Lost sheep find themselves through a journey of discovery and shear hard work

View from the sofa: World’s Toughest Jobs BBC 3

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The Independent Online

In case you were wondering who were the world champions, it’s New Zealand. No, we’re not talking about the cricket – please, don’t mention the cricket, it’s too soon – but instead something more suited to the lifestyle in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

We’re talking sheep shearing. And before you ask, sheep shearing passes the Butler test for sport: that is, it is impossible to do at an elite level while smoking a cigarette.

And down in the Shaky Isles they seem to take it quite seriously, as they do that other country sport which sounds like a parody – wood chopping (they’re world champions at that too). And last week we got a flavour of how tough it is on BBC 3’s World’s Toughest Jobs.

The show is essentially one of those coming-of-age ones that BBC 3 is so fond of. And all the requisite fish-out-of-water characters were there: Gemma, 19, whose propensity for make-up, hair extensions and bouts of heavy drinking has led her to sponge off her parents; Tomi, a 24-year-old salt-of-the-earth type who was an aspiring professional boxer and had spent £3,500 on his sport; and Jack, with a head covered in piercings and a fringe that screamed “sensitive”, who had run up a massive credit card debt, having lost his job.

We were supposed to feel sympathy with this mob as they were flown halfway around the world to learn that if you graft, the money will roll in. Or something. And to a certain extent, we did.

It was difficult in the beginning, however, as the trio landed in the High Country of the South Island’s Otago province. Gemma bleated her displeasure at the accommodation, while Jack admitted that he had no idea what a sheep was.

The one who impressed their host, Colin “Mouse” O’Neil (a former champion, according to the programme, although his name is missing from the Golden Shears roll of honour) was Tomi, who was described as “a big, solid bugger”.

And, true to this programme’s format, there was waterworks on the opening morning, when they were employed as shed hands, which involved being supposed to wrestle the sheep from pens through to the shearers. “I don’t want to do it,” Gemma wept, fearing for her fake nails.

The rest was utterly predictable: Gemma learnt to handle a sheep – “I have conquered something I had never conquered” – having taken the locals on a girly night out (complete with false eyelashes and fake tan in a spartan small-town bar). She then came to the realisation that perhaps her fake tan, hair and nails were a manifestation of her insecurity – who’d have thunk it?

Meanwhile Jack fell in love with the environment and lifestyle, as both embarked on a journey of discovery, as well as going some way to making up with his mother, from whom he was estranged after he came out.

Tomi also found out a lot about himself, most notably that he would make a very good sheep shearer. Probably not good enough to trouble the podium at the next World Championships, in 2017, but enough to earn a couple of grand for a few weeks’ graft.