In 1990, I was one of thousands of Kiwi kids jumping rope at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. There was only one thing more exciting than being part of the biggest date on New Zealand's calendar at the time: getting on TV. It was a bit like Where's Wally trying to spot ourselves, but there I was with my classmates skipping to Jump by the Pointer Sisters. It was, to quote my 10-year-old self, "the best day of my entire life", captured all on glorious VHS.
It's hard to say if kids get the same kick out of being on TV these days, what with the proliferation of entertainment options trying to capture their attention. But I'd wager that most 12-year-olds would've gladly given up their iPads to be picked for TV2's new show Operation Hero. Imagine the application form: must be okay with extreme heights, blindfolded swimming, explosions, and eating revolting things. Must be willing to go on the kinds of adventures your parents never got around to. Must be prepared to be terrified.
"I was almost peeing my pants," said 12-year-old Chris, once the kids had leapt out of a plane at 12,000 feet.
He was one of six kids, who each week are divided into two teams and pitted against one another. With a Kiwi hero for inspiration and help from the New Zealand Defence Force, they must undergo a series of physical and mental tests to outwit the other team.
The first episode on TV2 on Sunday, 5pm, was all about World War II hero Nancy "the White Mouse" Wake, who, as part of her role in the French resistance, parachuted alone into occupied France at night, and cycled 500km over three days.
The kids were clearly impressed by Wake's endurance, and to the show's credit, there were ample soundbites relating to its educational agenda as they pored over puzzles, raced on a gruelling bike ride and built a Spitfire aerial to send a code. The show is clearly designed to inspire, foster communication and educate, even if sweet-natured host Dayna Vawdrey said to the teams at one point, "you're both tied".
Only poor Devon was too scared to leap out of the plane on the parachute jump. I felt for him. Attempting such a feat at age 12, I probably would've been a bawling mess. It was also easy to relate to Jacob, who, after the jump said, "That was by far the coolest thing I have ever done in my entire life".
The lucky six were obviously chosen because they're smart, social, upstanding kids with a healthy level of self-esteem. "A hero is someone who is not big on themselves," said Mikayla.
The next shot was Devon: "I can do everything if I at least have a go."
He redeemed his no-jump by doing an extra lap on the bike for his team.
Their teamwork and competitive spirit are to be admired. But it does seem a bit of a shame the same six kids get to go on another nine adventures.
For the remaining episodes, the teams will be mixed up and sent into the water to re-enact (among others), the heroic stories of Rob Hewitt, the Gisborne lifesavers who rescued passengers in a submerged van, and Jacinda Amey, who rescued a friend attacked by a shark, until the person with the highest points is crowned the champion. Couldn't they have selected another six kids to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity each episode?
Skipping might not make for as good telly as eating raw squid (that's next week) but at least thousands of kids got the chance to do it.