Missing the Olympics? Watch Netflix’s Ultimate Beastmaster – it’s more fun

Eilidh Hargreaves
Ultimate Beastmaster, says Eilidh Hargreaves, offers an Olympian challenge – and then some - Netflix
Ultimate Beastmaster, says Eilidh Hargreaves, offers an Olympian challenge – and then some - Netflix

I love the Olympics. I have done since the year 2000 when, at eight years old, I rocked back and forth, quivering with adrenaline on the old green chair in my grandad’s Inverness home, watching the Sydney Games. 

It was the events in the pool that initially captivated me. Ian Thorpe won his first three Olympic golds that summer, and I heard he ate eight Weetabix for breakfast, so I started doing the same. Misty Hyman picked up the name “Madame Butterfly” in her astonishing defeat of the reigning Olympic and world champion and world record holder, Australian Susie O’Neill, so during my swimming lessons at the local Aquadome I swam exclusively butterfly. 

But there was more: Steve Redgrave took his fifth gold in the coxless four at 38 years old; Kelly Holmes won her first medal, a bronze in the 800m; the first ever Olympic triathlon took place. The sense of greatness and legacy took me for its own.

That continuity and history is both calming and powerful. With four years between each games, it’s all about growth. Sydney, for example, was Michael Phelps’s first Olympics. He was just 15 back then, but in the 16 years that followed, he would claim 23 gold medals and become the most decorated Olympian of all time. Holmes returned in 2004 to claim her legendary double gold in the 800 and 1500 metres. In London in 2012, Jessica Ennis-Hill claimed her heptathlon gold in front of a home crowd.

And in the same way that the Eurovision Song Contest delivers a deliciously saturated version of each country’s characteristics, the Olympics offers an amped-up snapshot of the world. Commentators animated; athletes in their national kit; spectators dressed up, singing, screaming and dancing. 

Season three of Netflix’s show Ultimate Beastmaster has all of the above. Produced by Sylvester Stallone, over 100 competitors must tackle “the beast” – an insane, 600ft-high obstacle course that leaves Total Wipeout and Titan Games (The Rock’s show) looking boring. Succeeding in the course requires boundless functional fitness, strength endurance, bravery and tactics. 

Athletes must qualify through three initial rounds, each with different obstacles, to reach the semi-final. Then it comes down to the final, where two athletes face-off in climbing the entire 600ft course for the title of the Ultimate Beastmaster.

In season three, nine countries, including Brazil, Great Britain, Germany, USA, Australia, Mexico, Italy, France and South Korea, go head to head in an attempt to conquer “The Beast”. A pair of commentators of each nationality, from the UK’s Stu Bennett and Kate Abdo to Australia’s Dannii Minogue and Nick Cummins (former rugby union player and The Bachelor star), gee up in booths. A mix of sportspeople, journalists, actors and TV personalities, each set of commentators speaks in his or her own language, meaning localised versions of the show are produced – just as with the Olympics. 

The competitors are genuinely impressive, jumping, swinging and pulling themselves along each course with unbelievable strength – none of the nonsense and floppy uselessness that defines Netflix’s other hit, The Floor is Lava. And it’s not just brute strength either; each course takes several minutes to complete, requiring epic levels of endurance.

Here, there are world-champion climbers, parkour professionals and Olympians. Among the mix are the truly unafraid: the face-tattooed Scottish Thai boxer David Ferguson, who took a vow of silence in a Thai monastery after his mother committed suicide; Australian surfer Jayden Irving who, on a trip to Congo, was mistaken for being hired to assassinate the president and thrown behind bars for 25 days; James Drake, an American multiple-sclerosis sufferer. All three were some of the strongest in the show. 

Parkour and climbing champions have taken part, and been found wanting by 'The Beast' - Netflix
Parkour and climbing champions have taken part, and been found wanting by 'The Beast' - Netflix

Between the competitors’ dabs and worms – sometimes I wonder if they know they’re being timed – the crowd leaps around, each nation dressed as an absolute stereotype. The Aussies carry baby koalas, the Mexicans wear sombreros, and the Brits have a Churchill dog. Faces are painted, and hair tied up with ribbons in the relevant national colour. When each country’s competitor succeeds by reaching the end of a level, there’s an enthusiastic pile-up that cares not for fears of injury.

And the slip-ups and injuries make the heart plummet. This course is tough. Each level is performed high up over water (aka “the blood of the beast”), but the velocity at which the athletes are moving with the added danger of the actual obstacles means mistakes happen. One of my favourite competitors dislocated his shoulder on the course, falling from height due to the excruciating detachment. He had it popped back in live on camera, and returned not just to attempt the next level, but to complete it with one of the highest scores. It was mind before matter, taken to Usain Bolt standards. 

I have made peace with Tokyo 2020 being postponed. After all, this is not the first time I’ve missed an Olympics; during London 2012, I was stuck working on a French oyster farm with no internet and a lot of grumpy sailors. (But that’s a different story.) What I have found, however, is the perfect distraction. A thing that combines pride in one’s country with athletic skill – and the chance to win or lose.

More From

  • MSPs plot Swinney's downfall amid furore over exams 'shambles'

    John Swinney is facing a fight to keep his job after he presided over a results day “shambles” that saw 124,000 grades arbitrarily lowered. Scottish Labour confirmed last night that it would table a vote of no confidence in the Education Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon's most senior minister, next week, which he is not guaranteed to survive. All of Holyrood’s opposition parties are highly critical of this year’s examination process. Teenagers protested on Friday in Glasgow about how they had been treated, with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) using a controversial formula to “moderate” teacher recommendations, which were provided following the cancellation of this year's exams due to coronavirus.

  • 'Furious' Sturgeon blasts footballers who went to pub

    A “furious” Nicola Sturgeon has launched an outspoken attack on eight Scottish Premiership footballers who “blatantly broke rules” by going to an Aberdeen pub before two tested positive for coronavirus. After they visited a bar in the city, currently at the centre of a “significant” virus outbreak and where a mini-lockdown was later imposed, two Aberdeen FC players tested positive for Covid-19, with a further six who also went on the night out forced to self-isolate. Ms Sturgeon condemned the players’ actions as “to put it mildly, completely unacceptable” and suggested they had put the resumption of Scottish Premiership football, which only started again last weekend, at risk. Meanwhile, new curbs on hospitality venues across the country, as well as an extension of face mask rules, were also announced. Aberdeen’s game against St Johnstone in Perth, which had been due to take place on Saturday, was cancelled following an intervention from the Scottish Government. Ms Sturgeon said she was “pretty furious” at the situation. She said: "It is now clear that all eight of these players visited a bar in Aberdeen on Saturday night. "In doing so they blatantly broke the rules that had been agreed between the SFA, the SPFL, and the Scottish Government, which, to put it mildly, is completely unacceptable." She added: "We are expecting members of the public to behave in a highly precautionary manner right now. "When a football club ends up with players infected with Covid - and let's remember that this is not through bad luck but clear breaches of the rules - we cannot take even a small risk that they then spread the infection to other parts of the country." On Friday, the number of cases in the Aberdeen outbreak rose to 101 confirmed Covid-19 - up 22 from Thursday. The hospitality sector in the city has been closed down with a five mile advisory limit on travel also reimposed. The First Minister announced that face coverings, currently mandatory in shops and on public transport, would become mandatory from Saturday in locations such as cinemas, galleries, museums, places of worship and banks. It does not extend to hospitality premises such as sit-in cafes and restaurants. Taking customer contact details will become mandatory across Scotland's hospitality sector next week. Ms Sturgeon said a common factor in the rise in new coronavirus outbreaks across the world - including the Aberdeen cluster - is the hospitality sector, and settings such as pubs and restaurants are particularly susceptible to the virus. She said the majority of such premises across Scotland have been complying with the guidance to note customers contact details, but some have not. Placing compliance on a "statutory footing", Ms Sturgeon said, will help ensure test and protect can function as effectively as possible. She said Police Scotland will enforce the measures if necessary.

  • Leading model estimates 67,000 lives could be saved if everyone in America wore a mask

    Around 67,000 lives in America could be saved by December if mask wearing became universal, according to projections from an influential coronavirus model. The estimate came from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation [IHME], a model which at times has been cited by the White House. IHME now projects that by December 1, on the current trajectory, around 295,000 people will have died from Covid-19 in America. That is based on the assumption that around 50 per cent of people wear masks when they go outside. If that became 95 per cent, the estimate changes. Under that scenario of universal mask wearing the model projects that around 228,000 Americans will have died by December 1 - some 67,000 fewer deaths. The projections reflect the impact that wearing a mask could have on stopping the spread of the disease. Medical experts widely believe wearing a face covering makes it less likely those with Covid-19 will infect others.

  • US intelligence warns China opposes Trump's re-election but Russia is working against Biden

    US intelligence agencies have issued an update on election meddling which warns that Russia is seeking to undercut Joe Biden but China and Iran are trying to undermine Donald Trump. The statement said that Moscow is using a “range of measures” to “primarily denigrate” Mr Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who is seen as part of the “anti-Russia establishment”. But it also says that Beijing prefers that Mr Trump “does not win reelection” and sees him as “unpredictable”, while Tehran is opposing the president due to his hardline "pressure campaign" towards it. The remarks were issued by William Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Centre, who is helping lead the American intelligence efforts against election meddling. The 900-word statement, headlined ‘Election threat update for the American people’, spells out in detail how the three countries are attempting to influence the election.