To win The Summit, contestants must stick together, with only 14 days to get to the top of an imposing mountain. With a million dollars on the line, it’s a race against the clock and nature – but when you’re only as fast as your slowest hiker, it doesn’t take long for cracks to show.
Mediaweek spoke to Endemol Shine Australia’s director of content, Amelia Fisk, ahead of the show’s premiere at 7pm, Sunday May 14 on Nine and 9Now.
The Summit is a brand new original format, created by the team at Endemol Shine Australia. Fisk says that the inspiration for the show came from a long line of mountain adventures.
“The idea came from the love of adventure blockbusters and thrillers – movies that have been made on the edge of a mountain always deliver. If you think about all those movies like Cliffhanger, or Vertical Limit, nothing good ever happens! We wanted to bring that premise forward and produce something filmic for the unscripted genre.”
The titular Summit that contestants have to climb comes in the form of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. In a world full of stunning mountains, Fisk says that the location made the most sense, due to how big the team’s ambitions were.
“Movies like Lord of the Rings have been shot in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, so we knew they would deliver on scale. Then the show needed to match that cinematic landscape, so the content needed to be big and bold. That fed into every creative decision when bringing the show to life.
“New Zealand is jaw dropping, the landscape is extraordinary. That was the perfect backdrop for a show like this.”
Of course, shooting in a location like the Alps could be a double-edged sword – what made the landscape so beautiful is also what made it a logistical challenge for production.
“For the show to be credible and authentic we needed the drama to be genuine, the task had to be epic, and they had to climb a monster of a mountain,” says Fisk. “In reality, to climb those types of mountains you’re really cut off from civilization, roads, and infrastructure. To put things into perspective, every crew member, every bit of rigging gear, food, water, and even portaloos were actually choppered in and out of that hike.
“Logistically, at one point we had four helicopters facilitating the production. On day three, we had used more chopper bumps than the movie Mission Impossible that had been recently shot in the area! As you can imagine, it was quite an ambitious idea, but it had to feel authentic for the cast – that meant we had the same experience as production.”
When it came to casting for The Summit, Fisk says that the main goal was to create a group as diverse as possible.
“The analogy that I give people is, when you’re on an aeroplane and you look at the people in the rows around you, no person is alike. We wanted to grab that group, and bring them together.
“It was like the TV drama Lost, bringing a group of everyday people together, no one person was alike. They really were a mixed bag, a motley crew, and that was at the core of the show.”
Leading the charge is host, Jai Courtney – a man who knows a thing or two about bringing action and drama to the screen. Fisk says that when you’ve got such filmic ambitions, “you need your host to have gravitas.”
“Jai was the perfect host. He has an unbelievable presence, he commands the screen, and he felt more like a character that was part of the mountain rather than a traditional host.
“We pitched the idea to him, and thankfully he loves the genre of adventure thrillers. He was sold, he thought it was, quote, ‘a sick project.’”
If scaling a mountain with a backpack full of money wasn’t high stakes enough, the rules of the game are as brutal as the landscape. If contestants leave a hiker behind in order to move faster, their backpack of cash is removed from the prize pool. If they don’t get to the summit in time, then all the money is forfeited.
When Fisk was asked if she was ever concerned that the team wouldn’t make it to the top, she points out that “if you strap a million dollars to people’s backs, they will scrape and claw their way to the top.”
“People holding money in their hands has never been done before. We gave them the prize money at the beginning, and that made them test their morals and made them do things that they probably wouldn’t have done if they didn’t have that money.”
Ultimately, Fisk says that she hopes The Summit brings the thrill of the big screen to the comfort of people’s lounge rooms.
“The format is new and fresh. I think viewers are screaming for new content – it has never been seen before, it’s a new idea, so the unknown and the unpredictability of what you’re seeing is thrilling and so impactful.
“It’s filmic on another scale, the drama is authentic and organic, and the visuals are just insane. I hope people experience this like they would a feature film.”