By Leo Wolfson
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CODY — Eating meals every two hours to achieve a 10,000 calorie per day intake, along with workouts three-times per day.
These are just some of the unusual daily routines followed by the four strongman competitors who descended on Cody last week for the filming of a forthcoming History Channel reality TV show.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday, the cast and crew filmed at the Irma Hotel and closed down Sheridan Avenue to display the strongmen’s feats of strength, competing in various tasks such as lifting 400 pound bags filled with sand and buckshot and racing with pianos strapped to their backs.
“I’d like to see how much they weigh and how many protein shakes they drink a day,” Patty Nielsen said. “That one guy in red (Nick Best) is as big as Heart Mountain.”
The show, which has yet to be officially named, aims to test incredible feats of physical strength documented in historical accounts.
“We are going around the world taking on legendary strongmen of history and their feats of strength,” the show’s executive producer Rob Worsoff said. “Today, people put stuff on Youtube and Instagram and you can see it with their own eyes ... Barnum and Bailey used to exaggerate numbers of things… .There’s always a myth-buster component of our show. There’s always a sort of what actually happened?”
In Cody that inspiration came from one William Bankier, a man who is reported to have performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show under the name “Carl Clydon,” according to historian David Gentle, who runs a strongman library resource known as the History of Physical Culture. Gentle said various articles and a book by author David Chapman’s called “Sandow The Magnificent” mention Bankier’s lifting a 475-pound bag that was rolled onto his back and lifted as he stood up, as part of the show.
The show's producers said Bankier performed a similar feat with the piano lift, holding up the instrument and orchestra players before stunned audiences of years gone by.
Squeezing into the Irma’s dining room Friday afternoon was no easy task as every booth, aisle and bar stool were packed with man, woman and child, eager to see an up-close and personal look at the strongmen, Best, Brian Shaw, Eddie Hall and Robert Oberst.
“I’m just here to meet these big guys,” Harley Canapp said. “I could care less about the TV part.”
Amidst the hordes of Cody locals were around 15 show staff, numerous lights, cameras and tables, all for creating “TV magic.”
TV magic is perhaps not so magical until the finish product is completed. Though the strongmen didn’t appear to be scripted word-for-word, they were asked to repeat lines and explanations for their show at seemingly every imperfect utterance. Around the fifth time this happened, an audible groan emanated from the audience.
“Guys, settle in, we’re going to be here awhile,” Worsoff yelled.
But as the old saying goes, “the show must go on,” and it certainly did as the competitors impressed with their bag-lifting skills.
The bag challenge was a formidable task because of the difficulty that grabbing an oblong, canvas bag presents. Oberst said Bankier’s feat was likely “a trick he would play on the crowd.” Shaw said the heaviest bag known to have been lifted and walked with in a competition to this date is 330 pounds.
“(The number) 475 may have been a little inflated, but he brought people out of the crowd (who couldn’t lift the bag) so it wasn’t nothing,” Oberst told the audience.
Jeff Tucker, a local power lifter, was given the opportunity to lift one of the 400 pound bags but could not elevate the sack.
“It was fun and exciting because it was something I’ve never tried before,” Tucker said.
Shaw said the challenge is roughly equivalent to performing a 1,050-pound dead lift.
As Best lifted a bag as if it were an adult and walked around the room with it, the crowd went wild, many jumping out their seats in exuberance. In response Best let out a gorilla-like bellow.
“They’re the nicest, most fun, hilarious guys ever,” Worsoff said.
Hall is a 31-year-old strongman competitor from Great Britain. With charismatic smile and Mohawk hairdo, the Brit charmed the Irma audience with his brute strength and quick wit.
“I find it really interesting to find out about all these feats of strength and see if these things really happened,” Hall said between gulps of steak after the event. “We get to replicate these achievements from legends.”
Setting up a TV production, even if taped, is a major undertaking. Worsoff said his crew began work at 6 a.m. in anticipation of the 11:45 a.m. start time. Rolling cables and setting up boom microphones, the Entertainment One staff who shoots the show was constantly buzzing around the room, always looking for the best shot and content for the episode.
Sarah Abraham is in charge of taking care of the four strongmen as talent coordinator/food producer. Abraham is truly a ‘Jacqueline’ of all trades, arranging massages, buying heaping loads of groceries and setting up gym scheduling. She said found her job “somewhat bizarre” when the show started shooting but is now ingrained with the odd habits and rituals the quartet of strongmen possess.
“Even if their requests get crazy, you feel the love back when you do make them happy,” Abraham said. They call me “mom” … I feel like the most protected person on set.”
Worsoff said no exact date has been announced for the episode release or show start. The Cody episode is the fourth in a eight episode season that has already taken the film crew to locations such as Las Vegas and Georgia after shooting the original pilot episode in Nova Scotia last June.
“Sometimes we’re four dudes in the middle of nowhere, sometimes we’re on Fremont Street in Las Vegas with a million people,” Worsoff said. “There’s no rhyme or reason, it just really depends on what the feat of strength from history was.”
Cody is not unfamiliar with outside attention due to its rodeo, museum and the city’s historical significance, but it’s less common for this attention to come during the quieter winter months.
Earlier in the week, Entertainment One staff procured a permit from Cody City Council to close Sheridan from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Under sunny skies and mild temperatures Saturday, crowds jam-packed the street, in some instances three rows deep, for the chance to catch a peek at the piano-hauling behemoths.
“Cody, Wyoming, is filled with the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Worsoff said. “Everybody has been so accommodating. Everybody has been so excited that they’re here.”