“Surviving Disaster” Star Speaks

Yeah, I’ve Survived Disaster
Boulder-Native Stars in New SPIKE-TV Show
by Adam Perry for the Daily Camera
8/28/09

It seems Boulder native and former Navy SEAL Cade Courtley is an important man these days. When I called him to talk about his new SPIKE-TV show “Surviving Disaster,” a staged “worst-case scenario” show that premieres Tuesday night, he said he was available Monday; when he called Monday from Venice Beach in Los Angeles, it was to say that although he was on the phone right then, I’d have to call his publicist and have her get Courtley on the line. Although fame can create pretty absurd situations, Courtley had some interesting things to say about Boulder and his career after a female voice told me “you’re on the line with Cade Courtley.”

Adam Perry: So how did you go from being a Boulder High Panther (class of ’88) to being a Navy SEAL?

Cade Courtley: I consider myself blessed to have grown up in a place like Boulder; it’s just an amazing town. I took it for granted at the time, but I was able to go outside my door and in ten minutes I was in the foothills, an hour later I’d be skiing [or] rock-climbing. And it was great, man. I loved it.

Truth be told, in high school I wanted to be a pilot. I actually got my pilot’s license while I was a junior at Boulder High, and then I saw this movie “Top Gun” and I was like “that’s it. I’m gonna be a fighter pilot.” You gotta understand, this was when Tom Cruise was still pretty cool, and I was like “absolutely.” I went to UC-San Diego and the whole thing was to be a fighter pilot. And spring break, sophomore year, I ended up injuring my right eye in sort of a freakish accident and it was to the point where I wasn’t going to be able to be a pilot. So, I started doing a little soul-searching and found out about the Navy SEALS and was totally bit. And that weird accident turned out to be a real blessing in disguise.

AP: And then how did you get into TV?

CC: That’s just another really random kind of situation where I was getting ready to get out of the SEALS and head on into the business world and there was this TV show coming out called “Combat Missions”; it was a Mark Burnett show about a year after he started “Survivor” and it was basically “Survivor” for the military and law enforcement. And he said “you should check this show out; you’d be really good on it.” I ended up doing it as a whim, just what the hell, and had a really good time doing it and he said I did great in front of the camera and I should check out Hollywood and it might be a perfect fit, and I thought he was full of it, but I did anyway and then I found myself in L.A. for the next six or seven years. It was pretty random.

AP: People who watch the show will probably want to know — have you ever survived a real disaster?

CC: I won’t get into any details, but after nine years active duty in the SEALS and then several tours as an independent contractor, yeah; I have, repeatedly. Just the nature of the work that I’ve spent a lot of my life doing has always been incredibly dangerous, but yeah. I’m still here.

AP: How do you come up with ideas for this show?

CC: It’s a collaborative effort. When the show got picked up, we got the whole gang together with the production company — producers, a couple of writers, myself, you name it — we kind of found a room and said “OK, what are the ten nastiest things we can think of, and then can we really do these? And if we can, what’s the advice we’ll give [viewers] so they can make it through these alive?” And we came up with some great ones.

One that was kinda close to my heart was… we came up with one that was a mall attack, and it was based on what happened at Columbine. What if that situation had happened in a shopping mall? We’re teaching people who don’t have any military or weapons experience a really good solution to make it out of that alive. And we’d get experts and see what they thought; I’d say “this is how I would do it”; and with all the collaboration we ended up with some great episodes.

AP: Who have been your role models in terms of TV, other than Sgt. Slaughter?

CC: Growing up, the guy I always thought was so cool was Steve McQueen. He was a Marine for a while and then ended up being in some of my favorite movies, and I always loved that he said “I race motorcycles but sometimes I do this acting thing.” That guy’s cool. He’s a man’s man. If there’s someone to try and emulate, he’d be it.

AP: People in a town like Boulder might want to know how you make an endeavor like blowing up a building or ransacking a mall eco-conscious.

CC: That’s a great question. One of the executive producers is really hardcore when it comes to the environment. They had an organization set up all about that, so our footprint was constantly under scrutiny. Opening day of shooting this thing, everybody got a metal drinking thermos and that’s all they could use — there were no bottled waters on set. To be honest with you, we also didn’t have the budget to be blowing up buildings, so we didn’t do that. There were times when we used C.G.I., but yeah… we were very conscious of that sort of thing. When we were up in Montana filming, there was a situation where they had offered an area that we could cut trees down and we said “no, that’s not necessary.” Things like that. So, my executive producer is gonna be extremely happy that you asked that question, because she was on it 24/7.

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