Ultimate Tag makes its debut on FOX this Wednesday night, bringing one of the most unconventional sports competitions yet into the mainstream. The series offers a high-octane take on the iconic childhood game, which is taken to a colorful, action-packed, and truly delightful level. Competitors must vault, dodge, tumble and dive their way through several different three-dimensional courses, all while being chased by resident Professional Taggers. Athletes from a wide array of industries make up the ensemble of Pro Taggers, including actor, stuntman, entrepreneur, and parkour and freerunning expert Jesse La Flair.
Flair has been dubbed "the World's Most Recognizable Pro Freerunner", with a social media following that includes 1.5 million TikTok followers, and over 30 million views on YouTube. Flair first jumped onto the scene as a fan favorite on America Ninja Warrior, before going on to serve as a stuntman on multiple Hollywood projects, most recently including Captain Marvel and Dark Phoenix.
Ahead of Ultimate Tag's debut, we got to chat with La Flair about joining the unique competition series, and what surprised him the most about its process. We also spoke about his love for comic books and how he's staying busy during the current COVID-19 quarantine.
Joining the Show
ComicBook.com: How did you get involved with Ultimate Tag? It seems like such a unique project.
Jesse La Flair: Yeah, for sure. I mean, me personally, I was reached out to really early on at some point. I got reached out to by a couple of different areas of the show and I would assume the reason being just because personally, I'm probably one of the most quote-unquote famous professional Parkour freerunning athletes in the world. I'm the first pro with his own pro signature model shoe. I've spent the last 15 years promoting myself, doing tutorials that have garnered millions and millions of views, and brought these people into this sport. if you start to look up who is a Parkour athlete, especially in America, you're going to undoubtedly stumble upon me somewhere, somehow. I think that alone is probably the one thing that got me involved in the show.
I actually got reached out to really early on by some of the people who were casting contestants, but I was also already talking to them about being a Pro Tagger. So I was like, "Wait a second. I don't want to come on and be a contestant, if you're going to have me literally get paid to go tag these people. That's the real dream."
It was a very interesting onboarding, in that the auditions - besides the Zoom-style, "Do you have enough personality to make it on television? kind of thing - were that we went and we played tag in this warehouse and this really stripped down course. It was just that alone, just testing different ways to play the game and showing them the personality you can bring while in action. Because that's the other side of being a Pro Tagger, it's not just your athletic ability, it's really "Can you keep up the show while you're running, jumping, striding? Do you have enough skill and energy to be out there talking and engaging with the person that you're coming after?"
What was the process like of coming up with the alter ego? Because I find that aspect really kind of cool as well.
What's funny for me is I'm probably one of the least alter ego Taggers. My last name is La Flair, the brand that I've built around who I am, and what I've done in the sport is that name. So when they were sitting us down and having a meeting of "What do you represent? What is the thing that you bring to this show?" It's always been for me, I am the OG Parkour guy. I've been doing forever and I want to continue to push that. So instead of playing into something that I'm not, I just kind of turned up this guy in certain areas.
I'm not necessarily someone that would ever talk smack. I still believe in karma and all this stuff. Even if I'm playing a game at home with a friend, I don't talk smack. But next thing you know, you're on this course and there's a crowd of people chanting your name. And you're out there just like throwing up devil horns and feeling like a rockstar. This inner rockstar in me started to pop out, and the next thing you know, I'm out there talking smack and I'm engaging with them. I don't know if the alter ego really is something that I chose, or is something that the show pulled out of me, even when I was trying to not give it that. I always tried to remain very humble, excited, and happy just to be out there playing literally a game of tag. There's definitely some dials that got turned up.
What surprised you the most while filming the show outside of, like you said, your inner alter ego kind of coming out?
The thing that surprised me the most was how challenging it was to play tag in these extreme circumstances. Some of the courses are very Parkour or kind of obstacle base driven, but then other ones are like a steel cage floating 30 feet in the air, and contestants and taggers are not wearing harnesses. You're just literally up there, and for someone like me, who is trained in working at height and has jumped off the edge of the building to other buildings for my own media, but also for Hollywood and doing stunts and stuff, I'm very comfortable up there. But it's still a challenge to engage and chase, and the cameras, everything adds an element of exaggerated challenge to it all.
Ultimate Tag is coming out at a moment when there aren't a lot of sports on TV, so I feel like the show kind of has a different sort of significance. What do you hope people get out of the show kind of within those circumstances?
First off, with sports off the air, I believe this is the exact kind of action fans are going to be looking for. Outside of that, it's hosted by the NFL superstar sibling trio, JJ, CJ, and Derek Watt. And the show itself, I mean, you have 18 Pro Taggers. You have these characters that you're going to be seeing every week come back. I truly believe you're going to build a sort of love or hate relationship with some of these people and these characters that you're seeing.
And then on top of that, our contestants were all vetted. They're not necessarily all professional athletes in any way, but some of them come from Olympic backgrounds. Some of them are sprinters, some of them come in these very dialed aspects of an athletic form.
Sometimes it feels silly to think like, "Oh, it's tag, right? We're playing tag on TV." But when you see the courses and you see how crazy some of the action gets, it's wild. I mean, people are hyperventilating. These long jumps, people were getting injured. This is a family-friendly show, and I think it has something for everyone. At the end of the day, this was such an incredible mix of a lot of very fun shows that I grew up watching.
Is there a superhero or comic book character that is your favorite or that you'd want to be involved with their franchise in some way?
It definitely goes without saying that getting to stunt double Nightcrawler in the last few X-Men films was like the dream come true. I grew up collecting comic books and reading about these characters, going out in the yard and playing in the whole imagination mode and pretending to have these powers. I really liked comic books growing up as a kid, like Spawn. There's a lot of these things that if I go back through my collection, I'm sure I can find some hidden gems that aren't really being talked about that I would love to do.
Actually getting to go on set and be in an X-Men movie or Captain Marvel, and being in those environments that are just completely built up and look exactly how you could ever imagine them to look in real life has just been a dream come true for me.
How are you staying busy during quarantine?
A lot of what my life has always been movement. I need to go do stuff, whether it was growing up riding motorcycles and dirt jumping and rollerblading and skateboarding, and all these different action sports. So in this sort of quarantine time, it's like, "All right, well, you've got to stay home." And I definitely have a clip of me doing some Parkour inside my house during the quarantine.
Outside of that, I have a balance board. It's called a skill board, and you literally just balance on it, but it's not a medicine ball. There's nothing stopping you from sliding off in any direction. So I've been having fun challenging myself doing that because I think balance is probably one of the strongest elements of muscular skill that you can have that'll help you adapt to many other sports and things.
There's a lot of things shut down. so I am still going out and training at schools or things that are completely closed and no one's around at, because I need to sort of get that emotional energy out of my body and continue to train and move.
Obviously, everything is kind of at a standstill at the moment, but do you have any other projects that you'd like to plug?
I think one of my favorite things that is coming out of the whole Ultimate Tag thing, that I believe a lot of people will get behind, is that I've got my La Flair pro signature model shoe with Tempest Freerunning and you can see that shoe on the show. 15 out of our 18 Ultimate Pro Taggers all wore the shoe, because it was this very light and functional thing designed very specifically to the type of action that they were going to be doing. I'm just excited for people to connect the two, and hopefully that'll help support our small brand and the company Tempest. They're a leader in making Parkour gyms and bringing the sport to the youth. Obviously, times are hard right now, and some financial support of people getting behind the shoe would definitely help drive a little bit more of that income, and allow us to outlive this whole pandemic.0comments
Ultimate Tag premieres Wednesday, May 20th, at 9/8c on FOX.