Exclusive Interview: Jukka Hildén talks ‘Ultimate Expedition’

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I spoke with Jukka Hildén about his new show Ultimate Expedition, which premieres on January 17th on YouTube Red. We also discussed his stunts on The Dudesons, what it’s like to watch those painful moments back, positive anarchy, what Ultimate Expedition brings to the table, Steve-O’s beautiful friendship with Wendy, his next projects, and so much more. While you are waiting for Ultimate Expedition to premiere may I suggest that you watch every episode of The Dudesons that you, and your  nether regions can handle. I’m not going to kid you, there’s a lot of man part ouch moments. These guys really took a lot for the team. That being said, Ultimate Expedition promises to take you on a different journey. Jukka Hildén is always the perfect ringleader. Ultimate Expedition is brought to you by Rabbit Films USA and the cast also includes: Steve-O, Chachi Gonzales, Chuck Liddell, Furious Pete, Gus Kenworthy, Jus Reign, Lia SSSniperwolf Shelesh, and Nikki Baker.

Lena Lamoray: You guys did some pretty intense and disturbing stunts on The Dudesons and I want to thank you for that. [Laughing]

Jukka Hildén: [Laughing] Well thank you. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it. That’s how we got our start a long, long time ago. The first movie we put out was in 1997 and ever since then we’ve kind of evolved from just being a stunt show into a family show, into a primetime sort of variety show, into testing people’s limits like on the latest show Ultimate Expedition for YouTube Red.

Yeah, I probably laugh more than I should at people doing crazy and painful stunts. [Laughing]

Jukka Hildén: [Laughing] You know, what has kind of inspired us is that the passion has always been about creating something original and unique—something that pushes our limits and pushes us out of our comfort zones. It evolves in some either mental, spiritual, or just a physical way. With the stunts it was always about coming up with the most cartoonish stunt, or with Ultimate Expedition, it was all about an absolute crazy friggin idea of taking eight rookies to a mountain that people die on. Every day we teach them a new skill, and every episode they have to learn something that they have to be able to use. You really needed those skills to be able to summit the 20,000 foot mountain. At the same time, we had to get a cast that was really meaningful and that really had stories to tell like Gus Kenworthy being the first openly gay Olympic athlete, Steve-O on battling addiction, or Chuck Liddell on retiring. It’s always been about being about what we call positive anarchy. It’s that kind of approach to whatever we do in life. Even being a dad, through parenting it’s all about giving love and attention, but also anarchy. Some people might do family photos but we like to do them differently and then hang them upside down.

I’ve always wondered, is it difficult for you to go back and watch the stunts that you got really hurt filming?

Jukka Hildén: It’s one of those things where you kind of go back and look at them and you look at it like, I’m glad we captured that on tape. You’re born with that certain ability, and a feeling that you want to push the boundaries. Every time I did a stunt I truly, and genuinely, went into the situation 110% confident knowing I got this and not every time I had it. [Laughing] Sometimes it wasn’t even close, but you know never did we intentionally go in there to do anything that would hurt us. You know what they say about the cavemen that first went out to where all the saber tooth tigers were at? They were like those people are absolutely crazy. Why would they leave the comfort of their dark homes? Look what came out of it.

Ultimate Expedition will be premiering on YouTube Red on January 17th. How does the American version compare to the Finnish version of the show? Outside of the cast, did you switch it up at all?

Jukka Hildén: It’s a very organic show. There are no hoops, or loops, or production decisions. It’s simply a real expedition where you are on expedition until you can’t keep up with it. It’s a very mental, physical, and social challenge. We were so high up, which means that there’s half the amount of oxygen. Everybody’s body is reacting differently. A fun little thing about it is that usually the young and fit men are the first people that fall altitude sick because they are trying to prove something rather than listening to their own bodies and minds. Altitude sickness can be deadly because your lungs can fill up with liquids and/or your brain can even start swelling, so you have to take it really seriously. Eight people have died summiting that mountain this year alone. It’s a serious thing. We did it with a special crew of one of the world’s best climbers from Finland, ex-military and ex-special forces, he held our hands and taught us everything.

We switched it up in a way. First of all, the way we produced it was absolutely revolutionary. We had a combination of traditional stars and digital stars and influencers. We had a separate crew for them to film their own content. Throughout the series and episodes, everybody is going to be posting their own little bits as well. It, kind of, made nine shows where you’ll be watching the show and you’ll be looking at Steve-O and maybe he’s getting choked out by Steve Liddell. You could be looking at SSSniperWolf, the biggest female YouTuber at the moment, and you’re looking at her struggle while she’s facing her fear of heights. You can sneak a peek at her channel where she posted content that isn’t in the show. You can get more out of these stars through their channels an vice versa.

The way that we also produce it is we have Emmy Award-winning director of photography. We have the best in the business sound guys, but at the same time we have people that know how to blog, how to address the audience, and how to talk to the camera. Everybody has their own blog camera that they talk to before they go to bed, or when they are having their moments alone. You have this combination of this beautiful scenery and this beautiful show that looks like a movie and then you, as a viewer, can connect with the cast as they share their intimate stories.

Were you surprised by any of the cast members and how they handled themselves on the mountain?

Jukka Hildén: I think everybody surprised themselves. There was a serious situation that we had to get two people down that came as a surprise. First of all, everybody pushed back their limits. Everybody broke down, but it’s that moment when you have that kind of an inspirational group. What might do really well is inspiring people by leading with an example that when you are down you keep on hoofing through that point. That kind of helps you tap into that power waiting inside you that is the size of the Pacific Ocean. Once you tap into that source of energy it’s like I can do anything in my life. I thought I could never do this, but here I am and I just did it. I almost gave up three times, on different occasions, on this hike alone but I can do this and I’m still doing it. I got this. At the same time, the people are away from their social media and their phones for over two weeks because there is no reception—that makes you think about your own priorities, your life. In this modern day hecticness and all this modern noise that we have around us, especially social influencers looking at their phones and their fans’ comments and living their life through that. It’s a blessing to get over two weeks of time that you can actually start thinking about yourself, about where you came from, where you are, and where you want to get to. We brought hope back to reality.

For example, there is this amazing story in the first episode. Steve-O, obviously is an activist, he’s been talking against SeaWorld. He’s just an amazing guy and friend of mine. He’s a charismatic TV star and knows how to film and how to put things in his words. He fell in love with a street dog in Peru and named her Wendy. He took her to vet and ended up bringing her to the U.S. She’s now an emotional support dog. You can’t write that kind of stuff. First of all, the hotel doesn’t let him sleep in the hotel with the dog. He asks for a tent and the hotel puts up a tent in front of the hotel where Steve-O stayed for the first five days. You have to stay in the nearest little town before you go to the base camp and start learning skills because you have to acclimate that altitude. There are a lot of things happening. You have these amazing stars and we are all going through altitude sickness, we are all going through emotional stuff, and we all have our own stories to share. At the same time, everyday we are doing something action based, whether it be vertical climbing or learning how to repel down a mountain while facing our fear of heights.

If you decide to do another season, is there anyone that you would love to cast?

Jukka Hildén: Yeah, there are plenty of people that I would love to cast. I think most of all it’s not a show where I just want somebody who wants to be on a reality show. All these people had a reason to be there, all these people had their own personal dragon to slay and they had all overcame their hurdles, or their own struggles in life. It’s like a group of people who are learning from each other and learning from themselves. It changes their lives for the future. You can’t have anybody who is negative or poisonous for that vibe.

If you look at our cast, we had Chuck Liddell who used to be a UFC Champion, he’s retired and deciding what he wants to do next. Steve-O battled addiction and learned how to be sober. His biggest moment of the climb was questioning why in all his videos he ended up in jail or in the hospital. He realized that wasn’t him anymore. He had to stop caring what other people thought of him and have the courage to just be himself. We had Chachi Gonzales who had a very rough childhood and is in court with her sister. Nikki Baker, who was a mom at a very young age is struggling with if she became a mom too young. She’s learning how to handle that. We have Furious Pete who has had testicular cancer twice in his life, so six months before doing this he didn’t know if he was going to be alive. We had Jus Reign, who is a comedian that was bullied in his youth. We have SSSniperWolf, who has had some family issues in her past. We had a very meaningful cast. Everybody really had a reason to be there and they weren’t just there to be on TV.

That’s definitely a bit different from other reality television shows.

Jukka Hildén: Yeah. What also makes it different from other reality shows is that it’s not like we are taking people there for the day and then we are staying at a 5 star hotel. We all stayed and slept in the tents. We all pooped in the same hole. We all ate the same food. There were no privileges. It’s real. It’s as real as it gets.

Did you encounter any animals on the mountain? I’ve never been mountain climbing. I’m just curious if you had any wildlife sightings. [I have chinchillas. They were originally found living in colonies on mountains. I’m always looking for some mountain rodent stories. It’s going to happen for me someday.]

Jukka Hildén: Only Steve-O and Chuck Liddell. [Laughing] Steve-O brought Wendy along. Wendy actually followed us all the way to base camp and that’s where she bonded so well with Steve-O. We were so high up in altitude that it’s hard to breathe. There are only coyotes and donkeys, so not too many animals. I also may have seen a Sasquatch, or it could have been Furious Pete bathing. [Laughing]

You seem to operate on the theory that if you can dream it you can do it, like with most of the stunts and shows that you do. I still can’t get over the stunt where the building collapsed around Jarppi.

Jukka Hildén: I think it’s about maintaining the same attitude and mindset through life with whatever you do and that’s positive anarchy. That’s an example that I want to set, not necessarily the crazy stunts that you do but take that leap of faith to learn from yourself. Go out of your comfort zone. That’s what means a lot to me. Those have been my biggest learning curves in life where I’ve actually looked at myself in the mirror and realized who I am—the good and bad of it and grabbed the bull by the horns and did something about it. If you have a fear of public speaking, go out there and try to do a stand-up gig. As scary as it is, as petrifying as it is, you’ll get so much out of it especially the fact that you did it. You went there and you tried. The most important thing in life is not to succeed but to try and do your best, and that’s enough.

Are you working on any other projects?

Jukka Hildén: We are putting out daily content on our Dudesons blog channel starting at the end of January. That I want to use to tell my story complete with ups and downs. Having the worst eye infection ever, I’m going to blog about that. If it’s about learning how to fly a plane or learning how to do a double back flip, I’m going to put it out there. I want to show that as an example and tag it: #imadudesonfamily and #imadudesongoalsoftheyear because those are my goals. Those are what I want to do this year and I want to use it as a tool to do all this epic stuff in my life that I want to do. I want to learn new skills and use that as an example for other people to set their own goals. I love it when I ask people and they reply that they want to be a soccer player, or want to learn how to play piano, or that they want to learn how to do a front flip. When they say things like that that’s the first step of it becoming a reality. Say it out loud, that’s where the dreams come from, right? When you have the courage to say it out loud that’s what it takes. It’s not going to come easy but if you work hard and don’t keep your head down when the first bump on the road hits, or when shit hits the fan, that’s when you start achieving something. I want to set an example as an inspiring dad who wants to do some fun stuff with his kids. You can go home and build a Batmobile out of cardboard boxes. I’m not a young YouTuber and I’m definitely not just painting a bright little sky and sunshine. I want to show the ups and downs in life. The most I’ve learned is from the difficult days in life. A lot of these people are living a fake life of it’s all good. [Laughing] It’s not always good.

I run the U.S. office of Rabbit Films USA and we have several shows. We produce about fifteen shows a year in Finland including Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Shark Tank, Saturday Night Live, Hollywood Game Night, and all of our original and unique shows. I’m also out there and I’m looking for the best possible partners for those shows that I don’t star in. I have two sides to me. I want to be the modern day Indiana Jones that tests people’s limits for real and I want to leave a legacy of being an inspiring personality that lives life with a big smile on his face, cheering up other people, and setting an example. I want Rabbit Films USA to be the production company that everybody wants to work with because we’re the cool kids in the pub. We’re young, energetic, and we have original and unique anarchistic ideas that nobody else can pull off. There’s a lot to work on. In 2018, we are going to hit the ground running and hopefully it will be the best year ever.

I’m really looking forward to the premiere of your show.

Jukka Hildén: Thank you. YouTube Red was really great to work with because they are taking all these leaps of faith with us. They are letting us film as much content as we want for the cast members and we put together ten amazing episodes.

Ultimate Expedition premieres January 17 on YouTube Red.

Photos: Ultimate Expedition

Photo: Santi Fox

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