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Profiles of local people
Mark Hoban: Last Man Standing
He's travelled the world, competing against the most remote tribes at their own dangerous sports. Ciarán Ryan meets Mark Hoban, the salsa dancing, champion Zulu stick fighter from BBC TV's Last Man Standing.
Mark Hoban, from Bournville in Birmingham was working as a project manager for a construction company when a friend told him about an advert he'd seen on a website. The BBC, and the Discovery Channel, were looking for six intrepid athletes to travel the world, and compete in eight ancient sporting festivals.
War dancing in the Trobriand Islands
With the encouragement of his friend, Mark applied. "It was a jaw-dropping idea. I never thought I'd get it" says Mark, who's a boxer and salsa dance teacher in his spare time.
After an interview, fitness and screen tests he was told to prepare for the adventure of a lifetime. He'd been chosen as one of the six athletes – three American and three British – who were to be filmed living alongside, training with and competing against indigenous tribespeople. Mark would be competing to be the last man standing.
Filming for the series took place over a year - finishing in September 2007. Each competition took two to six weeks to film, with breaks between most of the countries. The athletes stayed with each tribe for one to two weeks.
"Literally, I'd be stick fighting with Zulus, then I'd be straight back in my suit again working at a construction company in South Birmingham" says Mark. "You can't explain it to your colleagues. It's only when they see it on telly that they can appreciate what you've been doing."
Wrestling in Brazil, canoe racing in Papua New Guinea
Mark fought his way around the world. He competed at Kalapalo wrestling in Brazil, Zulu stick fighting in South Africa, endurance running in Mexico, Nagaland kickboxing in India, Mongolian wrestling, Trobriand cricket in Papua New Guinea, Wolof wrestling in Senegal, Sepik canoe racing in Papua New Guinea, Kraho log running in Brazil, Andean ice racing in Peru, the Pencak Silat in Indonesia and the Vanuatu canoe race.
It looks dramatic on TV. But was it really that dangerous?
"I don't think people actually appreciate the pain and the heartache that we did actually go through. You see what the BBC want you to see. The dangers were real - that's why we were scared on camera. Especially the stick fighting. With all the wrestling - of course - anything can go wrong. Even the cricket and the running. Everything was as it was - we did actually compete with the tribes - we did actually live with them.
"Basically all we had with us was one medic, one producer, and two assistant producers - a main camera man and a sound guy - you're talking about six people, seven people max - and then the six athletes.
Filming in Papua New Guinea
"The crew didn't even stay with us - they would disappear at the end of the night. We'd be left to our devices - we'd be on our own, 60 - 70% of the time. Without translators or anything."
A most frightening moment?
"One moment that really really scared me was stick fighting. The two tribes just started fighting each other - which you only see a snippet of in the programme - but it was quite hairy."
Canoeing in the Pacific
"We filmed one for the American series. We were in Vanuatu sea kayaking. It must have been 10 or 20 ft waves - I'm in a small tiny boat on my own in the middle of the Pacific and there was no-one else around. The BBC cameras had disappeared because
Did you wonder what you were doing?
"Every time I went away I wondered what I was doing - but this was the very last one we filmed - so it was a case of 'well I've had an amazing experience - what the hell!'"
For my father
Mark, now 29, was born and brought up in Birmingham. His father was a sailor, he died when Mark was a teenager.
Mark in Birmingham
"I never knew what spurred me on - I never knew what my motivation was and it was only until I failed in India with the kick fighting [he cracked his heel and couldn't compete] that everything came together. I had time to look at the amazing scenery on my own - and time to reflect - and I realised what actually pushed me to do this.
"There was the element that I wanted to make my Dad proud - because I didn't do much when he was around - I was a bit of a bum really. But then there was also - that I didn't want to waste my life.
"My Dad died young and I want to make the most of my life - he would have given anything to have done what I did. Is he proud of me now? I'd hope so - if he wasn't I wouldn't know what more I'd have to do!"
Mark values family. He remembers his tribal hosts with fondness.
With a tribe chief in Brazil
In Mongolia there was Strong "so charismatic - he was a legend". And in Papua New guinea there was Noah. "Very kind - treated me like his son. We sat there many a time, looking out at the storms just talking - with his limited English."
His time with the tribes has made an impact.
"For me, although in the West we have the material stuff - healthcare, TV, electricity, choice of food etc. We're lacking in the real stuff - the sense of community, the sense of helping, the sense of pride, the sense of family more than anything else - I think that's where we miss out.
"When you see how the tribal community works for each other, and you see how family orientated they are - you miss it. When you're there - you don't think about television, or what food you're eating - because you've got everyone around you who helps each other out. But they do miss modern healthcare - that's the only thing we've got right."
It wasn't all cultural-exchange. There was, of course, violence.
"I won the Zulu stick fighting - that was the one I was grateful to win - because that was the most hardcore of all - in terms of fighting"
"I was quite pleased with that win. I reacted to the situation in a way that surprised me. When you're faced with that danger and you're positive and you switch on - it's worthwhile. When you know you're going to get hurt either way - I think the best way to minimise that hurt is to attack."
Mark was favourite to win the kick fighting in India, too, before damaging his foot in a training fight.
Covered in blood
"It was the most frustrating for me. If I'd have won that one - I'd have been leading the whole series. I was a bit gutted."
The athletes lived as the tribes lived. So Mark, what was your most unpleasant experience? Wiping your bottom with rocks (no tribal toilet paper in Mongolia) or maybe ripping testicles out of live goats?
"Toilet behaviour was pretty rank. Ripping out goat testicles certainly. But also killing animals - the slaughter of the animals. You just get on with it - because you have to - to eat and to survive.
"I remember slitting the throat of a Llama - you just had to hold it back and slice through its neck - I was covered in blood. It's not pleasant - but you do it to survive."
Did you have to do it?
Fighting in Indonesia
"The tribes have accepted you in - they're feeding you - you're taking the food off their plate. It would be hypocritical for me to refuse to kill an animal - if I'm feeding the village by doing it".
The eagle dance in Mongolia
What was the silliest moment? Wearing the tiny Mongolian wrestling pants? Eagle dancing?
"Mongolia was a real strange one. Because it was such a masculine sport - but the outfits weren't very masculine to say the least - neither was the eagle dance. But when you're there and you're with them and you do it - you feel a bit of a bad-ass really. You know it's part of the wrestling tradition - what the dance is - and what it represents".
Mark is still in touch with his fellow athletes. He's about to visit Brad in America.
"I think we all bonded to some extent" says Mark. Rajko and Jason had that edge to their competiveness with each other. Jason was a great guy - very temperamental - but he had a real good heart - all five did.
"I got on best with Rajko (fitness guru) and Brad (strongman). Me and Rajko - because we were opposites. His body was a temple - where as I was out drinking and eating fast food at any opportunity I had. Me and Brad were party buddies in between. We'd go out and hit the town at any opportunity and enjoy ourselves.
"Believe it or not when you're travelling to a tribe - you'll find a little random town. You'll always find something to do - always a bar, especially in Brazil. We always bumped into someone who knew where to go before we took the final trip into the forests."
One drunk Brummie, and the future
Mark is still doing martial arts, still teaching salsa dancing in Stirchley. How have people reacted to him? Any problems?
"I've had one drunk Brummie try to fight me on Broad Street. Which you take with a pinch of salt.
"But 99.9% of people I've met have been amazing. There's so much support for the Brummies. We're the second most populated area in England - and it's a shame that there's not more Brummies on televison. Because Brummies need a bit of inspiration - if you're outside of London - we seem to get left behind.
"Birmingham's got so much to offer - what's been great for me is everyone coming up to me and saying 'you did it for the Brummies - well done' 'You weren't what they portray most Brummies to be, you represented us well'. I hope I did - and I want
What's next, Mark?
"Recently I've chosen to change career - I'm now looking to go into secondary school teaching - so I've just applied to do a stint at Camp America and then ideally I'd like to get into a school somewhere.
"I'd also love to get into television - not to be famous - but to stick Birmingham on the map. I've got a Brummie accent - so be it - people might not like it - and I might sound a bit thick - but we know we're not. I want to take away that misrepresentation of Birmingham and Birmingham people."
"I'd like to give kids, teenagers and adults a bit of hope - just to let them know that if you want to do something you can do it. You have to make it happen though. I never thought that I'd be travelling the world - I just went for it and gave it everything I had. You make success for yourself".
Last Man Standing on the BBC
The final two episodes can be seen on BBC TWO, late on Sunday nights. Please check listings for the correct times.
last updated: 06/08/2008 at 18:49