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British Army’s Gladiators winner on his career and that dramatic TV series victory

Major Finlay Anderson enjoyed a rollercoaster ride en route to winning the reboot of classic TV show Gladiators.

The 35-year-old, from Edinburgh, came from behind on the final Eliminator challenge of his first heat after his opponent faltered on the balance beam.

He then suffered a broken rib in the quarter-final, his decision to forfeit the subsequent round leading to a huge 11-second handicap for the Eliminator, which saw him knocked out by the narrowest of margins.

Yet his performance was so impressive, he qualified as the fastest runner-up to gain a spot in the semi-final where he went into the Eliminator 12 points behind his rival, leaving him six seconds to make up. Despite the disadvantage Finlay won by some distance booking his place in Saturday’s grand finale.

The final was, thankfully, more straightforward as he went into the Eliminator even on points with Ministry of Defence civil servant Wesley Malé, against whom he had failed to claw back that 11-second disadvantage by a split-second in the quarter-final. It was only the second time he wasn’t behind going into the last challenge.

Of the culmination of his Gladiators journey, Finlay said: “As we were level going into the Eliminator, and I’d nearly caught him last time, I felt quite confident. I pulled away on the cargo net and kept going. Wes fell on the travelator at the end, so I went back round to cheer him on. He’s a really good guy.”

“The moment I crashed through the finish line I was looking directly at my family and friends. I looked them in the eye and gave them a wave while still on rope. It was pretty wild.”

Finlay, who is Officer Commanding of Alpha Company 2nd Battalion The Royal Scottish Regiment (2 SCOTS), sat down with us to talk about his Army career, the Gladiators experience, and how the mental resilience gained from being a soldier helped him keep ploughing on when the chips were down.

When did you join the Army and why?

It was January 2010. I researched it and was attracted by the opportunities and physical challenges available.

What was your first role within the Army and what was the journey to your current role?

My first role was as an Infantry Platoon Commander which included a deployment to Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 14. I have spent most of my time at various levels of command in regimental duty.

I started as a Platoon Commander, then was Company Second in Command, Anti-Tank Platoon Commander, Battalion Operations Officer, Company Commander – D Company 3 SCOTS, Operations lead (J3 Ops) in Permanent Joint Headquarters on both the Op Shader and Ukraine Crisis teams, and now Company Commander – A Company 2 SCOTS.

What opportunities has the Army given you?

I have seen parts of the world that few can, and certainly not in such a short period of time. Two tours of Afghanistan (Operation Herrick 14 and 19), two tours of Iraq (Operation Shader 6 and 18), and I have also deployed on exercise and Defence engagement activities to Belize, The Falkland Islands, Canada, USA, Kenya, Oman, and Germany.

I have played Rugby 7s in Dubai, Italy, Spain, and Canada and been a part of some of the most fascinating elements of current affairs. The opportunity to be part of something so important and so much bigger than you is a privilege.

What would you say have been your best experience whilst being in the Army so far?

Being deployed on operations with my company.

What led you to apply for Gladiators?

Many people will remember it from the ’90s and a re-showing in the early 2000s. I think that's a big part of why I volunteered to do it. It's nostalgia, it's trying to be part of something that we all saw in our childhood, and I absolutely loved watching it on the TV when I was younger. For me, it wasn't about proving anything. This was an incredibly fun challenge. A big part of my life is physical training, physical ability and I really enjoy that being a part of my job and being a part of the Army. So, when I saw a fun physical challenge that brings back all those memories of childhood. I jumped at the opportunity. Why not?

Talk us through the application and selection process

There is an online application process initially and they received, I think, close to 40,000 applications. It got whittled down to just 10 men and 10 women. Between the application and the event there was also a series of trials and mock interviews to see if we were the right people for the task. Luckily, I got through.

When did you find out you had been selected?

I didn't get very much notice. I applied maybe a couple of months prior to the event. But they didn't announce us until about a week to 10 days before the event. So, I would say there probably wasn't time to worry about anything, and it was just straight into the training. And then a week later we were on the show.

How did the Army prepare and support you with Gladiators?

Mental and physical resilience. From completing arduous courses such as P Company (Airborne Forces Selection) and the Platoon Commanders Battle Course through to long taxing deployments, I have learnt what I am mentally and physically capable of – quitting is not an option; we adapt and overcome challenges no matter how big.

I now enjoy the excitement of working under pressure and feel well equipped to cope with difficult, new, or emergency situations.

These army experiences, dealing with high pressure, high risk-to-life situations gave me a unique perspective when approaching Gladiators. It allowed me to have fun and enjoy the whole experience rather than become overwhelmed with the pressure of large live audiences, TV, interviews and challenging physical events.

There are some bits that translate directly. The Eliminator at the end of each show is a little bit like an assault course which we do in the military.

However, the real benefit is the mental and physical resilience you learn. I had physical robustness. A lot of the contenders, either in training or during the show got injured, as I did, which took them out of the game and those were people who I thought were going to go on to win.

It's that ability to endure contact with people bigger and stronger than you in some cases, being able to endure the pressure of being on TV in front of millions of people.

Tell me about the other competitors

There was fierce competition from the other contenders. There were some phenomenal athletes from diverse backgrounds. You had people from sporting backgrounds. From runners through to ultimate frisbee players, boxers, CrossFitters. They came from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines.

And the Gladiators?

They are really nice people and great athletes. We’re all still in touch which is great, although Viper never broke character and I never heard him speak, even when I tried to talk to him. He just stayed in the zone.

Did you understand the attention that comes with being part of an iconic TV show watched by millions?

Yeah, it’s absolutely an iconic programme on prime time on BBC One and it's amazing. What makes it particularly special is that people who remember it best from the ’90s and early noughties are probably the exact people who stayed in to watch it on a Saturday night. I think it was a huge success.

What was the most difficult part of the programme for you?

I wouldn't say there was any particular event that I dreaded, but I did get injured. I just went on with the show. It was really sore, and again, it's just that military inability to quit that kept me going and kept me fighting through. I stepped out of one of the particularly physical events and just took the risk on losing the points and making them up later. I had to just keep going.

Was your aspiration just to have fun and be involved or did you go to win?

I'm actually not an especially competitive person. I love sport. I love physical training. But mostly I just love being involved with the people around me and the community spirit of all getting better together. So, actually I wasn't in it to win it from the start. I was in it for the fun and the experience. And I absolutely got that.

How did it feel to win?

It's brilliant. I kind of couldn't believe it. When I was holding up that trophy at the end of the show it was absolute disbelief. It felt like I was in a childhood dream. A completely unreal situation, but it was amazing.

Do you go back and defend this crown or is it all over for you?

Well, you never know. There was mention of there being a champions of champions episode. Once the next series goes out and they've got new series winners, they might do a final afterwards. And another idea they have is that it's now being re-aired in the USA and Australia, and maybe a couple of other countries, doing a global one as well, so anything could happen.

I half-jokingly said to the producers ‘If we win, do we get to be a gladiator on the next series?’ They smiled and walked away with a twinkle in their eyes. So, I don't know if it will happen, but that would be fantastic. That would be fun, but we’ll have to see.

Has all this made you consider a change of career like The Traitors winner, former Lance Corporal Harry Clark?

Not at all. I had to take a week or two off for the for the filming of the episodes, but it didn't interfere with any training or anything vital. So, I managed to make up the time elsewhere.

What's been the reaction from the soldiers from your unit?

The feedback I've been getting would have been very different if I hadn't won. I mean in a fun and respectful way, we're absolutely brutal in our banter with each other and it's all mutual. So, I'm very happy that I did win... I think secretly they're all pretty proud of what I’ve done.

Do they treat you as a bit of a star now?

No, I'm definitely not treated as a star and I'm glad about that. But we do have a bit of banter about it now and then.

 

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