'Combat Missions' brings quality to reality TV
TV "reality" takes a big turn for the better, and timeliness has everything to do with it in tonight's premiere of Combat Missions.
The stars of this USA military action series (9 tonight, USA) are real. They're all former Green Berets, Marine Recons, Navy SEALS, Delta Force, CIA Special Ops or police S.W.A.T.
These guys have served their time. Many of them were doing the same kinds of missions our elite military forces are doing today in the war on terror. Here, they're just doing it again for a TV show. But they don't take combat lightly, even in a game.
The steely leader of these TV warriors is Rudy Boesch, whose fame as a Survivor survivor won him the job.
It's Boesch's real-life résumé that matters here, though. He's the longest-serving Navy SEAL (35 of his 45 years in the Navy), and he won the Bronze Star for heroic action during his more than 45 combat missions in Vietnam.
He is the camp CO (commanding officer) of Combat Missions, a series created by Mark Burnett, the executive producer of Survivor and the man who made Boesch a star.
At Camp Windstorm, a bleak and dusty TV outpost in the Mojave Desert, four teams play the game of war, with everything but real bullets.
Instead they use a laser-based military training system, the same used by the Army and Marine Corps. Sometimes it's almost too realistic when the guys start going down in "kills."
There are 24 men, ages 24 to 51, picked from more than 700 applicants. Four are from Texas, including two from the Houston area, Mark Corwin and John Winn.
Corwin, 28, served with the Marine Force Recon, '91 to '96. He was an honor grad at Marine Boot Camp, School of Infantry and Military Dive School. He was involved in a ship takedown in the Persian Gulf in 1995.
Winn, 34, was with Marine Recon, First Force Reconnaissance Company and Third Force Reconnaissance, '86 to '94. He survived an Iraqi guard ambush.
Corwin and Winn's service résumés are typical of their teammates'. For all of them, the overall mission of this TV service is to do what they once did for real.
Each week, two six-man teams perform the same mission against a common enemy known as the "Shadow Squad." The Shadow Squad is real military, too.
The team that performs the mission best wins, and the team that loses has to kick off one of its men. At the end, the winning team splits $150,000; the best individual competitor wins another $250,000.
None of these men likes to lose, but they like losing a buddy even less.
"To me, it's a dishonor to leave a teammate, and I will not dishonor anybody," declares one former Navy SEAL when asked to vote a buddy out.
Tonight, after such killer warm-up exercises as "The 500-Pound Log Carry From Hell," the teams plan and execute their first mission: Blow up an enemy tank in hostile territory. In coming weeks, they'll rescue hostages and downed helicopter pilots behind enemy lines, go hand-to-hand in urban assault and more.
What puts Combat Missions far above the rest of TV's phony "reality" is the quality of its contestants. These are men, not kids, and they know what they're doing because they've done it.
What makes them so fascinating is the knowledge that guys like these are currently involved in combat missions. Those missions are real, and so are the bullets. These are not, but as former CIA Special Op Baz Bazzell judges at the end of this mission, "This may be (your) first -- and maybe last -- time to see who's responsible for protecting this country."
If that's anywhere near the case, mission accomplished.