it finally fell to the industry expert in charge of the dare to demonstrate how it was done.
“It was always a tough choice (whether or not to do it). It also happened when contestants tried but failed a dare. Things like walking across a two-inch beam of wood between two 20-storey buildings — most people fail. They get halfway, they fall. Things like that would always swing over to me, and the crew would just laugh while I’m talking the contestant into doing the dare — they knew I’d end up doing it.
“Any day that it was a balancing dare, I knew the contestant would probably fail and I’d have to do it. I’d have nightmares the night before, asking the producers ‘Are you sure we can do this?’
“One of our craziest was walking across a two-inch plank of wood between two hot air balloons flying at a thousand feet. You can’t control a hot-air balloon — they go up and down and around. Then you’ve got little old me climbing out the basket and onto a plank of wood. It wasn’t all fun and games, some of those days were very, very scary.
“I remember being in Queenstown filming an ice-climbing dare and there was an avalanche. The helicopter couldn’t come and get us so we had to walk out, hours and hours across ice glaciers in the freezing cold. There were days when we were in strife.”
Perhaps the most insane challenge attempted on the show: To swim through a crocodile-infested swamp. MY GOD WHY.
“We would get faxes the night before about the next day’s challenge. I was famous for calling the producers after I got the fax saying ‘We can’t do this! We’re going to kill someone!’ With that one, all the research given to me said ‘Crocodiles aren’t territorial until they’re four years old. These crocodiles are three to three-and-a-half.’ My argument then was, what happens if one is a little mature for his age?
“Obviously you’d be crazy to get into a swamp with crocodiles, so I basically talked the contestant out of it by pointing out everything that could go wrong. I knew I was going to say no, no matter what happened. Then it was over to the professional crocodile handler — he did it, but it was very hairy when a few crocodiles got close to him. We were all very happy when that one was over.”
They made sure never to shame or humiliate the contestants — even those who backed out.
“We never made anyone feel inferior if they didn’t go through with it. We had a big chunky man up on the side of a building to do the southern hemisphere’s biggest ever flying fox. He froze up there, but we still made him out to be a hero for at least giving it a shot.”
As the show’s popularity grew, it became harder to maintain the element of surprise.
“It got to the point by the second year of the show that it was difficult to go and film (smaller on-the-spot dares) in shopping centres because people would come running up going, ‘Pick me, pick me!’ They all wanted to be on the show. I would have to hide behind a pole and jump out at people so I couldn’t be seen.”
She sees Who Dares Wins as a precursor to the current crop of athletic reality shows like Survivor and Ninja Warrior.
“When Who Dares Wins started, it was completely new — Ordinary people taken off the street, out of their comfort zones and put into these extreme situations. It was groundbreaking back then — when I see challenges on TV shows now, Mike and I will always shoot each other a little text saying ‘Ha! We did that 20 years ago’,” she chuckles.
“I do love Ninja Warrior. If I was going to host another TV show, it’d be that. It’s action-orientated, healthy, sporty and they’re not putting anyone down.”
Twenty years on, she doesn’t mind being forever associated with Who Dares Wins — embracing the connection in her role as ambassador for charity initiative Dare the Boss.
“With Dare The Boss, anyone can dare anyone — you can dare your boss, because how fun would that be. You can have the whole office involved, to tick things off the bucket list — from funny, small things to big scary dares like shark diving and abseiling. I can’t think of a better charity for me to be ambassador for, to do what I do best and dare others to get out of their comfort zone and raise some money.”
She’s not so sure there’ll ever be Who Dares Wins reboot.
“We would all love a TV comeback, and I get social media requests daily asking to bring the show back. I don’t think we would bring it back as such, because there’s not much more we could do. But it would be great if they brought back the re-runs. It’d be great for Mike and I, because it keeps me in my 20s! You know what I would laugh most at? My Harry High-pants shorts and my little crop tops.”
Register a dare for Dare the Boss in aid of the Children’s Cancer Institute .