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Filming Last Woman Standing: the best job in tv?

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Dana Stevens | 12:10 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010


Shivering here in London, I initially thought that the ladies on Last Woman Standing would be living the dream. Travelling to exotic locations and getting to see some amazing places sounds pretty good when Britain is icy and cold. But from the very first episode when I saw them taking part in the blood letting ritual in Brazil, I didn't feel sick with envy...just sick! Having piranha teeth cut into my leg to get the blood flowing is too much for me, never mind the wrestling. But it's not just the five women who had to brave the heat, insects and lack of loos but the production team as well. I wanted to know what it was like to film in such remote places so I caught up with series producer Sophie Todd to find out just how tough things were. Was it worth it? She certainly seems to think so as she loved it, piranhas and all.

Here are Sophie's memories of the filming trip:

Making Last Woman Standing has to be one of the best jobs in television. You get to go to some of the most incredible places on earth and film cultures that most people will never get the chance to meet. But it's not a glamorous job; foot fleas, infected bites, and chronic diarrhoea are some of the less charming experiences that the crew also encountered during filming.
In each location some of the crew arrive a few days before the athletes to give the locals a chance to get used to us and our kit. The Kamaiura tribe, who we filmed with first, don't wear clothes other than a belt that covers a section of their stomach. That often means when you were sitting on the floor talking to someone, another member of the tribe would be standing next you with their meat and two veg in your ear!

Washing means walking into the lake and splashing loudly to scare off the stingrays and piranha that share it. The first time was pretty intimidating as I had an audience of young women and girls who were determined to see if I had anything they didn't under my clothes. They had my bikini off in ten seconds flat and scrubbed my body within an inch of my life.
The Kamaiura paint themselves with designs inspired by animals. I knew we were fitting in when they started to paint us as well as the athletes who were competing with them. It beats getting ready for work in London.
A lot of people ask what do you miss when you are away and the answer is not very much. It's amazing how little you need to get by. Most of the luggage we take with us is camera kit, tapes and batteries so there is no space for most of the stuff you think 'need' when you are at home. Obviously if a camera breaks in the middle of the jungle we are in big trouble so we take a lot of spare parts with us. Temperature, humidity and rain all conspire to ensure we spend a fair bit of our time patching things up.
And it's not just the technical side of filming that causes us a few issues. In order to get the close up action shots during the log running with the Xavante tribe, two of the DV camera operators had to be painted up and dressed as female runners and run alongside the teams. Now this wasn't too bad for Claire who had a sports bra of her own but for Chris it really was a test of his determination to get the job done! I'd like to say the rest of the crew gave him an easy time but they were pretty merciless with their comments. You have to be thick skinned as well as fit to work on this series.


But the ultimate experience has to be that of the athletes and the cumulative test of taking on six challenges is one that most people couldn't hack. Watching them go to hell and back, through pain both physical and mental, through rituals and ceremonies and coping with living and eating like their hosts makes you pretty proud of them. And the best thing about doing our job? It's that our friends and family get to share our experience of Last Woman Standing on BBC Three.

Sophie Todd is the series producer of Last Woman Standing.

Find out more about Last Woman Standing.

Watch clips from the programme.

See more videos from the series on YouTube.



  • Comment number 1.

    I was quite disappointed in the kali ability. None of them were up to any standard for competition but they did show promise. Natalie had no technique to counter Anna's aggression - i.e. no timing or footwork or tactical analysis in thinking up counters. But on the other hand, they had insufficient time to develop a knowledge. The main instructor did not seem to adjust instructions to prepare beginners quickly for a fight in such a short time.

    Alex's balance was terrible. Leslie had the most promise, after which came Anna.

  • Comment number 2.

    I've trained a little in Kali and I think you're being quite harsh. For those who aren't involved in these kinds of sports it's very difficult to get everything working second nature; where you can concentrate on tactics and the footwork etc. takes care of itself. You take Leslie for example - boxers are normally taught to keep their fists closed but relaxed until the point of impact (probably why she kept dropping the sticks).

    I got very irritated at the end of the episode with Natalie's feet-stamping and inability to shut up. It didn't look pretty but Anna's tactic was simple - to drive the opponent out of the circle. It was Natalie's own look-out to use her footwork and lay a strike once her opponent had committed herself. Anna was the only one with enough balls to get in amongst it and I think she deserved the win.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think that Last Woman Standing is a great series, fascinating on many levels, not least the insight it provides into obscure sporting events and training methods.
    Last night's episode focusng on Kali Stick fighting looked especially difficult and I wonder if it wasn't unrealistic to expect the women to attain any real chance of competing well with just 5 days training it what seems like a very involved and intense martial art.
    This episode seemed to be more about the athlete's characters than their progress in Kali; in particular how they coped with things not going their way.
    I was really disappointed in Natalie's conduct and lack of sportsmanship - her recurring admission that she doesn't like to lose was illustrated all too clearly by the way she threw her toys out of the pram when she couldn't hold off Anna. In simple terms, the aim seemed to be hit or be hit and she should've dealt with her issues in the ring.
    Looking at it from a female perspective, I felt that the hissy fit kind of let the side down.
    Fair play to Rugger chick though for trying so hard with her injury.
    Can't wait for the next episode!

  • Comment number 4.

    Was on the same time as are another show I liked so I didn't see any of it

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Sophie,
    This is Jackie & Matt from Fit 4 All where Alex trained, just wanted to say we love last Woman Standing. Not only because Alex is in it, but it is so addictive we love it.
    If ever you were thinking of doing a programme with husband and wives between the ages of 45yrs - 55yrs, count us in, we love a challenge.
    Once again congratulations on a great programme, hopefully see you again one day.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hey Sophie

    I'm loving your work right now. Last Woman Standing is an excellent watch and being a practitioner and lover of martial arts and combat sports I really admire the strength and courage in all of the girls. The coverage is top notch viewing and it's also very interesting to see how people live in remote parts of the world.

    Here's hoping that you'll film and produce more of this kind of stuff.

    Yours in Martial Arts

  • Comment number 7.

    Wow what an awesome show i am addicted to Last Woman Standing!!Would love to be on the show if you ever do it again. Great group of women my favourites are Alex and Anna, Jonie is such a character and Lesley is really coming out of her shell. Natalie let herself down in the stick fighting challenge but done well to row all that way with a ruptured bicep. I am a personal trainer and have found that this show has given me added motivation to train harder, i have got all my female clients hooked. Looking forward to the next episode, would be happy if Anna or Lesley win.

  • Comment number 8.

    Just caught the last 10 minutes of this evening's Last Woman Standing (16th March).
    I'm sure that 'Anna' is the same person as 'Chloe' in Ch4 Ultimate Traveller being broadcast on Sat / sun mornings.
    Oh to be a serial reality show traveller - does she get paid for these appearances?

  • Comment number 9.

    whatshores - I was very intrigued by your suggestion that Chloe and Anna could be the same person. I went over to the Channel 4 website to have a look and to watch some of Ultimate Traveller. But I'm sorry to disappoint you, they are not the same person - although admittedly there are some similarities! That really would be too jammy wouldn't it? Getting to do all that travelling!

  • Comment number 10.

    I absolutely loved last woman standing, thought it was amazing. I am trying to find out about another series and how I might go about applying to be on it?Can anyone help please?


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