Paul Chivers: Amazing Risk

It’s a race around the world for an incredible cash prize. Paul Chivers explains how, for 12 years, he’s helped to make it happen

He's a Sydney-based businessman whose job requires him to partake in once-in-a-lifetime adventure experiences again and again … and again!

Paul Chivers is the director of risk facilitator, a global risk consulting firm, and the co-founder and chief risk adviser for The Risk Institute, a risk management and safety education provider.

A highly qualified risk practitioner, Chivers was recently lecturing on risk management in Malaysia and Hong Kong, and in mid-November appeared at the Risk Management Institution of Australasia’s national conference in Adelaide as a keynote speaker.

But it’s his role working on one of the world’s biggest and most successful reality television franchises that’s provided him with the opportunity to have a host of truly unique adventures. For the past 12 years, Chivers has worked on The Amazing Race.

First broadcast on American TV in 2001, The Amazing Race gives teams of two the chance to race around the world over 28 days, with the first team to cross the finish line taking home a considerable cash prize (up to US$1m). Along the way, each team is required to complete a series of challenges that may be mentally or physically taxing (or both). The original US version of the series is now broadcast across the world, and 12 other versions have since been created for specific regional markets, including an Australian version that began in 2011.

“I get to travel the world and experience adventures, which are sometimes world firsts,” Chivers tells Insurance Business. “In Singapore, we’ve done quite a few world-first challenges.

“At the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, we did a traverse … which was the world’s highest traverse of that kind …We did a challenge off the Singapore Flyer [a giant Ferris wheel], where contestants had to hop outside a capsule and then walk across, as it moved, to another capsule.

“I always test the challenges myself. No one gets to do it unless I do it. And then I love saying ‘I was the first one to do that in the world!’”

Chivers’ opportunity to become involved with The Amazing Race came about after the show’s host, New Zealander Phil Keoghan, visited Australia. “He had a show called Adventure Crazy, and he came to Australia and wanted to do some abseiling in the Blue Mountains. Our adventure company at the time took him out there.

“He had such a good time and said, ‘If I come back, I’ll definitely use you guys again’. He came back, and he was working on this show called The Amazing Race.”

Chivers commenced working on the program from the fourth US series, which was made in 2003. The first challenges on the show that Chivers was involved in took place in Queensland. These included a face-first rappel off a 17-storey building in Brisbane, while another task involved team members using feeding sticks to feed fish to 15-foot crocodiles.

“We were looking after the risk and safety and doing the planning for those challenges, which was really cool,” he says.

“And then from there, we’ve been working with not only the US production but all the variations around the world, so everything from the Israeli [version] … to the Australian and Asian series.”

Explaining the extent of his involvement, Chivers says: “Most of the time, we look after risk and safety of high-risk challenges. When they have a significant challenge, which is [perceived to be] ‘high risk’… we look after developing some of the risk management plans and then looking over and verifying the controls…

“We also do some challenge producing, which is really testing, and producing the challenges, which has been a lot of fun and we’ve only been doing that in recent years. That came about purely from my experience on the show and really understanding how the show and the challenges work ... So we do a combination now – a bit of producing [and] a bit of risk and safety, depending on what they need.”

Talking about how challenges are created for the program, Chivers says: “A lot of the time, the challenges are storyboarded. The executives will have an idea of what they want to do and the location, and then they’ll touch base with me and say, ‘This is what we want to do’.

“Then we look at the logistics of it … We’ll scope it out, with little drawings.”

Speed bump
Chiver cites a particular experience creating a challenge to be undertaken in Taiwan. “We wanted to do this pond crossing,” he recalls. “When I say pond, it was a huge body of water. They wanted to try and have contestants walk across, but the design didn’t work.

“Sometimes we suggest new ideas or new challenges and say, ‘This would be a better challenge’. Or they might come to us and say, ‘This is the location. What can we do?’ And I’ll go, ‘We can do some repelling or we can do a flying fox or we can do a rope climb here or a Jacob’s ladder.

“My job is to feel a place out and sometimes come up with the challenges or tweak them, so that we actually reduce the risk to the contestants or, in fact, increase the risk so that we get great TV. It’s about that dance with perception versus reality, and reality TV is all about making the viewer feel that it’s dangerous and something’s going to happen. The reality is that it’s not. There’s a lot of calculated work behind the scenes and, also, editing is an amazing thing.”

Chivers say it can be difficult working with the various contractors on location around the world who actually provide the challenges. “You might work with an abseiling [or] rafting company somewhere, and everyone around the world has a different perception of risk management and some don’t even understand the concept.

“Sometimes you ask, ‘Have you guys done a risk assessment on the challenge?’ and they’ll look at you and say, ‘I’ve got personal insurance’.

He says much of his time is spent with those contractors ensuring risk assessments are done properly. “It’s about going, ‘What are the controls we’ve got in place? How effective are they? And can we demonstrate that they’re effective?’ If I can do that, I’m happy to run a challenge, even if it’s a high risk and companies don’t have insurance … I know the legal team just love that!”

Asked to single out a favourite memory of his time working on The Amazing Race, Chivers is unable to do so. “Every race we do is unique; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he says. “So everything we do, [we’re] never going to do again. Every challenge you do is a ‘once off ’.

“You’ll go to these exotic places and you’ll rock up and meet some amazing person, who has a unique specialty or an amazing sport that’s never been seen before. And then you’re actually doing it, and then the next minute you’re in another country doing another challenge.

“Every time I do a show, I take away something. I sit there and go, ‘Did I just do that?’”

While Chivers has completed more than his fair share of adrenalin-pumping tasks throughout his time working on the series, he savours his memories of all challenges, even those that haven’t veered into heart-stopping territory. “In Lake Titicaca … I think [the contestants] had 55 minutes of constructing watermelons in a pyramid. It was just crazy. It wasn’t an exciting challenge, but when you’re at the location you are, it becomes amazing.”

And then there’ve been times when Chivers has had the chance to pursue a sport about which he’s particularly passionate – surfing. “One of the most amazing experiences was surfing in Tel Aviv when we were filming there … It was so cool just to interact with some kids who were surfing.”

If there’s one thing Chivers takes away from his involvement with the reality TV franchise, it’s affirmation of his already strongly held belief that the greatest risk is to take no risk. “I believe that, if we stop taking risk, we stop evolving,” he says. “As I travel around different countries and develop all these challenges and I look at risk management, [I’m] confronted sometimes by negativity … ‘It’s too dangerous’ or ‘You can’t do that’. I guess risk aversion is something that needs intelligent and robust processes to give people assurance that it’s all right to take risk.

“I’d love to see more practitioners whose focus is on helping organisations task risk, but due diligently and with robust defences and controls. I think that would be amazing.”

Next up, Chivers is heading back to Asia. “We’ve got the world’s largest musical festival on the sea. It’s called ‘It’s The Ship’.”

He’s also involved in a new venture. “We’ve got a really exciting program called ‘ROK works’, which is a company focused on work, health and safety using biomechanical risk profiling. We’re starting a really exciting trial with Freedom Furniture, which is going to be great. It’s a bit of a world first, which we’re really excited about.”

And soon it’ll once again be time to jet off for another race around the world. “We’re currently working on Series 28 of The Amazing Race [US], which is crazy. It just keeps on going.”

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