Human Playground (2022) - full transcript

This docuseries explores the origins and evolution of play across the globe, from age-old rituals to billion-dollar businesses.

[crowd cheering]

[Idris Elba] We humans love to play.

We've been playing
since the dawn of our existence.

Our playgrounds are like mirrors
that help us examine ourselves

and the world around us.

Playing is the ultimate way
to learn about our bodies and our minds.

And it's the most dangerous games...

[woman whispering]

...that push us to our limits.

Games that are tough,
painful, and often deadly

help us to explore
what we are actually capable of.

Seeking out pain
isn't for the faint-hearted.

Everyone has a personal reason
to play these games.


Welcome to the scariest playgrounds of all

where humans break the pain barrier.

-== [ ] ==-

The Sahara Desert, Southern Morocco.

The most painful marathon
in the world takes place here,

Marathon des Sables,

French for "marathon of the sands."

[evocative music playing]

[Elba] It's a six-day,
156-mile-long ultramarathon,

equal to six regular marathons.

[Amy, panting] You got it.

Just keep going.

[Elba] This is Amy,

and she has a very personal reason
for taking part in this dangerous race.



[Amy] They told me I'd never walk.

They told me I'd never run.


[Amy] When I was 19 years old,
I was hit by a car on my motorcycle.

And the accident crushed
my left leg below the knee.

Forty-five surgeries later,
my leg was amputated.

Not many of us get a second chance,

but I did.

My gift is the ability to endure.

I can never get stronger

if I don't continue to challenge myself.

And that's what led me

to the toughest foot race in the world.

[ominous music playing]

[Elba] Each year,
over 1,000 runners participate.

But last time,

only 40 made the finish line.

[Amy] Growing up,
I always wanted to be in the Olympics.

I always wanted to be a police officer.
I always wanted to be in the military.

And that day that that car hit me,

washed everything away.

It changed me because I look back
at what I took for granted.


And it brought to the surface
the ember that was lying deep within me.

And that ember was pain
and the ability to endure.


[Elba] This year,
the heat is more extreme than ever,

with temperatures reaching
up to 133 degrees Fahrenheit.

Amy finishes as one of the last today.

- [racer 1] Congrats!
- [racer 2] Bravo! You too!

- [racer 3] Bravo!
- [racer 4] Bravo!

[Elba] But not all runners
made it back to the camp.

[man] Good evening, everyone.
Unfortunately, it's very sad news.

Someone died at 5:00 p.m. today
from a cardiac arrest.

Several people were helping him.

Several competitors stopped.

And even doctors. But unfortunately,

all these resuscitation efforts
were useless.

And the death was pronounced afterward.

We are all very sad about this situation.

[Amy] I'm so sorry.

[somber music playing]

[Elba] The tragic news
spreads sadness through the camp.

But the race continues.

Each runner has to be self-sufficient,

carrying only a small backpack

filled with enough supplies
for one week in the desert.

One simple rule dominates the event.

If the camels catch up with you,
you are out of the race.

[Amy] Failure always looms
in the background,

in the back of my mind,

always scared that the camels
are gonna pass me because I'm last.

[race official] Set...


[tense music playing]

[Elba] Amy and her competitors

put themselves through
this grueling experience voluntarily,

running for days across endless sand dunes

and the rocky,
blistering-hot crust of the earth.

This may be a game,

but the danger is very real.

Many want to prove to themselves

that they can face their fears

and come out alive.

[Amy] You're in this giant oven,

and there's no way
that you can get away from the heat,

just pushing you down into the ground

and just taking every bit of strength that
you have and just sucking it out of you.

The smell of your burning skin.

Your burning feet.

Your skin turning red, not from the sun,
but just from the heat of the sand.

That drowns out the voice inside my head...


...that I'm not strong enough,

that I'm not good-looking enough,

that I'm fat, that I'm whatever.

And when I get out here
in the heat and the pain,

I try and rewrite my story.

My fiercest competition is myself.

I keep cramping. [chuckles]


[breathing heavily]


- Oh my God, my God!
- [man] Do you need help?

[breathing heavily]

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.


[crying in pain]



[man] We have to push the SOS button.
Push the SOS button so they can help us.


Push it right there! [cries]

[Amy screaming in pain]
Somebody help her! Help her!

- [woman] Put pressure and lift up.
- No! [cries in pain]

Oh my God! Push it!

Oh my God, no, no, no! Push...

[crying in pain]

Please, please, please, push!


Okay, sorry.

- Oh my God, please help me!
- [man speaking indistinctly]

They're so bad.

[man speaking indistinctly]


Grabbing at my thigh and my thigh here...

- [woman] Push.
- [Amy] Wait.

- [woman] Wait.
- [Amy] Bend my knee a little, slightly.

- Oh man.
- [man] Okay.

[man speaking indistinctly]

[tense music playing]

[exhales deeply]

[Amy] Nobody's gonna understand,
and I get that.


Pain is my playground.

I was screaming like a little girl.

[imitates screaming]

[Elba] Amy's pain is a reminder
of the obstacle she has overcome.

For her, the Sahara Desert
symbolizes the battle with pain

she faces every day.

For thousands of years,

humans have been seeking out
worthy enemies to play against.

Roman gladiators drew huge crowds
fighting each other and animals.

Taking on the wildest opponents
to see who comes out alive

is something we do to this day.

[intense music playing]

[dog barking]

These wild cows are terrifying foes.

They are muscular, fast,

and armed with horns
that make light work of human bodies.

Unless we're armed with a spear,

we don't stand a chance.

But this isn't bullfighting.

Here in France, challengers like Mathieu,

are training to play a deadly game
of chicken with these wild beasts.

The aim, to face the charging cow
and come out unscathed.

Mathieu runs a cattle farm
with his wife Caroline,

which gives him plenty of opportunity
to size up the competition.

[Mathieu, in French] We go searching for
adrenaline you can't find in other sport.

We are playing with our lives.

And that is what makes it beautiful.

If the move isn't perfect,
you are putting yourself in jeopardy.

So I'll either leave victorious
or else end up in the infirmary.


[Caroline] It's all good, my girl.


[Elba, in English] Course landaise is
a long-standing tradition

in the south of Europe.

Here, macho men work together
to distract the cow

while one of them gets into position.


[Elba] Once there, it's time to play.

[percussive music playing]

[Elba] All they have to do is stay alive.

Even with their horns padded,

the cows are capable of maiming
and killing their human opponents.

To raise the stakes further,

the men wear impeccable outfits.

Whoever leaves the field looking
as dapper as they did when they arrived

can claim they are the best of the best.

Tonight, the game is extra tough.

These young cows are especially strong,
fast, and unpredictable.

To come out unscathed would be a miracle.

[announcer, in French]
The cows of tonight are very young

and therefore they enter the arena
without a rope.

[crowd applauds]

[Mathieu] When I enter the arena,
I come to give it my all.

I know that it's win or die.

[intense orchestral music playing]

[Mathieu] Facing these beasts,
mistakes are not allowed.

If you are hit by a cow
charging at 50 kilometers per hour,

the impact can be fatal.

[announcer] Mathieu Noguès!

[Mathieu] We are going
to be looking for danger.

That's when you realize
the importance of life.

And to get closer to death somehow.

[Elba] Mathieu must face
a charging beast for as long as he dares,

before leaping aside,

keeping the smallest possible distance
between him and the cow.

The closer he comes to death,
the more impressive.

[tense music playing]

[crowd cheering]

[man speaking indistinctly]

[Mathieu] Fear is human.

If we are not scared,
that's when it isn't good.


As I'm getting older, I admit that
I'm becoming more aware of the danger.

And then fear can take over.


[Elba, in English] For Mathieu,
it's been a painful night,

but the show must go on.

Why he risks his life like this
is a mystery to most people.

For centuries, this kind of bravery
helped us survive.

But these days, we're more likely
to face our death or excruciating pain

to prove our fearlessness or alpha status.

Audiences love a player
who is willing to suffer in order to win.

[ominous music playing]

[Elba] But it's not just men
who enter the world of pain

seeking fame and fortune.

These days, there are just as many women
who want to hit the pain barrier too.

Here in the north of France,

an insanely dangerous cycle race
has existed for almost a century.

Initially, it was deemed too dangerous
for the female of our species.

[crowd cheering]

[announcer speaking indistinctly]

[Elba] But now it's time
for the women to risk their lives.

This year, the famous
Paris-Roubaix cycle race

is hosting its first all-female event.

This is Ellen van Dijk,

one of the first women to ever compete.

Why is this race so dangerous?

It's these ancient cobblestones,

the bicycle's worst enemy.

Welcome to the Hell of the North.

[Ellen, in Dutch]
You can break your ribs pretty easily.

That is difficult, but you can still race.

People say, "Wow, impressive.
She still cycles on with that injury."

But if you don't feel a thing,
it's not so impressive.

[Ellen's trainer]
You have a high pain barrier.

That time you didn't respond,
I was worried.

[chuckles] Yeah.

If you don't immediately get back
on your bike,

then you definitely know
something is wrong.

I expect some crashes tomorrow.

- You should never give up.
- [trainer] No.

Push stoically from start to finish.

Push through!

[announcer] Today is a tipping point
in women's sporting history.

The brutal cobbles of the North
are faced by 129 women

who believe that anything is possible.

It is gonna be
a superb race this afternoon.

And just as we go live,
the rain has started to fall.

[Ellen, in Dutch]
I'm ignorant. I don't know what's coming.

I know that there are going to be crashes.

It's going to be exciting, tough, heroic.

But I can't really imagine it yet.

That is where I am nervous for.

[Elba, in English]
Cycling is a team sport,

and everyone has to play a role.

Since Ellen is the favorite,

the team and the coach
will do whatever it takes

to bring her to the finish line
as the winner.

If she stays upright, that is.

[announcer speaking
indistinctly in French]

[Ellen, in Dutch] Every woman
will fight to be in the exact same spot.

Riders will overtake you
from your left and your right.

There will be a crash here,
a flat tire there.

It will be chaos. Real chaos.

This whole game is not safe at all.

None of the cyclists will say,
"This is not responsible. I quit."

Everyone has the urge to do this.

[crowd countdowns]

[crowd applauds and cheers]

[Elba, in English] It's the suffering
that will make these girls heroines today

as they race their way north.

In a few moments, these women will become
one big blur of bodies, mud, and blood.

[announcer] ...five-star sector is,
which is a real turning point in the race.

[Elba] Nobody in the race wants to fall.

None of these cyclists want an injury.

But in this race,


it's inevitable.

[ominous music builds]

[voice over radio speaking indistinctly]

[man, in Dutch] Goddammit!

[announcer 1 speaking indistinctly
in French]

[announcer 2, in English] Here we see more
of the first crash. Anna Henderson there.

[man] Yeah, she's up on the bike.

[announcer 3]
A lot of riders down in that crash.

Ellen van Dijk,
the European champion, has also crashed.

[woman] Again, too late.

[announcer 3] With 51.7 kilometers to go,

one of the race favorites
for today's Paris-Roubaix,

so Ellen van Dijk on the deck.

[Ellen's trainer] Keep on fighting.
You'll make it back.

These girls are riding your back.
Come on, girl.

[announcer 2] You see how slippery it is
from when Ellen van Dijk had that problem

when she was caught up in the mass crash.

[intense music playing]

[Ellen, in Dutch] Why hurt yourself
voluntarily? No one has to.

Breaking boundaries, looking for pain.

That's when you really feel alive.
That life doesn't become a rut.

Cycling is enduring pain and suffering.

[announcer 3, in English]
Here's Ellen van Dijk.

This is the European champion.

[Ellen's trainer] Ellen, you're good
because we're behind you.

[French announcer speaking]

[Ellen, speaking Dutch] As a cyclist,
we have a certain function in the team.

All the cyclists have to suffer
in order to fulfill their function.

[woman, in English] Your teammates
are there to cover your ass.

3.3K to the next sector.

[crowd cheering]

[intense music playing]

[announcers overlapping]

[announcer 2] Big crash there
for Elisa Longo Borghini.

Emma Norsgaard as well
just suffering a crash.

[competitors screaming]



[Elba] As injured racers
are pulled out of the way,

the cyclists must not get distracted.

There's no time
to be concerned for others.

It's the survival of the bravest.

[Ellen, in Dutch]
You know you're going to suffer.

But not in which way.

[woman, in English] Girls, you need
to fucking close sector five.

That is not a question. That is an order.

You've been too far in the back
both sectors, except Audrey.

You need to be up there for Lizzie.

First three positions
in sector five to go.

Come on, girls.

[announcer 2, in Dutch] Look, van Dijk
is taking the lead position.

[woman, in English] Watch the corner.

Good job there, girls.
Good job. Let's get this done.

[announcer, in French] Borghini knows
what to do, and Ellen van Dijk too.

[intense music continues]

[announcers speaking indistinctly]

[announcer 3, in English] Ellen van Dijk
hits the deck. That's a huge crash.

...just see the bikes tangled up as well.

[announcer 3] Big crash of Ellen van Dijk,
and they really thumped down then.

She went from...
Oh, Sarah Roy really hit the deck hard.

Ellen van Dijk just lost the wheel
on that crown, didn't she, Hannah?

We talked a little while earlier
about the crown of the road

and how critically important it is...

[announcer 4]
This is the most horrible race to ride.

It is the most beautiful race to win.

And Lizzie Deignan
is heading towards victory.

Deignan reaches the velodrome
and goosebumps for the British rider.

This is an incredible and historic day
for women's cycling and sport...

[audience cheering]

[audience cheering]


[somber music playing]

[Ellen, in Dutch]
Is pain really an emotion?

Or is it physical?


I think pain is subjective.

In the end, you decide your pain limit
and how much you can handle.

Ooh, Ellen...

[Ellen] Great that Lizzy won,
but I had a big crash myself.

I got a headache...

[speaking indistinctly]

[Elba, in English]
As a professional athlete,

Ellen can still be proud

she braved the Hell of the North.

Today, she proved
she is among the best in her field.

She persevered,

regardless of setbacks.

Undeterred by pain.

But facing pain
isn't just for the professionals.

You don't need an audience, medals,
money, or fame in order to beat it.

[engine running]

[Elba] Breaking the pain barrier can also
be an incredibly personal journey.

It can be done in complete privacy
with only one adversary.

Your inner self.

[grand music playing]

[Elba] Kiki Bosch doesn't have a team.

There is no award for winning this game.

There is only one thing to beat.

The bitter cold.

And there can only be one winner,

Kiki herself.

She dives under the ice
in sub-zero temperatures.

The cold has been a big teacher for me.

It's really the diving into the abyss.

[ominous music playing]

[Kiki] And diving into
the most darkest parts of my being

to eventually dare to turn around
and swim back into the light.

A few years ago, I got sexually assaulted.

And I really couldn't handle that.

I didn't know
if I wanted to face life anymore,

and then I heard of this guy
named Wim Hof,

and he said, "Yeah, try my method
to become happy, healthy, and strong."

And I literally just thought like,
"Okay, I give this a shot."

"I can always kill myself tomorrow."

[breathing deeply]

[Elba] On one of her previous dives,

Kiki fell unconscious and nearly died.

But now she is determined
to defy the elements once again.

[breathing heavily]

[atmospheric music playing]

[Kiki] Every dive,

I really dive further into myself.

And the body just wants to scream.

I surrender the body to the environment.

No matter the pain.

I enter that space...

of being okay with all the forces in life
that press against us.

And to then dare to accept all the fears,

all the doubts, all the insecurities.

And it doesn't matter
if it's ten seconds or a minute.

Time just stops.

[music stops]

[atmospheric music resumes]

She is under for less than a minute.

But with every pain receptor in her brain
turned up to full volume,

it seems like an eternity.


[Kiki's assistant speaking indistinctly]

- Okay.
- [grunts]


[Elba] Having been subjected
to sub-zero temperatures,

Kiki needs to get warm
as quickly as possible.

The process is healing,

in more ways than one.



[breathing heavily, trembling]



[Kiki] It's the shame.



[breathing heavily]


For Kiki, it's about taking control,

putting her personal trauma behind her.

This is very different
from the pain and suffering in her past.

Now she fights the enemy on her own terms.

Physical pain is also linked to emotions.

[breathes in]

It's always more distress
leaving the system.

That's really how I see it.

When we dare to face our own darkness,

that's the only way
to get to truly know ourselves

and therefore are open
to get to know each other.

I think when we haven't explored our...
The depths of our own being,

we can never truly
relate to another person,

to another human being.

[delicate music playing]

[Elba] In the same ways
that scars inflicted by cobblestones

or wild beasts can heal,

so can our mental wounds.

Breaking the pain barrier
is not for the faint-hearted.

The brave souls who do it
often suffer for a greater cause.

In order to truly experience pleasure,

they believe
you must also experience real pain.

For them, pain is the portal
to the meaning of life.

Whatever you choose to believe,

all wounds eventually heal,

and the scars we carry

will always be a proud reminder
of the pain we suffered.

After all, what doesn't kill us
only makes us stronger.

[closing theme music playing]