From: Stoke on Trent
Occupation: Professional Dancer
Disciplined from his career as a dancer, AJ is used to pushing his body to its physical limits and has competed since he was a teenager. His confidence, however, was recently knocked by a freak accident he caused, which injured his partner. AJ chose to take part in the course to try and recover his mental strength. He is fiercely competitive (not least with his brother Curtis, who is also on the course) and wants to prove how strong a dancer can be, both physically and mentally.
Why did you want to put yourself through the toughest show on TV?
That’s been the one TV show that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to put myself in the most extreme circumstances and see fundamentally how I would deal with the stress, the pressure, everything that you can’t really appreciate unless you’re there. We sit and watch it at home going, “Well, I’ll be able to do that.” So let’s see if that’s true!
Did you feel like you had anything to prove?
No. I think for me, I was in a situation where I’d done pretty much the biggest shows there are on TV. When I walked into this TV show, I really went in there to enjoy the experience and not to feel like, “Oh, I’ve got to be number one.” Not to really script it, just to be myself and enjoy the journey. I think that’s one thing that I will take away from this show is really being in the moment and not having to worry about all the other stuff that’s out of my control.
Did you do any prep before you went out there?
I think the only prep that I did, which I’ve always done whole of my life is making sure that I am physically strong. And therefore for me personally, if I’m physically strong, then I am mentally strong. Fitness is a way of life for me. Other than that, you can’t really prepare for it.
When you were flying out there, what was the biggest fear you had about going into that experience?
I think the biggest fear is the unknown. When I use the word the unknown, I know what challenges roughly I’m going to be thrown into. I know that I can deal with stress very well because that’s something I’ve dealt with on Strictly, how to deal with all the celebrities that maybe aren’t so relaxed and trying to coach them as we’re about to go live. But when it comes down to the unknown of like, “What’s my breaking point going to be?” Where’s that limit going to be?” That’s where I was like, “Oh, it’s going to be interesting. I don’t know. It will happen. I’ll break down at some point, but I don’t know when that’ll be.”
Do you think that mental toughness was a strength of yours going into this?
100%. I think physical is one thing. But with any task, any scenario, it’s when you are at your most exhausted. It’s when you’re at your most emotional and tired. When it’s all against you, it all comes down to mind games. And if you can control your own mind, you can control your own body.
What was it like doing it with your brother Curtis?
I think it was really, really good. People think that as we have been brought up exactly the same, that we’ll be the same. But in reality we are two very different identities and two different people. For example, myself, I’m very OCD regarding how I would do task 1, 2, 3, whereas Curtis is very creative. He would be like, 2, 3, 1, and all over the place. You can’t judge two people the same because they are family members. We are still individual people. We are all just going to have different strengths and weaknesses.
What did you think when you found out who you’d be with on this adventure?
I think it’s a really, really good mix of people. I think it’s nice to see people from TV shows where you’d expect their personality to be one way, and then you understand their story and realise they’re not how you think they are. So many different personalities, but that’s what makes this show so good. You throw a bunch of people in and you don’t really know what’s going to hit them, or you don’t know what that person’s going to be like.
Did having so many sports stars make it competitive?
I think in some people’s minds, yeah. In my mind, no. Having had Lauren Steadman as a Paralympian on Strictly, I know how they operate. What’s interesting is most Olympians have their limits. They train for two hours and then have a rest for two hours. They then train for another two hours, then have a rest. They know their schedule. When you put them into a scenario like this where there is no schedule, there is no downtime and you can’t plan, it throws them a bit sideways and that’s something that’s really interesting to see.
What do you make of a Directing Staff?
Foxy is just brilliant, a great personality on and off camera. Billy was brilliant, he’s the one that makes you think, “I would not want to mess with him!” It was nice to have the new elements of obviously the American side, having Rudy and Remi, and both those guys are great guys and both very different mentally in how they approach challenges. They’re loud, out there, quite masculine but during the challenges they’re quite supportive, cheering you on, whereas the Brits are like, “We don’t give a shit, just get it fucking done!” So you’re stuck in the middle of that energy. It’s like a family divorce at some point!
Who would you say you bonded with the most on the show?
It was really nice to get to know Jade Jones. She became my buddy. We all had buddy systems. We had to do lots of challenges together. She was amazing. It slightly felt like I coached her at some points, helping her pack a bag and do this and that, but she appreciated that. It was really nice because we got on really well. We shared a lot together and she was brilliant. I loved getting to know her, we worked really worked well together.
How would you sum up the whole experience?
For me personally, with my experience, I want to use the word enlightening, but that sounds so weird, but just positive. Everything about the show is positive. Even in the most dangerous scenarios, there’s always a positive to take from it. I sound like I’m going to a cult, but I’ve been enlightened by the whole experience. That’s what happens when you go into the desert with four tough, hard men!