For the fifth time in a row he would be heading back to the jungle. This time, it would be between September 17 and December 11. Like he did in the past, he would be the tour guide as a group of young, brave men and women go on a search for fortune. It is the eighth season of the Gulder Ultimate show, a reality television programme and what is up for grabs is a cash prize of N7million, a wardrobe allowance of N500,000 and a brand-new sports utility vehicle, SUV for whoever emerges winner.
As the 30 brave individuals contesting for the prize this year go on the Egbetua Ososo mountainous terrain in Edo State, one man will go with them. He is not there for the prize, rather, he would determine the winner. His name is Bob-Manuel Udokwu, the no-nonsense anchor of the show. In this interview with Muyiwa Lucas, senior assistant editor, Udokwu revealed his softer side, admitting that beneath the tough outward disposition, he often empathise with the contestants. Excerpts:
How has it been anchoring the Gulder Ultimate Search since 2007?
Anchoring the Gulder Ultimate Search has been like a very big challenge because in spite of the fact that all elements of television production are present, you don’t have a formal script. What we usually have is a story line, which starts from a particular beginning and goes through a process and then there is a logical conclusion with the winner. In between, actions are really spontaneous; you expect the unexpected at all times. This has also helped me to grow as an individual, understanding human nature, what people are capable of doing or not capable of doing when they are stressed up, cornered in a situation, especially when you remove them from their comfort zones, so to speak.
Watching you anchor the show you cut the picture of an unemotional person, do you ever get to feel any emotions for the contestants?
As a person yes. I actually empathise with the contestants but as an unbiased umpire and a well-trained actor, you don’t let those things show. The show has to go on. You don’t really, openly show empathy to anybody but as a human being, you can understand because you see disappointment, you see all the emotions. Some cry, some people even get injured and all that. Rains come and serious sunshine. All those things play on ones emotion but you don’t let it come through to the surface, you suppress all that and blind them out. Most of the contestants take me to be very stern and even the public but when the show is over, they find a different Bob-Manuel, because most of them meet me for the very first time in their lives in the ultimate search and I don’t really interact with them until we get into the jungle. I blank them out and after the show I bring them close to me again and then they begin to see this truly very friendly guy. All that was for the show and again it is very necessary for me to be that way so that the credibility of the show and my presentation remain intact.
What kind of bond exists between the contestants in the course of the show?
Well because they know they are in it together, they bond somehow in the sense that they know they are in this together. But then in surviving together, they also realise that somebody has to win so they know that if I come last then I get very little amount of money and if I win, I get the whole thing. So, there is also rivalry because they compete among themselves to come to a higher level before being kicked out.
This season 30 contestants will be participating against the usual 12. What is the import of this for you?
It’s not going to be easy on us both; for those who are doing the show, and for me as the presenter. Again, I have to dig deep into my archives and be able to raise the bar again. The show’s scope has been expanded for the audience or viewers at home, its going to be interactive at some point, they will be required to do some things as the show goes on. But then they will expect another world-class show in the ultimate search.
How financially rewarding has the show being for you?
I work to get paid; you know it’s my work. I am a performer right from time. Usually in things like this, you have what is called artiste fee. So it’s not anything extraordinary. It’s just like doing a movie, you negotiate your fee and if it works out well, you go ahead doing it.