Discovery Channel’s new series “Darkness” – which airs its first episode on Wednesday, August 2 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time – is described as “one of the most advanced and comprehensive tests of mental and physical survival ever captured on television.” So it comes as no surprise that three of the six contestants are fire fighters – and IAFF members.
The show deposits three participants into an underground cave but in separate locations. Contestants are then plunged into pitch black darkness in place for 30 hours to acclimate and test for behavioral response. They are then allowed to begin exploring their surroundings, including looking for food and water – and the two other players.
The goal is to find their way out of the cave together in under six days – if they can’t, they are extracted.
The first episode features two fire fighters and one army veteran.
Shreveport, LA Local 514 member Brandon Lee, a 17-year veteran of the Shreveport Fire Department, a SWAT team member and a member of the National Guard for 20 years and counting, says this is the craziest thing he has ever done.
A husband and a father of five, the 37-year-old Lee is still not sure why he wanted to do the show – except that he has always been up for a challenge.
“I always tell people, you can do anything you put your mind to,” he says. “I guess I really wanted to put my money where my mouth is.”
Lee admits he expected the show to be staged in some ways – maybe they would go back to hotels after the day was over – so he was in for the surprise of his life when he realized just how real the show actually was. There would be no hotels, no showers, no beds – no comforts at all.
“To be honest, my biggest fear was not the darkness, but being alone with my thoughts – like really alone,” says Lee.
When he met a fellow fire fighter down in the caves, it was a moment he says he will never forget. “It reminded me so much of being in the fire service and relying on another person with your life – those bonds, that brotherhood. It was alive down in those caves.”
By the end, after near-death experiences and life-altering friendships, Lee says he now has a better appreciation for the little things in life. He also thanks the show for his new-found friendship with his fellow fire fighter in the cave. “We are like long-lost brothers,” says Lee.
Jeff Tucker, a 54-year-old retired Fort Worth, TX Local 440 member, who also appears in the first episode, couldn’t believe the first person he bumped into was also a fire fighter (Brandon Lee).
A former arson and bomb investigator and a current CrossFit instructor, Tucker was itching to get back to that feeling he missed – the adrenaline of being a fire fighter. “Part of me wanted to see if I still had it,” he says, explaining that what you see on the show is definitely not acting. Tucker went without water for up to three days, and without food for five. Luckily, he ran into Lee after the first day.
“With our training, the biggest fear or obstacle wasn’t the darkness – it was other things, like having no sleep patterns and passing out from exhaustion,” Tucker says.
A husband and a father of three, Tucker reveals that there was a moment where he truly thought they had lost his partner, Lee – that he was gone. “I was reliving moments as a fire fighter that I didn’t even know where there – memories I had buried,” he says.
It was not all dark and miserable though, explains Tucker. There were moments of sheer joy and laughter, especially after a successful problem-solving scenario.
Tucker also talks about the benefits of being completely unplugged from the world – completely off the grid. “We are pulled in so many different directions these days, to get off the routine and to have to focus so intensely on yourself – it was quite the experience.”
A month out, Tucker says he is still unpacking the experience and journals daily to try to better flush out what went on down there. Another daily routine has become talking to Lee. “A day has not gone by that we haven’t chatted,” says Tucker. “Again, it is a lot like the fire service, but even more concentrated – there was a real bond formed there.”
Another Shreveport, LA Local 514 member, Mike Covert, competes in the Discovery’s Darkness series, but in a different season without Lee and Tucker, which will air in 2018.
Covert was the first to be tagged on Facebook about the show, and a producer soon contacted him (Covert also recommended Brandon Lee).
According to Covert, it was barely a month later that he went down into the caves.
Always outgoing and adventurous, and a former member of the Marine Corps, Covert admits he paused before agreeing to the show when he found out it was underground. “I can do a lot of things, but confinement is not my favorite,” he says. Still, he went on and soon found himself 1,300 feet underground and unable to see his hand in front of his face.
“It was so quiet, you could hear your heart beating in your ears,” says Covert – except for the sound of the crew that was watching him with infrared lights – he could sometimes hear them shuffling around and one time even bumped into a camera man.
Covert met up with a man who claimed to be a professional primitive tool maker and had appeared in BBC shows on survival, as well as a woman who is a professional caver.
“When I met these two, I thought, man I have nothing to offer compared to them – but the tools guy – he felt even more useless, as we had no tools, we couldn’t make fire, none of that. My skills as a fire fighter really came into play, and I found myself leading the charge at times due to my experience in search and rescue.”
Forty-eight-year-old Covert, a husband and a father of three who describes himself as a man of faith, says he often used prayer to help him in times of stress.
“It was one of the toughest things I have ever done,” he says. “The darkness was all-consuming and extremely confining. You lose all sense of time and you are extremely sleep deprived. I am glad I stuck it out, but I would not do that again.”