NBC's 'Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge,' shot in Georgia, shifts to 'Walking Dead' site

This was posted by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV talk blog

"The Walking Dead" fans might recognize the old metal fabrication factory used for NBC's second season of "Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge" returning Monday, June 12.

During season 3 in 2012, the deranged one-eyed Governor, played by David Morrissey held some "games" of his own in the space involving Daryl Dixon, his brother Merle and some chained up zombies in a stark, enclosed space surrounded by cheering, leering Woodbury residents.

NBC used the same arena featuring games and cheering audience members - just no zombies.

"It's a great setting," said Arthur Smith, executive producer for "Spartan" who also oversees companion series "American Ninja Warrior." "We tricked out the space. It has great bones. I loved shooting there. The crowd roar in the arena is amazing."

And without directly referencing "The Walking Dead," he added, "we wanted to have this interesting, apocalyptic feel. We love setting it at night. There's a little bit of fire, a little pyro. This is Spartan amped up for prime time."

The industrial space in Newnan is owned by Caldwell Tanks, a Louisville, Ky company which constructs water tanks, industrial storage tanks, and  concrete tanks. 

It was also used in a less obtrusive manner by the "Hunger Games" producers for the third film in the series.

Spartan obstacle races have been around for years. Season one of "Spartan" was set in an expansive natural space in Chattahoochee Hills and shot during the day. It felt very different, Smith said, though the basic concept will be the same this year: thematically tied teams of five compete in one-mile, over-the-top obstacle races. The Arena is the starting and end point for each obstacle course.

Here's the trailer to season 2:

For Smith, the show is a mix of personal stories, dramatic game play and cool visual and audio. He said they purposely cast teams that viewers could relate to.

"For the first time, we have an all-woman team, women pole vaulters. Olympians. They're amazing," he said. "We also have a team from the heart of Texas. His whole family was lost in a fire 15 years ago. His cousin and aunt adopted him into their family. They're so bonded. It's an amazing story from a horrible tragedy."

They also paired off a team of players no taller than 5' 5'' versus physically large team of Scottish Highlanders. There is a group of immigrants and a"Gray Guard" crew whose average age is about 45 years old. (That's old in this competition.)

The race can't be won by one superstar player. The weakest player is the weakest link. The infamous "slip wall" is a case in point. (Watch this scene from last season to get a taste.)

"This year there was  a guy literally falling off and couldn't get a grip," Smith said. "He grabbed someone's shoe in his mouth to get extra grip over the person. He used his mouth! I've seen people step on people's heads, walk on top of people but I had never seen that!"

Smith loves the emotional aspects of the show and is amazed how many contestants are so exhausted and exulted at the finish line that they are literally crying.

The set is packed with 70 cameras, three times as many as "American Ninja Warrior." "There are drones, jibs and cranes all over the place," he said. "I've done Super Bowls and Formula 1 racing. This has as many cameras as those events."

Unlike a live sports show, this program has the benefit of time to do post production, jazzing up the audio and music, fixing narration when necessary, ensuring they pick the best camera angles and mapping out the best story lines knowing what the results are ahead of time.  "The key thing when shooting a show like this is having to take notes in the field," Smith said. "We do a line cut while doing the show but because of all the action, all the things happening, it's really important to go to the angles, to make sure to have the right one."

Oh, and don't forget the mud: lots and lots of it. "That's what makes it prime time," Smith said.

There are also new hosts, including Olympic speed skating champ Apolo Anton Ohno. He said he spent so much telling yelling encouragements each day to the teams, he got hoarse by the end of the night.

"I'm fascinated with people having second chances in life," Ohno said. "We all can relate to being down, thinking there is nowhere out. These people found the energy to compete in a crazy obstacle course and transform their lives into something more positive. That to me makes this all worthwhile."

Here are a couple of photos and video from "The Walking Dead" and its use of the Caldwell Tanks factory space:

And here is the site when I visited in March, 2016 as part of "The Walking Dead" tour:

The Zombie Arena from season 3 with Atlanta Movie Tours host Kent Wagner. CREDIT; Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com


"Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge," 10 p.m. Mondays, season 2 starting June 12, NBC

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.