Remember playing tag as a kid? You chased your friends around the playground — huffing and puffing — until finally making contact and declaring, “You’re it!”
Now take that format and plop it onto a few supersized obstacle courses. Then recruit some highly athletic contestants, amp up the action, bring in a frenzied studio audience and you’ve got “Ultimate Tag,” a new, turbo-charged competition game show debuting Wednesday night (9 p.m., Fox) right after “The Masked Singer” finale.
“I like to describe it as ‘American Ninja Warrior’ meets ‘American Gladiators’ meets ‘Tron,’” says Brooke Ence, a member of the show’s cast of professional “taggers” who project pro-wrestling-esque personas.
A super-buff CrossFit trainer who lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., Ence goes by the nickname of “The Boss” on the series, which is hosted by NFL stars and brothers J.J., T.J. and Derek Watt. It’s her job to chase down “Ultimate Tag” contestants as they vault, dodge, tumble and dive their way through the courses. Each episode produces a male and female winner earning $10,000.
“We basically try to get in their way,” she says.
Explaining “Ultimate Tag” in interviews, J.J. Watt has said “it is much more sport than game show.” Ence, 30, won’t argue. Even though she works out religiously and is fast and powerful, the experience “took everything out of me” — and she has the bruised shins to prove it.
“It’s brutal, highly intense and extremely physical,” she says. “All the contestants are very athletic themselves. You’re forced to do a lot of things you don’t normally do and you’re bashing into obstacles at full speed. You get sore in a way that you’re not used to. … But I had so much fun!”
And it was the kind of fun she could have missed out on. Ence was a late addition to the cast — contacted by producers just two days before filming on the show commenced. In a rush, she flew to Southern California and went through a quick tryout with no idea what she was getting into.
And even after she won the job, there was some last-minute scrambling on the wardrobe front.
“They didn’t have time to make a new costume for me, so they gave me the one from the woman I was replacing,” she recalls. “But the shorts didn’t fit. I have big legs. Finally, we decided just to cut off a pair of my leggings.”
Ence’s muscular build was somewhat of a curse in her life before it became a major blessing. As a young girl who played softball, danced in musical theater and competed in swimming and gymnastics, she was always “really, really strong.” But her brawn drew teasing from classmates and she often felt insecure.
“I was made to feel like the way I looked was all wrong,” she recalls.
It wasn’t until attending college in Utah that Ence said she was “able to rewire my way of thinking.” While preparing to audition for a role in a Las Vegas-based Cirque du Soleil production, she sought to improve her conditioning and was invited to check out a CrossFit gym. She immediately gravitated to the workouts — and the people.
“I loved the community. I loved the environment,” she says. “It was a place where muscles and fitness are celebrated. They didn’t judge me. And it wasn’t about the way you looked, but what you’re able to do.”
Nowadays, Ence flexes her 14-inch biceps with pride, insisting that “muscles have nothing to do with being a boy or a girl.” And her success in the CrossFit world has led to numerous professional opportunities, including roles as an Amazon warrior in the “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” films.
She also has created her own apparel line (ENCEwear) and a workout app (Naked Training). In addition, she co-hosts a weekly podcast with her longtime friend Jeanna Cianciarulo called “Between the Reps,” in which they discuss health, fitness and “everything in between.”
Though Ence may be an elite athlete, she — like everyone else — has sometimes struggled to stay motivated during a pandemic in which gyms and fitness centers are on lockdown.
“It’s better now that the weather is starting to get sunnier,” she says. “But that first month was hard. When it’s all cold, dark and gloomy, you tend to feel emotionally dark and gloomy.”
Her advice to those wanting to get their sweat on? Find some company.
“It’s always best to have a good partner,” she says. “It can be a friend, a family member, maybe even someone online. Find someone you can connect with, and hold each other accountable.”