The four military heroes known as “the cadre” in the new Fox patriotic reality series “American Grit” agree on one thing while preparing to choose the four contestants they each get to mentor.
“Who doesn’t want the lumberjack,” says one of the heroes after another hero proclaims he wants Colden’s Mark Bouquin on his team of four.
“That’s kind of cool,” said Bouquin in an interview prior to Thursday’s 9 p.m. premiere on Channel 29, the local Fox affiliate.
A lumberjack from Colden? Who knew?
At 6 foot 3, 250 pounds, the bearded Bouquin looks the part. He explained that he got started as a lumberjack at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks, where it is a collegiate sport.
“It is called the Woodmen’s Team, it’s a sport at a lot of colleges in the Northeast and out West and in Canada, too,” said Bouquin.
He went to Paul Smith’s to study forestry. After earning degrees in a variety of fields, Bouquin competed in Timber Sports professionally in New York, Alaska and British Columbia. He also did lumberjack shows for tourists.
A graduate of Springville High who now lives nearby with his fiancé, Melissa Dancy in Freedom, N.Y., Bouquin was the captain of his high school wrestling team as a senior and also played football and was a member of the track and field team. He also played several sports in college, including rock climbing, snowshoe racing and rugby.
Being a member of so many teams was good preparation for the reality series since teamwork is the name of the game in “American Grit” and emphasized by all the members of the cadre.
The mentor of Bouquin’s team, is an Army Sergeant who is a Purple Heart recipient. The other mentors are a Navy Seal Commander, a Marine Gunnery specialist who was the only female to deploy in one of the first units in Iraq, and an Army Ranger who was the first African-American sniper in the 3rd Ranger Battalion to deploy in the Global War on Terrorism.
Bouquin didn’t need any lectures on the importance of being a good teammate since he has played so many team sports. He didn’t even realize there was a Woodmen’s Team at Paul Smith’s before he arrived there.
“I grew up in the woods, hunting and trapping and hiking and doing everything outdoors,” said Bouquin. “So when I saw that there was a sport while I was chopping wood, I thought it was right up my alley and something I wanted to do. So I tried out for it and that’s how it started.”
He credits his upbringing for preparing him for the Fox series.
“Living in Springville and Colden growing up kind of made me who I am,” said Bouquin. “Living out in the country with my family, I was able to learn all sorts of skills growing up. We did everything outside. I got to learn a lot of new skills that will help me do a lot of things. I was in Boy Scouts, played a lot of sports. Springville gave me all those opportunities.”
His stamina is unquestioned in a series that has many demanding obstacles and challenges. After all, he and a friend once traveled the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail over 14 states in 99 days and 14 hours. That’s 10 hours under 100 days.
“Under 100 days, exactly,” laughed Bouquin.
He said he was made aware of “American Grit” when contacted by somebody from the casting department. He did an initial interview and one more interview before becoming one of 16 civilians competing for $1 million in November of 2015.
Hosted by deep-voiced wresting star John Cena, “American Grit” is a combination of “Survivor” and “American Ninja Warrior,” with an added patriotic military theme.
“The whole show is military-based,” said Bouquin. “The fact that they had four military veterans all with incredible military backgrounds, that in itself was an amazing deal to meet those people. And then having them help you on a personal level was really cool. The whole feeling was patriotic.”
“American Grit” is a very intense series. At one point in the second episode, a viewer may wonder if it will be the first reality show that may end up with someone competing so hard that there could be a death. Unlike “Survivor,” no one is voted off as the contestants test their limits.
“We did really tough stuff,” said Bouquin. “That was what was really cool about the show. The only way you lose is if you give up or your body fails.”
He said he was worried about the contestant who ran out of gas in an endurance test involving ice and had to be taken away by ambulance.
“Yeah, I was,” said Bouquin. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I didn’t want her to be injured but I also was proud of her for being able to push herself so hard. Now that we know that she is fine, knowing that she pushed herself as hard as she could is kind of amazing. I wasn’t fearful that she would be dead, I was fearful she might be hurt.”
Most of the contestants are good-looking and all of them are in incredible shape navigating difficult obstacle courses that they make look easy to complete. As in many reality shows, some of the contestants are more likable than others. But they all have stories to tell about overcoming odds or being inspired by the struggles and examples of loved ones.
Bouquin was inspired by the difficulties his mother Sharon experienced before her death two weeks. Survivors include her husband Jack, Mark, Mark’s twin brother Luke and a third brother Matt.
“My family is the biggest part of my life,” Bouquin explained. “Everything I do is for my family. They are my biggest influential things ever. My mother is an extremely big part of it, how strong she was with the things she had to deal with in her life. She had over 20 back surgeries. No matter how much pain she has been in the past 20 years, she was always smiling and always made people happy and always put other people in front of her even when she unable to do things.
“So her mental strength was so inspiring and incredible to me and that motivated me to do everything I’ve done up to this point in my life. Her and my father. My father constantly working as a construction worker. He had open-heart surgery two years ago and he came back from that like it was almost nothing. It was insane. I do everything for my family.”
I can’t say exactly how Bouquin and his team does in the first two episodes made available for review. But I can say he should make his family proud and you certainly can see why all the mentors wanted the lumberjack from Colden on their teams.