Who dares wins

By Shannon Huse

Dominic Bowden is far too much of a professional to call his new television show Dare to Win car crash TV. The international format is coming to New Zealand for the first time and it has many elements of compulsive viewing.

Groups of Kiwis (families, friends, sports teams) are given a challenging task that just one of them has to complete in one week. They get some professional coaching but otherwise it's just them and their video diary.

Each show ends with the contestant attempting their challenge in front of a studio audience for the entertainment of the crowd and the chance to win prizes. "It's a really exciting show because the challenges are actually quite tough and you never know if they are going to pull it off," he says.

"On some nights, the audience and even the crew were stunned. We'd look at each other and say 'I can't believe he just did that'." While the tasks are physically and mentally challenging, Bowden is quick to point out that they are not demeaning or exploitative. Think memory games and juggling rather than the bug-eating, death-defying feats of Fear Factor or Survivor.

Bowden tried all the challenges himself and says riding a unicycle is just one that took him by surprise. "It's really hard to trust that you can get up and not fall down and break something." Off screen he says the most daring thing he has ever done is leave a successful TV career in New Zealand behind to try to crack the Australian industry.

He was there for 18 months and found it soul-destroyingly unsuccessful.

"I thought I'd be fine because I had worked here but I had to go to the back of the queue and start again. Then I had to go right to the back of a special queue that they have for Kiwis in Australia." That career wobble has since been eclipsed by successful stints hosting New Zealand Idol and Are you Smarter than a 10-Year-Old? in New Zealand and then The Next Great American Band in the US. This show earned great reviews and saw Bowden being compared to American Idol's host Ryan Seacrest.

After Dare to Win, Bowden will head back to Los Angeles to investigate more television hosting opportunities. He's loathe to give any more details as nothing is locked down but it's clear that Bowden has his heart set on a career on both sides of the Pacific. Tall, good-looking and youthful at 31, it would be easy to assume that Bowden is coasting by on his good looks.

But after even a few minutes in his company it's apparent that Bowden is passionate about the television industry. This guy lives and breathes TV. When he's not filming his own shows he is on the set of other people's shows trying to work out what they do and why they are good at it.

"I know that people look at me and think that they could do my job," he admits. "I thought that I could do what Ryan Seacrest does on Idol and I thought that I could do Jay Leno's job but when you see them in action you realise how much you have to learn." Ever the measured host on screen, it's surprising how much and how fast Bowden talks in real life.

The only time he stopped his constant stream of conversation was when asked what he would do if he couldn't do any more television work. "I really don't know. Probably hang out for a bit and then hassle Jason Gunn until he let me visit him on set."

He says Gunn is a real friend and mentor, and he admires the light entertainer's professionalism and his career longevity. The pair talk regularly.. Off-screen, Bowden hangs out with his old school friends. They won't let him talk endlessly about TV and they help keep his feet on the ground. He's also settling into married life with TV3's Claire Robbie.

Together they are women's magazine favourites and are regularly in the Sunday gossip pages. "I just read them and laugh and then forget about it by Tuesday," he says.

It's all part of the territory for Bowden who believes that his clean-cut image makes it more appealing to write salacious stories about him. He's not bothered by it but says his mum and grandmother still get upset.

* Dare to Win debuts tonight on TV2 at 7.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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